I just got back from a fantastic four days spent in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the Consortium for Socio-Technical Systems summer institute (CSST). Along with 10 mentors and 30 other grad students and junior faculty, we did yoga, went hiking, and spent many hours hashing out the particulars of our socio-technical projects.
I highly support the concept of academic retreats. Not only did none of us get cell phone reception (one lousy bar, and usually just on the Edge network), the wireless at Bishop’s Lodge was deplorable. So we were basically off the grid for half a week, which for obsessive academics who study technology was challenging. Well, I was challenged. Everyone else seemed fine.
My favorite part of the institute was a mini-workshop on ethnography which I ran (pats self on back). We went around the table and talked about challenges we were having with our ethnographic work. I was amazed and totally stoked that people were doing such fascinating and diverse projects using ethnographic methods, from studying emergency room trauma teams to looking at solar energy projects in Morocco to examining large-scale infrastructure from the ground up in rural India. My co-participants were a truly impressive group and we had a great time hashing out solutions to our varied problems. I was one of the few doing internet ethnography, and I realized how much I have to learn from STS and HCI people studying other forms of technology using similar methods.
I highly recommend that grad students (& asst profs!) apply for next year! It’s all NSF funded and a great group of people.