What I Want to be When I Grow Up

Little Engine That Literally Can't Even

With my dissertation topic (which is studying the relationships between sci-fi fandom involvement, social media, and mental health) gaining recent approval from my school, and having SO many people on Twitter wish me well and be excited for me (*waves to Twitter*), I thought I’d write a little bit about what I’m actually doing for my dissertation, and what my perfect world end game is.

People have been asking me what I want to be when I grow up for as long as I can remember, as I’m sure they do everyone. The frustration for me is that, despite going through grade school, a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and now even a doctorate, until the last year I really didn’t have an answer to that question. My strategy has been to keep going to school (which is something I’m pretty good at) and hope that something would eventually pop up. Interestingly enough, I think that strategy may have worked, if what I have found I want to do is something that I can somehow find a way to get paid to do.

People always tell you that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Well that’s fan-freaking-tastic if what you love is arguing with people (law), fixing people (medical, mental health), playing with numbers (accounting, business) or other such things that have a pretty direct career correlation. Well what about people like me whose passions involve fandom and traveling? Last I checked, no one is hiring professional fangirls to fly around the world to sci-fi cons. Sadly. I would be sooooooo qualified for that position. Also, the application would be amazing….

  • Current fandom:
  • OTP:
  • Currently watching:
  • Most frequented vacation spots:
  • Number of fandom cons attended (please list all con names/dates/locations/photo ops/VIP):
  • List at least three references (use Twitter handles please):

I digress. Anyway, I’ve never been able to figure out how to turn my passions into a job, let alone a career, and so I’ve always just accepted that I’ll have to do something for a living that’s at least tolerable, and leave my passions as my hobbies. Until the last year, when I had an epiphany. The way that Capella University sets up its doctoral programs is that all coursework is done online, but there are three in person gatherings (called colloquia) where you come together with other students and professors to begin laying the groundwork for your dissertation. These colloquia were the absolute best times of my doctoral program so far, hands down. And somehow, somewhere (I’m still not sure where I got the idea specifically), I realized that maybe… just maybe… I could write my dissertation on fandom. I got many crazy looks, and noooo one had much of any idea what I was talking about (that’s a whole other blog entry into itself), but through the experience of developing my research plan for dissertation I’ve realized something freaking amazing: there is science to be done in the field of fandom and mental health.

I think that we can all agree that fandom is here to stay. Social media has exploded, and people have taken to Twitter and Facebook (not to mention Tumblr and god knows how many other sites I don’t even frequent) quite literally by the millions to engage in fandom discussion and general fangirling/boying over our favorite pieces of pop culture. While fandom has been around since the dawn of time, social media has made it much more immediate and much, much more easily accessible. I’m no longer writing a pen pal about my New Kids on the Block obsession and waiting weeks if not months to get something back. Now I’m on Twitter meeting new fangirls/fanboys every single day and chatting about shows online in real time. There is scientific research backing up the fact that fandom is growing, and is becoming ever more powerful in bringing people together and in influencing the object of fanships (Obst, Zinkiewicz, & Smith, 2002a, 2002b; Recuero, Amaral, & Monteiro, 2012). There is scientific research backing up the fact that being part of a sports or music fandom can affect psychological well-being and even suicidal behaviors (Andriessen & Krysinska, 2009; Hirt, Zillmann, Erickson, & Kennedy, 1992; Stack, 2000, 2002; Wann & Weaver, 2009; Wann, 2006). There is scientific research backing up the fact that people can become addicted to their parasocial relationships of choice just like they might a drug (Rudski, Segal, & Kallen, 2009). There is scientific research backing up the fact that social media in and of itself can have a massive impact on wellbeing, both positively and negatively depending on the circumstances (Caplan, 2003; Davila et al., 2012; Giglietto, Rossi, & Bennato, 2012; Nabi, Prestin, & So, 2013; Sanderson & Cheong, 2010; Strano & Wattai Queen, 2012). So we know that fandom (especially online) is growing, it’s not going away, and it’s likely affecting our mental health and well-being. But that’s all we really know at this point.

