Friday, February 18, 2011

new topic!

Last we left off, I was feeling pretty bad about the stuff happening with my dissertation topic. I felt bad about it for a while, very numb to it, even. I had fleeting thoughts of "Is this worth it? Maybe I should just give up."

(That's not even me. Not even close. Because first of all, it is worth it. And second of all, I've already given 2.5 years of my life to this degree. I will be sure to be collecting a degree at the end. But those thoughts certainly were a sign of unhappiness with the way things were, no?)

So I started to think seriously about changing my topic

But no.

I didn't want to become that grad student. The one you always hear about who waffles back and forth, topic to topic, stuck between finished coursework and dissertation approval as the semesters whiz by and all their classmates graduate? I didn't want to be that person.
Pick a topic,
do the topic,
That is who I wanted to be. Just call me Get 'Er Done Girl. But then I considered the following.

  • My original research sample (a.k.a. the people I would study/work with for the project) was faculty at a higher education institution.

  • Then as my advisor and I discussed, he (rightly) thought I should compare to another sample: public school teachers. I wasn't thrilled about having to track down the specific type I needed, but I complied because it made sense.

  • Then, for another very valid reason we decided I should also have a college student sample. Hmm. Ok, I guessed that would be alright too.

  • And THEN the famous instrument came along. The one I was so honored to be able to use (still am). Until I read the instructions and saw that said instrument must be used to observe elementary school children. And I called my advisor and was all "hey I don't want to observe kids?" And he provided logical reasons he thought I should observe kids. *groan*

  • Now let's just go ahead and add that recent knowledge that sticking with this topic could push my graduation date possibly as far as 12/2012. (Since the world will apparently have ended by then, I'd like to get this degree finished first.)

Camel's back? Broken.

I don't have anything against public schools: the teachers or the kids in them. They just aren't my research area at all. Children aren't either. I really know much more (and care much more) about educating adults. Children as study participants are really hard to get IRB approval for, too (for good reason).

I tried not to get too emotional about it; I didn't break down or anything. I just felt bewildered. Choosing topics is really hard for me. I am interested in stuff, sure. But I definitely haven't caught the research bug. Choosing a dissertation-worthy topic is very daunting.

Also, what about my advisor? Would he be put off that I don't want to use this instrument he spent time convincing people I was responsible enough to use? He also put in his own time re-training himself on its proper use so that he could help me. I like him - I didn't want to be impolite or disrespectful. Even though the instrument wasn't designed to measure something I wanted to measure.

Finally I decided I'd do it. I'd change my topic. And I instantly felt relieved. Not totally better though, since I still was concerned about my advisor's reaction. Also the fact that I had no other topics in mind was a bit of a stressor!

Eventually I thought of a couple of possible research areas, one that was directly related to the reasons my old topic's data collection was to be potentially put off for a year. I showed them to Mr. N and he helped me brainstorm on the one he thought was best. Clearly I was more excited about this topic: I did some research, then I spent about an hour writing about it and came up with 5 pages of possible questions, angles, limitations, biases, concerns, instruments, and relevancies*. I did all of this without talking to my advisor.

I knew I had to tell him about it, but I didn't know how. It was very awkward--made even more awkward by the fact that I couldn't understand why it felt so awkward. Heh. Anyway, on a whim I tried to call him and he was not in. *Whew*. Problem temporarily evaded. I ended up writing one long email in which I explained basically everything I've just explained above, rambling about how I didn't want to be delayed to graduate in 2012 and I didn't care about comparisons with public schools and I was sorry about the instrument and I was really grateful for his help but I did not want to observe any little kids. I may or may not have offered to buy him beer. I explained that I wanted a different topic, I had some ideas, and here's one of them. I attached the 5 page document. "Whaddya think?" *Send*

And 10 minutes later, cue the phone. *ring*

I figured he'd gotten my email and been all "oh what the heck?!!" and called. Actually he hadn't seen the email -- he had just noticed that I'd called him earlier. I had left a message, after all. You know how a conversation goes when you think a person already knows what you're talking about--and you personally are very very immersed in that something--and it turns out they actually haven't the faintest clue to what you're referring?

Yeah. That's how the first 5 minutes of this convo went. He sort of had to stop me and ask "Wait, what makes you think you should change your topic?"

"Oh." (Crap) "You didn't read the email yet." (Even if he had read the email already, I doubt he would have read the document. Anyone who has any kind of quality of life probably does not feverishly read 5-page-long stream-of-consciousness research brainstorming documents the second they land in their inbox.)

So I told him the gist of what was in the email.

He was less concerned about the time line of the original study (saying we could find a way to work with that--which, by the way: WHAT? That is what got my undies in a bunch in the first place). He was much more concerned about my firey burning hate for the topic. He was not at all concerned about the time he'd spent working with the instrument. He was a bit concerned about how long it would take he and I to work out the details of a new topic -- a month or more to get us back to the point we were at with the old topic. He wanted me to know that this would almost 100% push me to a winter 2011 graduation. I told him it sounded better than 2012, and that I had made peace with the switch from August to December, if that switch must occur.

