Alexandra Gonzalez (she/her)
PhD Candidate in Rhetoric & Public Culture
Alexandra Gonzalez is a PhD candidate in the Communication Studies program in the School of Communication with a concentration in Rhetoric and Public Culture. She received her BS in Journalism from the University of Florida and her MA with distinction in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul University. Alexandra is broadly interested in the narrative formation of self. Her research sits at the intersection of rhetoric, identity, and psychology. Her recent work has focused on literary depictions of Cuban identity and the contemporary uses of personality frameworks.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
Rhetoric is about studying language as action: How do we use communication to get things done? I'm interested in the stories we tell about our identity—who we are, why we are, and how we got to be that way. I research personality frameworks and try to explain their popularity. Personality tests are being used more at work, searches for personality frameworks are increasing, and social media is full of personality influencers and accounts. Why? I think these frameworks give us vocabulary and concepts that help us explain our identity and design a life that feels 'in line' with that identity.
What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
Returning to academia was a big turn! I started my career at Google in digital advertising. After a few years, I reached a point where I wasn't learning and growing as much as I wanted to. I was getting better at selling ads, but I knew that work didn't light me up. I took a few months to think about what I wanted out of work and what felt interesting and important to me. In 2017, I made the scary decision to leave a comfortable job with benefits and pursue an MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse at DePaul University. It was absolutely the right move. It taught me to lean into my curiosity, which I've been trying to do ever since.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
I come from a big Cuban family, but out of my 100+ family members, only one has a PhD. I think about my family a lot when I'm working. They're my primary audience. If my abuela can't see the value in what I'm researching or working on, then what am I doing? Who am I doing this work for? (P.S. I told my abuela about my dissertation topic a few weeks ago, and I'm happy to report she approves!)
I've been a graduate assistant at the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) for over a year, and my work at CCE is directly tied to these concerns. I manage an oral history project in partnership with Shorefront Legacy Center and its founder, Dino Robinson. We train Northwestern students in oral history, then connect them with Black Evanston residents to record the residents' life stories. The interviews live in Shorefront's archive, where they remain publicly accessible. With the support of Kaplan’s Public Humanities Research Workshop, I’m creating an interactive, digital map on Shorefront’s website that allows readers to explore all the stories we’ve captured. I love using the skills I've developed at Northwestern to preserve Black history on Chicago's North Shore and build relationships with folks outside of the university.
What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
Trying to speak to both academic and non-academic audiences. It's challenging because I have to find a way to make complicated theory interesting and readable to people unfamiliar with it, while convincing academic audiences that the "real-world" objects and people I study matter. I'm still not sure it can be done in the same text or project, but I'm trying!
I was drawn to how interdisciplinary my program is. I know everyone says that, but it's true! I've taken classes in performance studies, psychology, history, African American studies, gender studies, and Spanish. I have a lot of different interests, and I love the freedom of exploring/learning from multiple disciplines. Interdisciplinarity is crucial for rhetoric, which is both a discipline and a method of analysis.
Another big reason? Chicago. I moved to Chicago in 2015, and it's the only place that's ever felt like home. Studying at Northwestern keeps me in my favorite city—and offers plenty of chances to work with local communities and organizations.
How do you unwind after a long day?
I would not have given this answer a year ago, but cooking!
What books are on your bedside table?
This week's copy of The New Yorker, always. Right now, I'm reading Piranesi by Susanna Clarke and rereading Possession by A.S. Byatt.
How would your closest friends describe you?
Fiercely independent, a ball of energy, witty, empathetic, warm, and loyal. (They would also like you to know that I am small in stature, but not in spirit.)
What did you originally want to be when you grew up?
A wildlife veterinarian! I've obviously deviated a bit from that path...
What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
1) Lead with curiosity. What sparks your interest? What questions excite you? You get to decide what research you do, but you'll need lots of motivation to do it. There's no better motivation than chasing your curiosity.
2) Practice project management skills. Your PhD is one big project, and you likely won't be given as much guidance or professional development as you'd like. Learn to define the scope of a project, break it into manageable pieces, and schedule your time so that you get stuff done. You'll be productive and probably less stressed than your peers.
3) Find your people. Who shares your values and goals? Who pushes you to grow? Whose feedback makes you better? That's your support network. And remember—the people you know outside of the university are an important part of your network, too.
Published: March 15, 2022
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