Wednesday, March 23, 2011

making up for all that downtime

Remember when I was bored a month ago? Hah! Yesterday was one hell of a whirlwind day in ABD land.

My advisor emailed me his final comments on my proposal draft. I've been preparing this proposal to send to my committee. Once they see it and like it, they'll sign off on it. Then, I thought it'd be time to collect my data (which I really need to do before mid-May due to our semester scheduling). Or so I thought.

See, one of his comments left me a little concerned. To paraphrase in a major way, it said that I'd need to work really hard to get a pile more stuff done, to then be allowed to defend before collecting my data.

Say what? I didn't know about any defenses going on at this point. I thought it was just:

1- Topic Proposal written
2- Topic Proposal suggestions & revisions
3- Topic approval
4- Collect data

Now he was telling me I need to jam some serious extra work in between 3 and 4? And defend it? (It used to be that "dissertation" was the scary word. Now, "defense" is. Defenses are serious suit-wearing business, and I don't exactly fit into my suit right now.)

So I tried to get ahold of him and he wasn't in. It happens. I then decided to work on my own research to see what needed to be done and when. (I thought I'd already put a lot of legwork into this research process, but apparently I'd been wrong/omitted a step?) I looked and looked, and couldn't find anything about these extra requirements. So then yesterday, I decided to call my advisor again and--through a lot of bickering back and forth and me reading him the information I'd found--it was realized that we were relying on two. different. handbooks for our information. And guess who was using the correct one. Daaaaammmit.

So it was agreed that I would make the changes (basically expanding my proposal from the 12 pages it is, to the 25-30 detail-laden pages his handbook says it should be). See, we both were under the impression I'd do a "shorter" thing for the Topic Approval (still a 'long version' but shorter than the final version), and then a longer one. I thought the longer one was for later. As in, to hand in when I hand in the full dissertation. He, on the other hand, thought I needed the shorter thing, and then the longer one, before I was allowed to start collecting data. This was a miscommunication between us. And anyway, we were both wrong: I need the long one before I even get topic approval. Woop.

I'd need to get to work on that. Okay.

Then he calls back. Turns out, the AERA conference--a very popular conference for educators--is taking place the second week of April. A lot of the professors and instructors I need to work with (including those on my committee and those needed for my data collection) will be attending AERA... which means I cannot work with them during that time. It's either before or after. Before puts us at (drum roll please):

Next week.

Or else? Three weeks from now would be the earliest convenience for a meeting. My advisor called basically to break the news to me that I might have to wait 'til fall to collect my data. I didn't even consider it though! I said "I can make that deadline." We'd need to meet with the full committee on the 31st of March or the 1st of April. Which means if they approve it then (before they pack up for their trip to AERA), I can get the ball rolling on the next steps and be ready for data collection when they return.

You're required to give your committee at least 1 week (bare bare BARE minimum) to read your proposal. Which means I need that 25-30 page document--with full methodology and instruments set to jet--by Thursday. (Tomorrow.) Meanwhile, my advisor has sent an email to the other committee members telling them to expect this document in their inboxes and asking them to pick a time at which we can all meet on one of those days.

So I need this thing to be done by tomorrow night. My advisor promised everyone he would email it Friday, and since I work, I can't use time Friday to continue polishing it up.) So here I am, writing this post. Hah.

There's little I handle better than a looming deadline. I am being serious here: ambiguous due dates and long timelines irk me and set me up for extreme procrastination. This "it-needs-to-be-done-yesterday" stuff, I can do. I am wired (and heavily caffeinated enough) for dealing with this type of schedule. My advisor was worried this deadline would push me too far over the stress limit, and I was sitting there cool and calm. "No, I don't need the weekend. This timeline is fine. I can make that happen."

Now I have to go make that happen.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

now we're off and running

I had another meeting with my adviser today about the changes I wrote about last time. Consensus is: we're moving forward with it!

He suggested that I do some more research in certain parts of the field, so I will start that immediately. I need to be familiar about what other people are finding out about similar samples to mine, and see if their findings will be transferable to my own sample. If they are, I've got a solid population with which to connect my study.