So what do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be a scientific researcher who applies science to the psychology of fandom. My fellow fangirls and fanboys, I think it is time that we recognized that we wield a tremendous amount of power. There is a massive world inside our electronic devices, and it is real. No longer should there be a distinction between “online” and “real life” because online IS real life (if you truly want to nerd out on this topic, check out Joseph Walther – his Social Information Processing Theory is one I plan to use in my dissertation, and is super relevant). But with great power comes great responsibility (sorry, I couldn’t resist…). We know that fandom has power, but science and good old fashioned common sense would state that there are likely both massive pros and massive cons from fandom participation. If it’s not going away, and it’s going to be a large part of our lives, then I feel it’s our responsibility to understand it and harness its power. We need research that discovers what the benefits of fandom participation are, not only so that we can feel justified in our involvement, but also so that professionals in mental health can understand it and so it can be used to help more people. But we also need to understand what the potential pitfalls are and how fandom can be used negatively, so that we as fans can recognize the warning signs in ourselves and others if people need help, keep ourselves safe and healthy, and also keep the objects of our fan-love safe as well. We have an amazing thing going here, but it’s critical that we understand it to the best of our abilities. Online fandoms aren’t going away. This is the New World Order. And now it is time that we understand what that means for us going forward.

So yes, this is what I want to do with my life. I’m passionate and excited about it in a way I’ve never been passionate and excited about anything before, not to mention determined. I want to meet all the fanboys and girls, and I want to understand everyone’s stories about fandom and parasocial relationships (I’ll write about those soon…). I want to dig in and see how fandom is both helping and hurting us. I want to validate our love for fandom, while also keeping us all safe. And yes, at some point it would also be super cool to discuss fandom from the perspective of the objects of fandom to understand how that power and responsibility affects them. And if that means I have to travel to all the Wizard Worlds and Dragon Cons and Comic Cons, then gosh, I guess I’ll just have to work through that challenge.;) But for the first time in my life, I can say that I have a deeper purpose in wanting to immerse myself in that world other than just to hope I can speak in full sentences to David Tennant this time, drink Nocking Point wine, and check out all the amazing cosplayers and fan art. I’m pretty damn excited about working on my dissertation, and ultimately digging in to this work that needs to be done. And you know I’ll keep you all up to date on my progress as I go through the process!

P.S. If anyone wants to hire a fandom researcher, definitely let me know. My desired career isn’t exactly mainstream, and I have yet to see any postings looking for fandom researchers on CareerBuilder, though I remain ever hopeful. 😉 @drfangirlphd @Chrisha_DWGrrl


Andriessen, K., & Krysinska, K. (2009). Can sports events affect suicidal behavior? A review of the literature and implications for prevention. Crisis, 30(3), 144–52. doi:10.1027/0227-5910.30.3.144

Caplan, S. E. (2003). Preference for online social interaction: A theory of problematic Internet use and psychosocial well-being. Communication Research, 30(6), 625–648. doi:10.1177/0093650203257842

Davila, J., Hershenberg, R., Feinstein, B. A., Gorman, K., Bhatia, V., & Starr, L. R. (2012). Frequency and quality of social networking among young adults: Associations with depressive symptoms, rumination, and corumination. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1(2), 72–86. doi:10.1037/a0027512

Giglietto, F., Rossi, L., & Bennato, D. (2012). The open laboratory: Limits and possibilities of using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as a research data source. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 30(3-4), 145–159. doi:10.1080/15228835.2012.743797

Hirt, E. R., Zillmann, D., Erickson, G. A., & Kennedy, C. (1992). Costs and benefits of allegiance: Changes in fans’ self-ascribed competencies after team victory versus defeat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(5), 724–738. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.63.5.724

Nabi, R. L., Prestin, A., & So, J. (2013). Facebook friends with (health) benefits? Exploring social network site use and perceptions of social support, stress, and well-being. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 16(10), 721–7. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0521

Obst, P., Zinkiewicz, L., & Smith, S. G. (2002a). Sense of community in science fiction fandom, part 1: Understanding sense of community in an international community of interest. Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 87–103. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jcop.1052

