Student Spotlight: Michael Goebel Defends his Dissertation

Student Spotlight: Michael Goebel Defends his Dissertation

Michael Goebel defended his dissertation entitled "Beached White Male: Imperiled Masculinity in the Great Recession" and worked with Dr. Roger LancasterChristine Rosenfeld conducted a short interview with Michael in which he reflects on his time at Mason.


How have your research interests changed from the time you began the PhD program to now, and in which direction do you envision your work moving upon graduating?

When I started the PhD program, I was broadly interested in media, but I wasn’t completely sure what aspect of it I wanted to study. During my first year of coursework, however, I had a realization that dramatically changed the path of my research. While I was in my Master’s Program in American Studies at Penn State I wrote my thesis on the evolution of the trickster within African American culture. I was fascinated by the broad range of trickster stories and was amazed that this mythic imagery kept popping up and attaching itself to a specific set of black men with each new generation. I traced the trickster through the ever-morphing “badman” figure within African American history and folklore and concluded with a discussion about gangsta rap and a detailed analysis of Tupac Shakur. In my second semester at Mason, while taking Amal Amireh’s class on sex and gender, I realized my Master’s thesis wasn’t about tricksterism, but was in fact an interrogation of the construction and representation of black masculinity in American culture. Once I came to this realization I started to recognize that I was always interested in the topic of masculinity, particularly in terms of understanding how itworked in specific historical moments and changed over time—but I until I took that class, I didn’t have the language to articulate it. Following my epiphany, my research took on a whole new focus. All of the projects I have planned for the immediate future, including shaping my dissertation into a book, interrogate aspects of gender and masculinity in contemporary American culture, as well as the role media plays in shaping and disseminating raced/classed/gendered ideologies.


What kinds of professional development did you pursue while a student and which do you think will best position you to get the job you want: publishing, presenting, teaching, service in the department, engagement in non-university service projects, acquiring particular research skills?


During my time at Mason, I was encouraged to build a comprehensive professional foundation for my career in academia. I presented once or twice a year at various national and regional conferences, took part in small brown-bag or roundtable service projects tied to various departments or programs, and published a few chapters in edited volumes. The bulk of my time outside of research, however, was dedicated to creating a strong pedagogical foundation. I think working on each of these components—research, teaching, service, professionalization—was crucial to my being offered a lecturer position in the Women’s & Gender Studies program at Iowa State University in 2011. If I had not received such strong professional development opportunities at Mason, I know I wouldn’t have done as well at ISU as I have. What I learned in the last four years at Iowa State is that although the professionalization components I built as a graduate student were incredibly important, they were made far stronger because of the quality of the education I got from the Cultural Studies Program. Working with the CS faculty and being pushed to always think about topics from a multitude of perspectives using various theoretical lenses prepared me to be a strong scholar in the academy, which is why my peers at ISU always viewed me as a colleague, instead of seeing me as just another graduate student. Because of the importance placed on balancing professionalization and scholarship, I will leave the CS program with a strong teaching record, a few notable publications, awards for teaching and mentorship, and most importantly a dissertation that goes far beyond meeting the requirement necessary to complete the doctorate. Instead, I have started my first monograph and the know how to transform it into a work that will be a real contribution to the field of masculinities studies. I was extremely fortunate because I was given so many opportunities to professionalize over the last few years. If I had to pinpoint one thing in particular that best positioned me for a job, it would be the emphasis the program placed on being a well-rounded scholar, teacher, and colleague.


What is one of your best memories from your time in the PhD program in Cultural Studies?


It’s really hard to top the most recent memory of being told I passed my defense and being called “Doctor Goebel” for the first time by my committee. That said, there are a lot of memories that stand out, including the feeling I got the very first time I stepped into the classroom to teach my own class, the warmth and friendship I developed with my cohort, and the way I was welcomed into a later cohort after I took a brief hiatus from the program.