So he's going to look at the document.

By the time we got off the 15 minute call, I felt so relieved. Nervous that he'd hate my topic? Maybe. But I know if he does, I have a few other options. Or maybe he has another suggestion too. I felt a million times better. I felt so good, I had tears of joy in my eyes. That's not something that happens for me really, so it's a big deal. I was glad glad glad. Glad he was open to the change, glad he understood, glad he wasn't mad about the instrument, glad I wasn't going to have to observe public school teachers and children, glad he was going to look at my document, and glad he hasn't offloaded me onto another professor yet--as this is not the first long hot mess of an email I've sent to him over our 6 year student-advisor relationship.

So that, my friends, is where we stand as of yesterday. My master's degree work went so smoothly; who would have thought the Ph.D. would be such a soap opera? A boring one--but still, a soap opera.

*The dictionary tells me relevancies isn't a word, though relevancy is. Can't a person have more than one relevancy? Come on.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

'grad school sucks' week!

I am for sure having a 'grad school sucks' kind of week. I wrote to you about my instrument a while back, and that was really the last time I've done anything with my dissertation. I'm so bored. I've been waiting on my adviser to do a bunch of things, and unable to move ahead until he does them. And, apparently he has a life outside of simply working on my dissertation (really?), so it's taking him a bit of time. That's Ok. I've already 80% resigned myself to a December graduation. But that's not what sucks. What sucks is that yesterday, my advisor realized that my entire project might not be do-able at any time this year. I'll try to be brief about this.

  • To recap: My project involves observing instructors from a department on our campus as they teach as they normally would. HOWEVER,

  • This particular department had their building knocked down and gutted last year, and a new one is being built. Due to uncontrollable circumstances, these instructors are now like nomads, roaming the campus and trying to squat in this room or that, without their normal resources available to them. THIS IS A PROBLEM BECAUSE...

  • They are thus, not teaching under normal conditions and this would skew the results of the study.

And before anyone asks: yes, I do need to use this particular department for the study. Now in the fall, they will be in their new building, hopefully. But the same issue is there: they will have new equipment and be unfamiliar with things. Still not 'fair.' Although my argument is that these issues shouldn't matter because students are still learning--we're still educating them in whatever the conditions happen to be and they SHOULD be getting the same quality of education as students who were here in previous years--my advisor says it does matter, and I know he is right. He said it won't make it through the committee. They will want a very strong, research-backed rationale as to why this study needs to be done this year, when conditions are not really appropriate for it. (And my rationale can't be "I want to graduate this year, so that's why I chose to do the research this year!")

So I either need to:
  1. somehow find a lot of research that shows that students receive the same education regardless of their physical location or whether their instructor is in a rightfully-equipped and comfortable classroom...

  2. wait until next spring to collect my data, pushing my graduation to at least August 2012 if not December...or

  3. use a different school for the observations. This is possible but would be much more difficult logistically, as I also need to locate graduates of that school and speak with them, and the university I am currently planning to use has the biggest department like this in the area by far.

  4. pick a new topic.

It's going to be 1 or 4, most likely. Definitely not 2. I don't know what I'll do yet, so I'll have to write more about that when I do know. (Hopefully, there will be a meeting next week.) This is stressing me out a great deal. But honestly, picking a new topic--if I can think of one--wouldn't be so bad. I haven't put a ton of work into this yet, and finishing my degree really is a top priority. (That is to say, I am not so passionate about this particular study that I'm willing to wait a year to get the chance to research it.) I need to make a decision fast and get to work ASAP.

Somewhat related? My husband is going like mad on his thesis. He has a lot of ambiguity and frustration with his as well, but he's always working on that thing. He's nuts about it. It's crazy. On the weekends, he gets up in the morning, showers, goes to the computer, and works on it all day Saturday and Sunday. Most times, he doesn't even stop for lunch unless I bring him something. It's practically all he does, aside from homework. I'm so proud of him.

On another note, I think I've become acclimated to the constant pressure of having something due. Having chapters to read. Having classes to attend. I think I'll get over that, eventually. But currently I'm bored and feel unable to occupy my time elsewise. My big issue is this dissertation. It's a cloud over my head. A constant nagging entity. I feel blocked from taking up a new hobby or doing anything else until I get it done. Even if getting it done involves a lot of sitting around. On Thursday night I spent a half hour cleaning the cat's electric water fountain, and then another 10 minutes trying to get him to drink from it. Now that's productive use of one's time.

So I'll be here, doing some thinking... lots of thinking. Anyone have a great idea for something to research in the field of education or training development? I'm awful at topics.