Obst, P., Zinkiewicz, L., & Smith, S. G. (2002b). Sense of community in science fiction fandom, part 2: Comparing neighborhood and interest group sense of community. Journal of Community Psychology, 30(1), 105–117. doi:10.1002/jcop.1053

Recuero, R., Amaral, A., & Monteiro, C. (2012). Fandoms, trending topics and social capital in Twitter. Selected Papers of Internet Research, 2, 1–24. Retrieved from http://spir.aoir.org/index.php/spir/article/view/7/pdf

Rudski, J. M., Segal, C., & Kallen, E. (2009). Harry Potter and the end of the road: Parallels with addiction. Addiction Research & Theory, 17(3), 260–277. doi:10.1080/16066350802334595

Sanderson, J., & Cheong, P. (2010). Tweeting prayers and communicating grief over Michael Jackson online. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 30(5), 328–340. doi:10.1177/0270467610380010

Stack, S. (2000). Blues fans and suicide acceptability. Death Studies, 24, 223–231. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/074811800200559

Stack, S. (2002). Opera subculture and suicide for honor. Death Studies, 26, 431–437. doi:10.1080/0748118029008676

Strano, M. M., & Wattai Queen, J. (2012). Covering your face on Facebook. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 24(4), 166–180. doi:10.1027/1864-1105/a000076

Wann, D. L. (2006). Examining the potential causal relationship between sports team identification and psychological well being. Journal of Sports Behavior, 29(1), 79–95. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/215874095?accountid=27965

Wann, D. L., & Weaver, S. (2009). Understanding the relationship between sport team identification and dimensions of social well-being. North American Journal of Psychology, 11(2), 219–230. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2009-08708-002&site=ehost-live\ndan.wann@murraystate.edu



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The Power of Fandom

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There are many things that I am supposed to be doing these last few months that I have not been. Most immediately I am supposed to be sleeping. I don’t do that all that much these days. I began this blog, and then it certainly seems like I abandoned it, though the only reason I haven’t written is because being the “meat” in the sandwich generation has become very literally all encompassing in recent months. While beginning dissertation, my mother has been hospitalized twice for both physical and psychiatric issues which have also required me to spend every waking moment cleaning out her hoarder house to make it safe for her to go back to and eventually move out of (it’s a long story), and my three year old is potty training, is a genius that requires constant intellectual stimulation, and is preparing to begin preschool in the next few weeks. I have been, and continue to be, an emotional mess trying to manage everything. The part of my schooling process that I’ve been most looking forward to – a dissertation written about fandom – has begun without me even being able to focus on anything but family problems. Frustrating and distressing are adjectives that do not even begin to cover the range of emotions I’ve been feeling.

Despite being overwhelmed with family issues, I do still have many topics I want to write about here. I just have been so emotionally compromised that I stay up and distract myself from reality until I’m ready to drop so that I ensure I don’t have time for racing thoughts before sleep. One of the topics I eventually want to explore is the phenomenon of the sandwich generation. My husband wasn’t aware of the term, and wanted to learn more about it. As I’m experiencing it, I’d also like to explore it in more depth. When I’m ready. I’d also like to begin discussion of the experiences I’ve had in preparing my research plan for writing a dissertation on science fiction fandom involvement, as it is certainly not a traditional topic, and I’ve already run into several interesting situations that I think it would be fun to share.

But in this entry, I want to focus on what is at the heart of this blog: fandom. Communities surrounding a passion for a piece of pop culture. I grew up thinking that fandom and parasocial relationships (oh yeah, explaining the difference is another entry I want to write up at some point) were silly. As an adult, I see now that they are powerful and very literally saved my life. In good times, fandom relationships have enriched my life. I’ve created lifelong friends within fandoms, and enjoyed so many good times. In bad times, parasocial relationships – the individual relationship one has with that piece of pop culture – have been an escape and a safe haven to shield me from reality for awhile. The power in that cannot be overstated. We can’t live our lives running or escaping, but sometimes… just sometimes… we need help treading water for awhile so that we can recharge. TV, books, film… these have done that for me. And I will be forever thankful.

