For as arduous as doctoral-degree programs are known to be, that journey’s last leg has been one of charmed circumstances for Brian Dobreski, G ’06, ‘19.
In addition to successfully defending his dissertation, completing degree requirements, graduating with distinction, and finding a job as a full-time university assistant professor, Dobreski’s had a run of impressive research recognitions.
- In December 2018, Dobreski’s dissertation (“Values in Knowledge Organization Standards: A Value Analysis of Resource Description and Access (RDA),” was accepted by his doctoral committee without further review or revision.
- In May 2019, he graduated with his Ph.D. and was honored with the iSchool’s Doctoral Prize.
- By summer, after interviewing for several positions, Dobreski accepted a job as an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee’s School of Information, and moved to Knoxville in August.
Fall brought him three additional international and national-level association accolades:
- Runner-up for the iSchools Organization’s 2020 Doctoral Dissertation Award.
- Third place in the doctoral student poster competition at the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE)
- Honorable mention for the ProQuest Best Dissertation Award from the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T)
It’s not like Dobreski didn’t put all the hard work into making those good things happen. However, he credits the interest of others and the support of a whole doctoral team as essential elements to his earning those achievements. He says his doctoral advisor, now-retired professor Barbara Kwásnik, as someone he “clicked with and who understood me,” was instrumental in his staying on the path to success. His doctoral committee (which included iSchool faculty members Steve Sawyer, Jian Qin, Bryan Semaan and Rachel Clarke) also provided continual good feedback on his research and useful preparation regarding his dissertation, he says.
“It’s not easy being a doctoral student. I don’t think anyone imagines it would be,” he reflects. “But I always felt very well taken care of at the iSchool. It certainly was a lot of work and very challenging, but I definitely was supported by everyone at my time there.”
The topic of Dobreski’s dissertation has captured the research community’s interest right now, too.
“It is part of a wave of research right now that is taking a look at technology and technological practices, and seeing it not as a neutral thing, but discovering that biases, perspectives, and sometimes systematic values are built into documents, even technical ones such as cataloging standards,” Dobreski suggests. “We have to take a look at how that meets our needs or doesn’t, as well as how it may impact information outcomes.”
Dobreski graduated from the iSchool in 2006 with a master’s degree in Library and Information Science, then started working in systems for Onondaga County. He then went to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, where the Nazareth College music program bachelor’s-degree graduate became a cataloger. He returned to Syracuse in 2014 to work at Bird Library and teach classes part-time at the iSchool just before starting his Ph.D. program there that year.
“I had spent time not only doing cataloging but training other catalogers to use the standards, and teaching them in general, so that is one of the things that prompted me to start the Ph.D. program,” the assistant professor relates. “I wanted to be in a position to ask these questions and research the practices I’d spent a lot of time doing, and I wanted a space to investigate more about what was going on there.”
Now that he’s enmeshed in teaching, Dobreski especially appreciates the experience that the iSchool provided in that arena. He taught a metadata course in his last year at the iSchool, then that same topic again in his first semester at Tennessee. For Spring 2020, he’s teaching two sections of an all-programs core graduate course: Information Organization and Retrieval, which is similar to IST 616 here.
His entrée into full-time teaching has gone well despite normal adjustments of being at a new university, in a new city, with a new climate, and having different ways of doing things, such as the online synchronous mode he uses at Tennessee, Dobreski says. His iSchool training complete with advice from newer assistant professors who had been through similar experiences even prepared him for those sorts of bumps in the road, he notes.
At Tennessee, he says, “People have been great here helping me out, getting me acclimated, and helping me feel at home. I feel like I know what I’m doing more now. By the end of the semester, I felt like I was comfortably settled with my head above water,” he jokes.
Dobreski is looking forward to eventually teaching at the undergraduate level and is excited about Tennessee’s new undergraduate program in information science, he says.
In addition to continuing his standards research and a project that focuses on the historical use of language referencing sideshow performers in photographic collections, Dobreski also has some new research under way. He’s working with University of Tennessee Associate Professor Awa Zhu and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee doctoral candidate Laura Ridenour to examine how library and information science programs around the country treat the topics of information organization and information retrieval.
By Diane Stirling