Doctoral Student Patti Piburn Reflects on Meeting Real (AJHA) Historians

10 Apr 2018 2:20 PM | Dane Claussen

A Graduate Student Testimonial

By Patti Piburn

Trepidation. That’s what I felt as I boarded a plane at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport heading for Little Rock, Ark. I was going to present a paper at the American Journalism Historians Association conference. I had a mix of business casual in my carry-on and a mix of excitement, fear and anxiety in my heart. I didn’t know what to expect. How was I going to fit in with all the “real” historians attending the conference? What had I gotten myself into? 

I had a similar feeling after graduation when I was driving to New Mexico to start my first job as a reporter. Everything I owned was packed in a U-Haul moving truck. I had just finished a B.A. in broadcast journalism and a B.S. in Political Science at Arizona State University. Now it was time to put all that learning to work. Time to practice journalism, in a newsroom with “real” reporters. What had I gotten myself into? In spite of my trepidation, I found a supportive, nurturing group of journalists in New Mexico and a welcoming community. It was a sort of boot camp experience, and as rookie reporters, we bonded in our struggles. 

That same feeling came back to me in 2006 when I walked into a classroom of college students for the first time as a lecturer. After ten years practicing journalism in a newsroom, here I was practicing teaching journalism in a classroom. Once again, I found a supportive, nurturing group of colleagues who helped me find my footing as an instructor. And, a welcoming campus community at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Much like my first year reporting in New Mexico, and true to the university’s motto, teaching was certainly a “learn by doing” experience for me. 

In 2016 I walked into an ASU classroom with that same anxious, excited, and fearful feeling. I had quit my job at the local NPR affiliate station where I lived in California, agreed to teach for Cal Poly online, packed up everything I owned, and there I was back in Arizona. I looked around the room at my fellow Ph.D. students wondering once again, what had I gotten myself into? In my cohort I found a supportive, nurturing group of friends, and a welcoming community at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

There I sat on the plane taking another step in my journey, feeling anxious, fearful and excited all at once. That familiar feeling of trepidation. I had never done any historical research until I wrote the paper I would be presenting in Little Rock. The moment I arrived at the check-in desk at the hotel, I realized AJHA is a friendly and welcoming community. I met a diverse array of supportive and nurturing scholars and Ph.D. students. There was so much experience packed into one place. That feeling of what have I gotten myself into quickly evaporated. 

From the paper presentations, panel discussions and social gatherings, the fabulous dinner at the Clinton Presidential Library, to the tour of Little Rock High School, it was an invaluable week. I couldn't have found a more welcoming or supportive group of people, I mean historians. “Real” historians. What I aspire to be.

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