I’ve accrued a fair amount of fandoms now, though it’s rare that I pick up a new one. It’s very rare for something to grab me by the soul and pull me in, much less make me want to connect with others to process it because it was so powerful. Over the years I’ve come to realize that different fandoms and parasocial relationships each bring something unique to my life, both at the time I find them and then as I continue on. New Kids on the Block is my first fandom which I discovered in my youth. Their message was that of positivity… seeing the good… which was exactly what I needed when I was a teen in very, very dark and traumatic times. I continue to listen to their music when I need an infusion of positivity, with the Hangin’ Tough album being reserved for the darkest of times where the most light is needed. The last words of the first side of Outlander Booksthat cassette tape are, “I love you, girl.” I know because I listened to it every single night for years, needing to hear that message. Well, I love you too guys. Now and forever. The Outlander books are books I’ve been reading and rereading for more than 15 years. I go to them when I need a friend, as I’ve spent so much time with Claire and Jamie that they feel like old friends, and I bonded over Outlander with one of my oldest friends. Harry Potter is where I go when I want some childlike innocence, because no Harry Potter Longmatter how dark things get at Hogwarts, there is innocence that I sometimes need. Karen Marie Moning’s books carry the message that Hope Strengthens, Fear Kills, which has also gotten me through many challenging life phases, helping me fight against despair. Her books are goodShadowfever for when I need sexual energy and reawakening, as well, as her characters are real and flawed, but damn powerful in their sexuality none the less. Janet Evanovich books I’ve read and continue to read when I desperately need completely ridiculous humor, and have laughed until I’ve literally sobbed when I’ve turned to her books in times of trouble. A safer outlet of emotion that way. Within the past few years I discovered Doctor Who (and David Tennant), which would take one, if not multiple entries all on its own to describe the impact that show, that actor, and that fandom has had on my life. Suffice it to say that one of my big take aways from that show is tattooed on my wrist: Allons-y. When I discovered Doctor Who I was living 99% for others, doing very little of what I wanted. My tattoo helDoctor Who Logops me remember to LIVE. Travel, find adventure, discover. And also the message of positivity. While yes, humans are probably the worst monsters in the universe, there is always light and good and something awesome coming, even if there’s some horrible crap to get through before you get to it. So very powerful. And then my most recent show and fandom: Arrow. I didn’t expect to love Arrow. I figured it would be kind of cheesy, and I would just put it on in the background on the few days off from my parents’ issues this week while I distracted myself with stupid ioS games to make sure no racing thoughts could get through. And then somewhere along the line the story grabbed me by the heart. These normal people – just… typical people. Pulled out of their comfort zone, forced through terrible times and nightmarish experiences. And their take away from those experiences is to fight for good. To fight their inner darkness. To fight negativity, to fight for what’s right. And the message that a group of individuals who have banded together – even if those individuals are damaged and each fighting their own inner battles – is stronger than those individuals trying to handle everything on their own… that even superheroes have to learn to lean on others and ask for help… that message is beyond powerful. Especially at this incredibly heartbreaking time in my life where I have felt so isolated in so many ways, feeling that it fell to only me to carry this massArrow Logoive burden on my own. And while I can’t cry over my own pain right now, because there is a very real possibility that if I started I’d never be able to stop, I can most certainly sympathize with and cry for those characters’ pain. An emotional outlet that is safe, but therapeutic. And when I’m ready to begin socializing again… using social media, and connecting with the outside world, finding others to chat with the show about, to process everything from the profound messages that the show makes about the world and how human beings handle pain, to the relationship tragedies and traumas, to Stephen Amell’s air pull-ups (because trust me when I tell you those need to be talked about… holy GOD…but I digress… *fans self*), I will have that distraction and escape as well.

I grew up thinking that fandom and parasocial relationships were silly. As an adult, I now know that they save me. Every day. And I will be forever thankful to all of those fandoms – NKOTB, Fever, Outlander, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, and now Arrow – because I wouldn’t be me… and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do… without all of them doing what they do. And I have to think that I’m probably not alone in that.

