margy thomas phd scholarshape


Hello! I’m Margy Thomas, Ph.D., Founder of ScholarShape. I could tell the story of ScholarShape in so many different ways, but for purposes of this page, I’ve narrowed it down to these:

  • a series of vignettes about how each of my tattoos represents one of ScholarShape’s core convictions

  • a list of facts about the origins and work of ScholarShape so far

  • a photo that a friend took of me while I was engrossed in ScholarShape-y contemplations

And at the bottom of this page, I share a version of the ScholarShape story that you can join in on, too.

Version 1: Tattoo vignettes

Margy Thomas whale tattoo

My sperm whale tattoo, representing how knowledge is ever-emergent. In Moby-Dick, my favorite book of all time, the crew of the Pequod is on a quest to find the elusive white whale. They zigzag wildly around the globe, with each person on the ship having his own ideas about why they’re chasing the whale. The captain continually revises the ship’s route in response to the changing tides and weather and his own instincts. Circuitous as the voyage may be, though, it always has a focal point: not the whale exactly, but his outline. The idea of him. The crew is driven always by the question of where Moby-Dick might be, who he might be, what their eventual encounter with him might mean. So too are we knowledge-builders always moving through space and time focused on a Working Thesis that is elusive and evolving. Only as we go along can we devise and revise our route and gradually discover what knowledge we are building.

golden spiral tattoo margy thomas scholarshape.jpg

My golden spiral tattoo, representing how knowledge, when built well, has a form that’s both functional and beautiful. This sacred spiraling geometry, reflected in the shells of snails and the arms of galaxies, echoed in the art and architecture of humans across millennia, signifies the inextricability of form and function. When a structure is sound, including a knowledge structure like a book, usefulness meets beauty in a way that has a sense of inevitability to it. Knowledge that is built soundly is functional in the sense of being accurate, logical, and persuasive, and it is also beautiful in that it’s symmetrical, unified, and harmonious. Knowledge is both discovered and designed according to patterns and structures that are inherent in the universe, and the ScholarShape mission is about elucidating those underlying patterns and structures so that we can draw on them as we build knowledge.

sagittarius tattoo margy thomas scholarshape.jpeg

My constellation tattoo, representing how knowledge is a story told from a particular perspective. Since ancient times, humans have looked up at the scattering of stars in the night sky and seen stories there. In the nineteen stars that make up Sagittarius, stargazers imagine they see an archer questing after truth and shooting his arrows into the future. People born under this sign are said to share this nature, too. You may be wondering, why would I commemorate a knowledge system, astrology, now widely considered obsolete? Because ancient humans’ invention of an entire life guidance system based on the stars they could see from their position in the galaxy points to how determined and capable we are at making meaning wherever we are, with whatever materials we happen to have at hand. Knowledge is always told from a perspective. And yet—it also references something outside ourselves, and so positions us within the universe, and gives us something to navigate by.

Version 2: A list of facts

  • Since founding ScholarShape in 2013, I’ve helped hundreds of scholars around the world develop their manuscripts and have had the satisfaction of seeing them publish beautifully crafted books and articles with top university presses and journals. The quantitative metric I really care about, though, is how many client thank-you emails I receive.

  • From 2014 -2018, I served as North Carolina State University Graduate School's Dissertation Institute Writing Consultant, and since 2018, I have co-taught a doctoral writing course in the NC State College of Engineering. Spending time with hard science-y grad students is the perfect complement to my work with humanities and social science researchers--keeping me rooted in what all researchers have in common in this shared scholarly enterprise.

  • My Ph.D. (Baylor, 2012) is in English Language and Literature, and I wrote my dissertation on Herman Melville's use of genre. My dissertation topic explains both my obsessive interest in how academic writing is constrained and generated by genre, and the sperm whale tattoo philosophized about in the vignette above.

  • While at Baylor, I taught academic writing and research for four years, and then served as the university's first Graduate Writing Consultant. In that role, I developed training materials for future consultants, an experience that planted early seeds of ScholarShape. Also at Baylor, I was a Presidential Doctoral Scholar, was named one of the university’s 2011 Outstanding Professors of the Year, and published peer-reviewed articles on American literature.

  • In my local community of Durham, North Carolina, I serve on the Leadership Board of WE Collective, where I collaborate with fellow women entrepreneurs on building a counterweight to the patriarchy. ScholarShape HQ is the site of so many women entrepreneur events that it has been nicknamed “The Businesswomen’s Headquarters (for Businesswomen).” One of my most cherished long-term visions is to build bridges between the academic and entrepreneurial worlds so that everyone can learn from each other and be best friends forever.



Version 3: A living room portrait

Margy Thomas Moby-Dick


Version 4: The Working Thesis

The ScholarShape story is being lived and evolved every day. To follow along and join in, check out the Working Thesis blog and newsletter. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram. I look forward to connecting with you!