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Flourish and Blogs by Chris Peterson SM '13

how to be a professional harry potter fan

So in between reading applications I’ve been sitting in on CMS.790: Media Theories and Methods, the introductory course for the Comparative Media Studies graduate program. I really love the whole CMS / Media Lab side of MIT, and especially love their nexus, MIT’s Center for Civic Media, so I was super-excited with the opportunity to take CMS.790, which is sort of a broad overview of media studies at the graduate level.

Anyway, a few weeks ago Professor Uricchio told us we would be having a guest lecture on fan studies. And who should walk in to deliver the lecture but Flourish Klink.

Now, Flourish – as you will soon learn – is known around campus as a CMS alumna, MIT lecturer, and cofounder of what might be thought of as a fandom consulting company.

I know Flourish, however, because a little over a decade ago, in junior high, we were members of the same Harry Potter Yahoo! Group fan club, and helped her and others cofound what was, for a time, the largest Harry Potter fanfiction community on the Internet, the now-mostly-defunct FictionAlley.org (though thankfully Schnoogle is still up).

So everyone in the room is going around introducing themselves with their names and their fancy-sounding graduate research projects pitches. And then it comes to me, and I raise my hand, wave, and say:

“Hey Flourish! I’m Chris. I work over in admissions. A decade ago we worked on FictionAlley together. I was in the group that fled FanFiction.net in the Great Exodus, and was a bit character in the exodus’ autobiographic opus as ‘Chris the House Elf.’ ‘Sup.”

Everyone else just looked really confused but Flourish’s jaw dropped to the table. After a few seconds of shocked silence she raised her hands in the air (rushing past her turquoise hair) as she excitedly announced:

“Ooh!! Ooh!! It’s like the Internet has come to visit me!”

Which might be my alltime favorite way to have been greeted by anyone ever.

Anyway, after class, I asked Flourish if I could interview her for the blogs. While Flourish did not go to MIT as an undergraduate, she did come here for grad school, and now she teaches undergrads at MIT. I thought it would be really cool to ask someone who managed to turn her love of Harry Potter (and other things) into a career how she did what she did, and what advice she might have for other people who might want to do the same.

Who are you exactly?

I’m Flourish Klink. I’m a lecturer at MIT, and I’m the Chief Participation Officer for the Alchemists Transmedia Storytelling Co. I’m also a longtime Harry Potter fan, and the lead organizer for Ascendio 2012, a Harry Potter fan convention to be held in Florida in June.

What do you do at MIT?

Like I said above, I’m a lecturer — in the Comparative Media Studies department. That is, I teach classes like Introduction to Media Studies, Fans & Fan Culture, and Transmedia Storytelling.

How did you find MIT?

When did you figure out you could be a fan for a living?

These two questions are deeply intertwined! When I was a teenager, I was contacted by Henry Jenkins, who at the time was a professor at MIT. He wanted to interview me for his book Convergence Culture. That was the first time I ever thought of MIT as someplace other than just an engineering school. But as an undergrad, MIT wasn’t for me — my childhood best friend went off to MIT, but I decided I’d rather go to a small school. So I went to Reed College, where I definitely got a very traditional liberal arts education! There, even though I knew I could be a “fan for a living” by studying fans in academia, I thought that fandom was still too “unserious” for me. I toyed with being a Classics major and eventually ended up majoring in Religion. But even while I was studying Catholicism, I realized that the things that appealed most to me about Classics and Religion were the aspects of them that connected up with fandom! So I applied to grad school at MIT, to be Henry’s student in the Comparative Media Studies program. And that’s all she wrote!

If you could bring any Harry Potter character to life and be friends with them, who would it be and why?

I think a lot of my friends think it would be Hermione, but actually, no — I think she’d be very irritating and I’d want to meddle in her life and tell her that Ron’s just not good enough for her! I’d rather be friends with Tonks. She seems like so much fun. Plus, we could have contrasting hair colors!

How is MIT similar to and different from Hogwarts?

Let’s see. Like Hogwarts, MIT has miles and miles of twisty little passages that often seem like they lead different places on different days of the week! Also like Hogwarts, students actually get to do practical work with potentially dangerous substances, which sometimes looks like magic (“Any technology sufficiently advanced…”). There’s also a bit of healthy rivalry between different dorms, like between the Houses at Hogwarts — I knew that I had started to fit in at MIT when one of my students told me that my bright teal hair was “so east campus.” Unlike Hogwarts, though, MIT is completely full of students who are top notch at what they do. There is no Crabbe & Goyle at MIT. That can be really hard to realize for some students who have come from a high school where they were always A1 — you can be a supergenius and still be at the bottom of your class at MIT. It happens! But you shouldn’t let it freak you out: you will be just fine.