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PhD Work/Life Balance: Does it Exist?

dissertation As of June 1, 2015, I have completed all my coursework and passed my doctoral comprehensive examination, and am officially ABD. All that’s standing between me and that fancy pants PhD is a dissertation. I’ve been working towards it for two and a half years, and now it is time. But in this unstructured time between comps and my dissertation term officially beginning, when I’m getting ready for this new phase in my life, a new complication appears: How in the world am I supposed to structure my time and manage everything? How in the world am I going to survive?

While I am currently not working, to say my life is complicated would be a bit of an understatement. I am in a transition period not just in school, but in a variety of areas of my life. My daughter is 3 and is transitioning into pre-school in the coming months. We are getting ready to put our house on the market and find a new place to live. My parents are working on moving from my childhood home to their new home in a new state, but are currently working through some health issues while preparing both houses for moving. My role as a step-mom is forever transitioning into whatever it is the kids may need at the time. And of course these are just the transitions I feel comfortable talking about openly online. While I feel like I am moving forward, I also feel like I have very little solid foundation from which to work, which is a terrifying prospect.

When going into my comps quarter, I was excited at the prospect that if I completed comps and passed immediately, I would have two months with which to play with to get my personal life settled and prepare for dissertation. Time to have fun, and remember what my kids look like. Time to organize myself. Time to do something crazy, like read a book… for leisure. Time to just be. And yet, it seems every time I get some free time, some unavoidable crisis comes up to fill the time, stopping me from being able to manage the things that I was planning to manage. This week alone, my mother has gone through a (potentially unsuccessful) medical procedure, my 3 year old has gotten sick and has required me to take her to the doctor twice, my husband has gotten sick and has required me to take him to the doctor once, and I got a pinched nerve in my neck requiring medical intervention for myself. This is above and beyond the swim lessons that needed to be gotten to, and the pre-school that needed to be toured (which had to be rescheduled due to illness already). Not to mention the complete lack of sleep due to illness of the kid, the older kid requiring food three entire times per day, and attempting to keep up on laundry (much of which has been vomited on) and dishes so that nature will not reclaim the house, and my social worker friends won’t have to awkwardly report me to children’s services after visiting (though, let’s be honest, none of my friends are coming anywhere near this disaster).

tumblr_ltz2w3NJmK1qgavwyo1_500So, okay, perhaps this week is a fluke. Surely life can’t always be this insane. And yet every night when I go to bed and envision what the next day is going to look like, I wake up to a total curve ball. I was assigned my dissertation mentor close to two weeks ago now. I originally contacted her more than a week ago, and she invited me to call her at some point last week so that we could get to know each other and touch base on how to go forward. Every day I envision that the next day things will get back to normal, I will begin to organize myself, figure out what I need to do, and contact my mentor. And yet here we are. I feel like I’m drowning before I’ve even had a chance to begin. It’s disheartening. What if this is normal?

At this point in my life, I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been a step-mom for more than 12 years. I’ve been a bio-mom for more than 3. I’ve worked as a therapist for more than 5 years. I’ve been a student for decades. I am no stranger to the wild balancing act that is life. But there seems to be something about lately, with so much in flux, and with so little of my time truly structured that I seem to be finding far more challenging than normal. I can’t tell my sick toddler not to be sick. And I can’t leave my sick toddler with my sick husband so I can organize myself (or, ya know, sleep). I can’t tell my parents that, though they’re drowning and can’t do anything but sink further into despair without my help that I’m unavailable when my mom is screaming in pain and my dad is having a panic attack. So what do I do?

The answer that we always hear in these situations is to set boundaries and then make the tough calls to do what you need to do for yourself. Well, sure. I have no problem making the tough calls. What I need help with is what to do after that. How do you deal with the consequences of the tough calls? The results? I know the standard therapist line that to care for others you have to care for yourself first, and I believe it with all my heart. I really do try to practice what I preach. But when you have an unstructured life… when you have no “boss” to tell you when you need to work… how do you set those boundaries? How do you tell people you have to work, even in an emergency, when they know damn well you’re the one that sets your own hours? How do you figure out how flexible to be, and how much of yourself to give to others and how much to keep for yourself?

