Natalie Gordon and Jojo Karlin Win The Graduate Center’s First Presidential Prize for Public Communication

Jojo Karlin (left) and Natalie Gordon

By Bonnie Eissner

The Graduate Center’s fourth Dissertation Showcase, held online on May 19, 2021, was like a lightning round of TED Talks with an academic twist. Ten doctoral candidates and recent graduates from 10 different fields gave the public a taste of their dissertations in three-minute talks. This year, there was a $1,000 prize for the best communicator, and two presenters tied for the award: Jojo Karlin (Ph.D. ’21, English) and Natalie Gordon (Ph.D. ’21, Psychology and Law). 

Karlin told the story of her unusual dissertation, Yours Sincerely, Virginia Woolf: Virginia Woolf’s Poetics of Letter Writing. “I wanted to look across one author’s lifetime of letters to figure out what the letter meant to her,” Karlin said. “I persuaded my committee I could draw the dissertation to physicalize the personal correspondence.” She explained that she “wanted to challenge the ways we convey our intellectual ideas. Drawing is how I read, so I argue through word and image.” On a slide, she showed some of her pen and watercolor illustrations of Woolf and her correspondence. Karlin’s artwork conveys admiration for the author and a delight in her words and writerly life. At the end of the evening, during the question-and-answer portion, Karlin held up a sketch she had drawn of all the presenters as they spoke. “I’m really interested in the ways that scholarship is moving forward in terms of data visualization and the ways that people do or don’t trust images,” she said. 

Jojo Karlin's doodle of the Dissertation Showcase.

Gordon helped the audience understand her study of juror bias by relating it to the trial of Derek Chauvin. “In Chauvin’s trial, many prospective jurors had seen video of the incident, unintentionally prejudicing them,” she said. “Ultimately, the jury was comprised of individuals who said they could be fair and impartial, regardless of their knowledge about the case and any pre-existing attitudes.” Through mock courtroom experiments involving nearly 500 participants from 35 states, Gordon found ample evidence indicating that “jurors’ expressions of impartiality are meaningless.” Participants who were exposed to pretrial publicity claimed that they could be impartial. Relying on people to self-report their biases during the jury selection process, Gordon said, “can undermine the prosecution’s ability to prove guilt and can create additional litigation, thus wasting the courts’ invaluable time and resources.” The courts should explore alternative solutions, she concluded. 

“Congratulations to all of our extraordinary presenters,” Graduate Center President Robin L. Garrell said in concluding the event. “Their cutting-edge research and ability to communicate to the public,” she added, are “fundamental to doctoral education at The Graduate Center and vital preparation for their careers.” 

Three judges chose the Presidential Prize for Public Communication winners: alumni Brian Jones (Ph.D. ’18, Urban Education), director of the new Center for Educators and Schools at the New York Public Library, and Daniel R. Porterfield (Ph.D. ’95, English), president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, and Graduate Center Foundation Board member Joanna Midgal.

In accepting her award, Gordon said, “This is such an honor. I feel like I’m in an incredible group of students, and this has been a wonderful place to get my … degree from.” Karlin echoed, saying, “It really has just been such an incredibly valuable place to me to be amongst so many brilliant people.”

Watch the 2021 Dissertation Showcase, featuring: Guillermo Yrizar Barbosa, Sociology; Jasmine Bayron, Earth and Environmental Sciences; Virginia Diaz-Mendoza, Criminal Justice; Natalie Gordon, Psychology and Law; Jojo Karlin, English; Raj Korpan, Computer Science; Roxana Piotrowska, Chemistry; Melanie Blair Thies, Clinical Psychology; Serena Wang, Music; and Emily Weiss, Music D.M.A.-Performance. 


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Submitted on: MAY 20, 2021

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