What is your favorite part about MIT?

Roof & tunnel hacking! I love exploring the strange places on campus, and it’s the one reason I wish I had done my undergrad here (even though really I know it was a good choice for me, personally, to go to Reed). Since I’m a lecturer now, I can’t really be a hacker — I can only admire what my students do.

What is something you always hope you keep “doing”, in your jobs and/or in your life?

Being honest with myself and others. One of the great things about academia is that you are removed from some of the constraints which can make it hard to speak your mind. I’m pretty devoted to being part of the commercial sector as well, advising the entertainment industry on fan culture and so on, but I never want to be in a situation where I’m twisting the truth or fudging data to ‘make a sale,’ as it were. MIT is a great place to have that kind of intellectual freedom, and being here has helped me understand how much I value that.

40 responses to “Flourish and Blogs”

  1. Heather ('16?) says:

    This totally made my day… I’ve been interested in different fandoms for a while now, both as a fan who is enjoying the things they can add to the book/tv series/movie, and someone who finds their history, development, slang, how they’ve impacted the way people think about the original, and such fascinating. I didn’t know there was any way somebody could do something professionally with that!

    So, now I can say that it’s a legitimate interest, huh? That’s awesome!

  2. Brandon J. says:

    Oh, she sounds really cool 😀

    HP FTW! I dressed up as HP for Halloween this year… I’m not THAT hardcore of a fan, though!

    Oh, and Brent? Nope. Star Wars – also awesome. Lord of the Rings, also awesome. Many, many other things – also awesome.

    Finally.. Yay for Clarke’s third law! One of my favorite quotes smile

  3. Fangzhou Xiao says:

    “MIT is a great place to have that kind of intellectual freedom” This is what I value most in MIT. After reading Betrand Russel’s Impact of Science on Society and thinking about scientific society in an ultimate way, MIT sets the image I can find in reality that passes the scientific power down to next generations with the integrity that keeps science true to its ideal.

  4. Shoyeb A. says:

    another cool post 😀
    Harry Potter ftw!

  5. Erin says:

    Great post, Chris! Flourish Klink sounds like a very interesting lecturer indeed! I hope that I may someday have the chance to study CMS at MIT.
    Question – When is committee going to start, for the EA apps?

  6. Brent says:

    I remember this website! I used to live and breathe HP, but now I’m absorbed in Star Wars. I suppose I’ve turned to the dark side…
    Thanks for the nostalgia Chris. Really enjoyed the interview.

  7. Christi says:

    Haha that is very probably the greatest greeting in the world. Awesome!

    I think, even if I studied engineering at MIT, I would probably do something along these lines and sit in on a bunch of classes totally unrelated to engineering…there’re too many cool classes to just pass up, it seems!

  8. Jason says:

    Another difference between Hogwarts and MIT: Apparently, dishes do not magically restock for 2nd and 3rd helpings: at least not without a half-decent meal plan.

    @ Chris: Now here’s a question that may seem rather out of the blue, but: Have you perhaps run across and allusions to Hogwarts in any of the applications you’ve read?

  9. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    @Jason-

    LOTS of them.

  10. Tim says:

    Hey Chris,

    A kind of random question, but can you give us an estimate as to when to expect to see the blog telling us the time of the decision release?….I keep checking the admission page dozens of times a day and I can’t seem to help myself….

    Thanks

  11. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    We’ll probably send something out next week alerting folks of the decision date.

  12. Tim says:

    So then decisions would obviously be released after next week, so like the week of the 19th?

  13. Jason says:

    Haha, and I thought myself original! I should’ve known better.

  14. Anonymous says:

    So that means that the decision date will be later than the 15th? 🙁

  15. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    I’m honestly not sure when we will go live. Sometime after this weekend and before the holidays is all the precision I have! We’ll let you know as soon as we do.

  16. Anonymous says:

    So, just out of curiosity, where are you guys in the process right now? smile
    You’ve started committee already, right?

  17. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    Yep! We’re in the middle of it, literally and figuratively.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Hopefully, you guys can finish as soon as possible to meet the December 15th date. Is there any possibility that results will come out earlier than that?

  19. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    I doubt it. And there is no “December 15 date” FYI. I think last year we came out on the 15th but it changes by the year.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Chris, we know all of you guys are working hard in committee. We’re just a bit anxious smile

  21. 00 says:

    @Chris, is there any reason to freak out if the “Testing Requirements” box on our my.mit account isn’t checked? Is that part of committee?

  22. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    Yep! It means we don’t have all your scores.

