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Featured Student: October 2013

Nicholas Proferes

Nicholas Proferes is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Information Studies at UWM. He earned his bachelor of science in information technology from George Mason University and his master of arts in communication, culture and technology from Georgetown University. Before he came to UWM to pursue his Ph.D., Nicholas worked at the Internet Education Foundation as a Google Policy Fellow and the National Science Foundation.

Nicholas currently teaches Information Studies 110, an introduction to Information Science, and was awarded a SOIS teaching award in the Spring of 2013. In his time at UWM, he has been awarded the Chancellor’s Graduate Student Award, a SOIS dissertation improvement grant, and several travel awards. Nicholas has also been an active participant and organizer within SOIS and larger UWM community. In addition to his doctoral studies and his role as an instructor at SOIS, Nicholas is the president of the SOIS Doctoral Student Organization. He has served on multiple departmental committees, such as SOIS's Diversity and Equity Committee and SOIS's Doctoral Program Committee, and contributes frequently to department events. Nicholas also founded and facilitates a student-run writing group that meets regularly during the school year. He has served in multiple campus wide activities, including: providing support to UWM's Responsible Conduct of Research training program, serving as a judge for multiple years at the yearly UWM Undergraduate Research Fair, volunteering to support multidisciplinary conferences, such as the Center for 21st Century Studies “Dark Side of the Digital” conference, and participating as a Ph.D. representative on university-wide review committees.

1) How would you describe your field of study/research to a friend who is not in your graduate program?
Generally, I study the influence and impacts that technology and the social structures around technology have on the way that we live our social, economic, political and cultural lives. Often, technology is something we take for granted, yet it has serious impacts on both the mundane and significant aspects of our lives. I study how this process plays out. Right now, I’m spending a lot of time studying social media, and Twitter in particular. In my current research projects, I’m exploring the ways that users understand (or don’t understand) Twitter, how the site's founders position and frame the technology, and how the scientific and academic community at large is using Twitter to gather data for their research.
2) What brought you to UWM for your graduate studies?
A confluence of things. After my work experiences at the National Science Foundation, I knew that I wanted to take my education further and develop my own research agenda. I had been very interested in issues around information policy for a while and the School of Information Studies program at UWM had a number of faculty doing innovative research, such as Dr. Michael Zimmer, whose work I had been exposed to as part of my Masters’ program. Additionally, my partner had just become a Ph.D. student in the English department at UWM, and so when I got in to UWM, everything just aligned.
3) What's been your best experience so far?
I have had so many it’s hard to choose one! Teaching has been incredibly rewarding. Being able to see students apply the theories and concepts from a reading or lecture to their lives is an unparalleled experience. There is a wonderful community of doctoral students within SOIS and being able to participate in conversations and events with them—in addition to learning from them—has been an amazing opportunity. Seeing four months of research culminate in a research article is also a great feeling. I’d also say that, very recently, I was a participant in the Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme, and presenting to and learning from some of the top experts in Information Science from around the globe was a pretty awesome moment.
4) If you were able to merge another discipline with yours, what would that be and why?
Information Science is quite an interdisciplinary field to begin with, so in my experiences here at UWM I have had the benefit of working with multiple professors from the Communications department and the English department. If I had to choose only one though, based on the history that they have together as disciplines, communications would probably be the best candidate.
5) What is your favorite stress-reduction activity?
Running and biking. Milwaukee has pretty great trails and getting to enjoy nature is a great relief when you live with technology as much as I do.
6) What do you most enjoy about Milwaukee?
Milwaukee is a fun city. There’s good access to culture and cultural events, it’s a diverse city, there’s excellent food and drink, you are always only a few minutes away from being in a park or at the lake, and, importantly, Milwaukee is infinitely more affordable than a place like D.C.
7) Is there anything that you've had to "give up" as a graduate student?
Video games and watching sports on the weekends. Every once in a while I will sneak a little bit of one of the two things in, but it’s a rare occurrence.
8) What are your plans for after graduate school?
I’m hoping to find a job related to my research interests. I don’t know quite yet if that will be in academia, the corporate sector, or in governmental work again, and it’s just going to depend on what is out there when I finish. I’d also love to take a vacation overseas.
9) What trait do you find most necessary to succeed in graduate school?
I would say that patience, a strong work ethic, and the ability to persevere are important traits for succeeding in graduate school. There are lots of challenges that students face in grad school in becoming professionals; some of these are academic, but many of them are not. Patience, a strong work ethic, and perseverance will take you far in both areas.
10) Do you have any advice that you would give to a new graduate student in your program?
Get involved with your fellow graduate students. This will be your support network when things are going well and when you hit rough patches. (And, everyone hits rough patches.) Make sure you involve yourself in lots of different academic events and activities to get exposure to different concepts and ideas, and look for connections to your own work. Lastly, if you don’t see the kinds of events and activities taking place that you envision, be the person that helps create them or puts them in motion. A lot of the outcomes for this process depend on what you put into it.

Page last updated on: 12/18/2014