I actually truly welcome any input from those of you who have been through this. I want to be the best student I can be, while also being the best mom, wife, and individual human I can be as well. I have goals that go beyond being a wife and mother and getting my PhD, such as finding a new place to live that I actually like, traveling to new and exotic places, reading and writing books, figuring out what I want to be when I grow up, and figuring out how to live in some of those exotic places I intend to travel to (as well as figuring out how to pay for that!). But when I can’t figure out how to find the time to pick up the phone and call my dissertation mentor, the rest of it seems completely unattainable. Will life ever calm down? What do I do if it doesn’t? How do I get my hands around the situation?

Anyone who wants to chat about this, feel free to leave a comment here, or tweet me at @drfangirlphd. I look forward to learning from the experiences of others dealing with similar kinds of crazy and shamelessly stealing and using your successful techniques for my own benefit! Just kidding, I promise I’ll give credit… just please take pity on me and throw some advice this way!



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The first post always seems to be the hardest for me. Yet here I sit with my laptop in the middle of the night looking to get on with it. While academic writing has always been a strength for me, writing in a more informal tone is one that has escaped me over the years, though I used to enjoy it a lot. I am hoping that beginning this blog will have the benefit not only of helping me regain that skill, but also to document this rather unique time in my life: the time of dissertation, mixed with parenting a toddler, step-parenting two teenagers, managing a household, attempting to build a career, dealing with sandwich-generation issues, and attempting to not go completely and utterly insane in the process. No problem!

I do feel like I may have some interesting insights to offer regarding this whole PhD situation, as my situation is anything but traditional (if there is such a thing as a traditional doctoral student?). I am currently working on my PhD in Advanced Studies in Human Behavior (essentially a PhD in counseling) at Capella University, which is a program that is almost entirely online. With my understanding being that only a very small percentage of the population have their PhDs, my guess would be that those who’ve received this degree through an online format are even teeny tinier. The other thing that may make my educational journey a bit different than most is that, though most of my colleagues are writing their dissertations on things such as services for autistic children, care-giving for individuals with Alzheimer’s, or narcissism in teenagers (all of which are TOTALLY valid things to study, and are all dissertations I look forward to reading), my dissertation is going to be on fangirling. Yes, fangirling. My passion within the field has always been the relationship between psychology and technology. I am forever fascinated by how the Internet has changed the way we form and maintain relationships, the way we communicate, and the way we spend both our professional and our leisure time. I fall into the generation that remembers life before the Internet, but was young enough to enthusiastically embrace it when it became readily available. Forget experimenting with marijuana and lesbian relationships in college – I truly discovered the Internet in my freshman year of college. I was experimenting with chat rooms and list-servs! I have therefore always been intrigued and passionate about the online world, including communities and relationships formed there. In my dissertation, I plan to bridge the gap between fangirling, the Internet, and mental health, which hasn’t been done before. I want to know if fangirling, and specifically fangirling online, is good for you. And I can’t wait to get started finding out!

I have a host of ideas as to different topics for entries going forward. Even at this early stage in the dissertation process (I’m waiting for results on comps as we speak, and will formally begin dissertation in July, 2015 *knock wood*), I’ve had some interesting experiences with my topic. Doing research that is on a non-traditional topic brings with it is own set of challenges, as does conducting research that involves online components, as the research world is still trying to figure out how to handle the Internet in terms of ethics (despite me being in school online… ah, the irony). I look forward to sitting down and going into detail on some of these topics, as I believe they may be of help to others getting ready or currently going through similar avenues as I am.

Ultimately, what I’d love to get from this blog is conversation. If I write something you think is cool, please drop me a line and say so. If you disagree with something I said, or want to discuss things, same goes. The Internet is this magical place where having access to really smart and interesting people from all over the world is right at your finger tips. I love meeting new people and sharing ideas. I’m also well aware of the fact that while I have some decent ideas, I have loads of room to grow. Collaborating and discussing things with others I find to be all kinds of awesome, so please feel free to reach out! I look forward to getting my fangirl and my scholar on, all here in one centralized place. 😉


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