  23. concernedMom says:

    @Chris, I have a child who applied MIT for early action. MIT was the only school he applied for early since he set his heart on MIT. But one day he came to me and told me not to hope too much since there is not much to hopeful. I don’t understand what he was talking about until today. I over heard he told his sister that the reason he thinks he has no hope for MIT is because his interviewer EC told him at the end of the interview that “I don’t think you are going to get in”. To be honest, none of my child and me think getting into MIT is a sure thing for obvious reasons. But having the interviewer EC pointed out at the interview was still quite a shock. I don’t know how my child has held that long to let this out. For god sake, just like many of the top high school students he has worked so hard and was looking forward to put his hard work to test by applying MIT. His hope was killed even before he submitted his application. Yet he still got the strength to continue to pick MIT as the only school he applied for early while there are so many to choose from. Quite frankly, I don’t even think I could have done the same. Is that normal for an EC to tell the students he/she interviewed that they are not going to get in on the spot? Thanks in advance for your answer!

  24. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    It is not normal nor is it acceptable or appropriate. I sent you an email to follow up.

  25. PJ says:

    Is there a good chance decisions will come out before December 20th?

  26. Alex says:

    Chris, does that mean that there is no chance of admission results coming out ON or BEFORE the 15th?

  27. HiC says:

    @Chris, I see you’re very active on CC. What do you think of it? It is helpful for the students? How about the admissions committee? Can using it too much ever backfire on the applicant? I mean like getting all obsessed over it on the forums and stuff. Do you guys use the posts to evaluate your applicants?

  28. Psych says:

    So how about them early action decisions?

  29. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    @HiC –

    I have a love/hate relationship with CC. Overwhelmingly I think it is a negative place that reinforces bad stereotypes and stresses. And that obsession too. Many of the posts I’ve written here have been reactions against memes from CC.

    We also never use posts on applicants (nor anything else on the Internet – Facebook, mySpace, what have you).

  30. Alec says:

    Chris, I am an EA applicant and I just wanted to say that all the work you obviously put into your job is awesome! From these blog posts to the jungle that is the CC boards, you are always helpful and conscientious.

    To you, the rest of admissions, and the Institute itself, keep being awesome, and thank you for all your hard work!

    And now back to Reddit to waste time until decisions are released (Well, that and doing AP homework…).

  31. Maggie B says:

    Hey! Just wanted to say that the Weasley twins are the best, and they would be who I would want to meet. I applied to Hogwarts… but if I don’t get in, MIT is my second choice.

    P.S. The movies are NOT as good the books. I guess I am a bit of a purist. =]

  32. Justice Mason says:

    @Chris

    I am an EA applicant, and I have turned in all of the required material besides the Evaluation A, because the instructor lost it after he sent it the second time. So, now he’s re-writing it, and he says that he will have it finished before Winter break. Will there still be sufficient time for consideration, or is it already too late for EA? I really would like to be considered, because this is really important to me, but I also understand that rules are rules.

    Also, I would like to thank and commend the entire Admissions office for what I am sure is a job well done! I am sure I speak for all applicants in saying that, even in the absence of admission, we all truly appreciate the time and effort put into the process of selection.

    Thanks once again! Happy Holidays!

  33. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    Hi Justice –

    I’ll check in and see what we have. Thanks for the happy thoughts!

  34. Anonymous says:

    Deferred QB applicants have said that 12/15/11 is the early action release date, is that accurate?

    Thank you!

  35. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    Nope! But you’ll find out Monday.

  36. claire says:

    just saying…if you know the date isn’t the 15th, then you must know when the date is. so why wait till monday to tell us? not that i’m reeeeally complaining but, ya know.

  37. Zara says:

    Hey Chris! smile My interview is this week. My EC asked me to email him my CV before the interview. I’m a bit confused. What exactly should it contain? Should it have SAT scores and transcripts? A list of all my achievements since 9th grade or only the ones I’ve written on my application?

    Thank you.

  38. Chris Peterson SM '13 says:

    Hi Misha –

    Our ECs are all crazily busy right now. If you don’t hear back by the end of the week email interview [at] mit [dot] edu.

    @Zara –

    Well, I don’t know what your EC wants on there, but you shouldn’t need to send them scores or grades since we tell ECs not to ask for them. I’d say list things you’re involved in or impressive things you’ve done.

  39. Misha says:

    @Chris:

    I have a problem, I was hoping you could help. My EC is not replying. I actually contacted my EC in November, but she lived in a different city and we couldn’t meet. So I mailed MIT and my EC was changed (I got the new EC on the 7th). But now my new EC isn’t replying. I have tried emailing but no response and the number listed on MyMIT does not work. I know it’s past the deadline and my interview will probably be waived now but I really want to have one. Can I do anything about it?

    Thank you in advance. smile

  40. Highly energetic blog, I liked that a lot.
    Will there be a part 2?