Sunday, January 31, 2010

unquantifiable

My dissertation research will be the result of mixed research methods: qualitative and quantitative. Quantitative research is what most people think of when they think of research. It's numbers, surveys, data and statistics. Qualitative research is based more in observing things, interviewing people, focus groups, and other interaction which is then summarized and examined by the researcher. I remember them like this:

Qualitative = quality time with people
Quantitative = quantity (numbers)

Even though I do have somewhat of a math background, I think my research will lean a lot more toward the qualitative methods. It's just that kind of topic. But I still seem to rely on quantifiable structure in life. I like dates, times, schedules and calendars.

So this doctoral program has really thrown me for a loop. It's only this semester that I'm really coming to terms with the idea that I don't actually know when I'll graduate. All other schooling has been timed. You get a course schedule, you take the courses, you complete any internships or final projects required, and you're done on schedule. Not this one. There is no 'graduation date' blank on the Program of Study. Of course I have a goal. But it isn't certain. How long will the research and writing take? What changes will the committee insist upon? Will I pass my comps? Lots of things are up in the air. A lot of people take years just to do the dissertation. I'm juuuust starting the proposal and lit review now, but have a goal to be done with this degree by 8/2011. Some say that's quite the lofty goal. Others say they wrote their dissertation in a month's time (research time aside). It really drives me nuts that I don't know when I'll be done. But as I get closer and closer to that "done with coursework, just writing dissertation" stage, I feel more at ease with it.

So where am I in the process? I have five courses left to take. The school's schedule works such that it'll be two this summer, two in the fall, and one in the spring. (I'm taking three right now.) I have a goal of finishing my dissertation proposal by May, and then working on the study (mainly lit review) over the summer, fall, and spring, with a defense in the Summer of 2011. Again... we'll see. It could be December '11. Or Spring '12. (I hope it isn't Spring '12.)

On a similar note (as I collect articles and book chapters for my literature review), how many sources do I need for dissertation? Every other paper I've written -- including my Master's degree study -- has included some kind of guideline for references. Twenty sources required, or five, or whatever. Not this. For a dissertation, you need as many sources as it takes to explain and triangulate everything you need to explain. How much do I need to explain? I won't know that until I get in to it. And then I'll probably have to rewrite and re-evaluate a lot of it. How many drafts? As many as it takes to reach an agreement between myself, my advisor and committee. Oh boy. That isn't very quantifiable at all.

Learning to live day to day without a definite long term timeline is really hard for me, because I thrive on date-based goals. But sometimes (like now) it's the quality that matters. And with the rewards so great (Dr. Me? What?), I think it's a lesson I can learn to appreciate (and maybe I'll even grow a bit because of it).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

time to get serious, like i said i would

Last night I had class: my first one of the term. I had another tonight, and will have a third tomorrow night. Woop.

But anyway. I generally alternate between two and three classes a term. I do this because after a term with three classes, I am dead, stressed, strung out, malnourished and disoriented. (Three classes wouldn't be so bad, but I work too so, yeah.) But anyway. Then I take two classes the following term, and think 'gee, this isn't so bad, I can handle three!'. Vicious cycle.

My class Tuesday evenings is in advanced research methods. I have heard from others that it is a very intense class, and I don't think they were joking. And looking at the syllabus: holy shit. This is a lot of work for one class. Valuable yes. But a lot of freaking work. The professor even told us to "prepare ourselves for a crush of hard work." I don't think it was a scare tactic, either. So, noted.

I briefly considered dropping one of my three classes. But one, I can't. And the other... I don't want to. I don't have that many courses left in my program (after that, it's all research and writing). I really don't want to drag this out longer than I have to. I am ready to be gradumacated, know what I mean?

So I decided that I really need to get my priorities straight. School needs to be one, and I need to quit procrastinating all of my work until the weekend as I am known to do. (Give me a break. I'm tired when I get home. And I have class three nights a week too. Ugh. I deserve a break! --- No, I don't. That's my old mindset. The new one needs to be less forgiving.)

So when I arrived home from my first class last night, I did something I don't think I've ever done before: I did the reading assignment for it. Yes, I did homework on the first day of school. I picked up the book, sat down, and read the assigned chapters. I paid close attention too, didn't just skim for important points (as I am known to do when reading school stuff). It feels really good to have the week's reading assignment done a full 6 days ahead of schedule.

Can I keep it up? I really don't know. Probably not. But way back when I first applied to this program (almost 2 years ago, wow), I said if I got in I was going to do this and do it well. So I suppose I should.

I'm sure things will get much more hectic as the term goes on. But I am really going to try to do all I can to make it a successful term, as taxing as I know it will be. I suppose getting a Ph.D. isn't supposed to be like a walk in the park.

Happy new year, by the way.