For those unsure what I just said:
Sample means a group of subjects [whatever you're studying] that you think is representative of ALL of those subjects. The population is all of the subjects. (For example, when you see an article that says something like "75% of Americans prefer _______," they didn't likely get that data from surveying every single American citizen. They surveyed a sample of a few thousand people they believe represent the general population.)

Anyway, more research. That's a cinch. EbscoHost, Google Scholar, Academic Search Premier, ODIN, JStor: they're my bffs.

We also need to do some analyzing of my pilot study's data. That will be done in SPSS, and I've already got the data entered into it. Unfortunately it's been a very long time since my last stats course, so I'm not feeling very confident in my abilities. Thankfully my advisor's a whiz, so he'll work on it with me next week to help me remember what's what. Analyzing that data will help me draw those conclusions about whether my sample is comparable to the other samples of students out there who've been studied, and thus whether my sample will translate to a population of students. We'll also be able to learn what worked in my original survey, what was unnecessary, and what was missing. Prior to this meeting, I'd been under the impression that I could not modify the survey I gave in the fall before giving it now. The new data wouldn't match up with the old data. But since we are still going to treat the pilot study as just that--a predecessor to this step--it's OK. The unofficial purpose of a pilot study is so that you can see whether your bigger study's going to work. You're allowed to make educated changes based on the results of the pilot study. We've already thought of a few things that need editing or adding to the survey; hopefully the data analysis will tell us the rest.

While all this is going on, I also need to refine my topic proposal. I wrote up a draft over the past week, but my advisor suggested that I take a different tone with it. I wrote it every cold and researchy. It still needs to be researchy of course, but for a proposal (the audience for which is my committee), it can take a more conversational tone. He said I should include more of my 'voice' in it. I'm terrible at that (how does one include their own voice, when most of what one is saying is based on someone else's cited work?) so we'll see how my rewrite goes! The plan is for me to write the 'long version,' of the proposal, then he'll look it over and I'll write a 'short version.' Then I'll send it off to my committee members, meet with each of them and get it signed! I'm psyched to think that my committee could have this in their hands within the next 7 days. Much faster progress than with the old topic (the proposal never reached their hands then).

So that's what I'll be doing over the next week or so. More updates next week! (I do write these posts for my own benefit to help me digest what was discussed, but I hope the process is interesting to others as well!)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

or, we could do that

Good news today!

My advisor didn't really like my suggested new topic idea. (Well, it isn't that he didn't like it. He just thought it a lot farther through than I did, and found a number of concerns. One issue? For a really good study I'd have started the topic about 1 year ago, before the event I wanted to study began. Another? I'd have to research relevant stuff that is way outside my interest area or expertise, with buzzwords like stakeholders and building layout design consultations. Blech.)

So that's not the good news obviously. The good news is, he had a much better idea! The new idea is much better because I've already done a great deal of the legwork on it. Woohoo! (No, I still won't graduate in August.) But still, a great deal of legwork! Here's the story.

I started working on a study back in June of 2010 for some research credits. I collected data from a group of college students by giving them a survey to fill out. Then I looked at the students by major and see if their opinions and attitudes about technology differed across major. (So: do English majors in general feel more tech-savvy than Geology majors do?) That type of thing. My idea there was to find out if students choose their major based on their perceived technology skills.

Now for the dissertation, I would be changing this into a study of education majors (so, people studying to be teachers) versus everybody else. I have a hunch that people who choose to become teachers are not a tech-savvy bunch in general. This can partially explain why research shows that even with technology resources and support available, many teachers choose not to use technology and/or report that they don't like it. If I find that there's a difference in preference across majors (i.e. if I find that Education majors are technically-stunted compared with the general university population), there are implications for changes in the way they're taught (to help bring them up to speed and stress what tools or strategies are going to be important for them to know).

I did, in fact, ask a few times last fall if this study topic--which I started researching last summer--could turn into a pilot study for a dissertation-quality paper. It was strongly suggested at the time that I do something different. Maybe I am a LITTLE bit bitter about that because if we'd begun discussing all this back then, I'd have a definite shot at an August graduation. I'd even be much more prepared for an August grad date than I was with the topic idea I recently dumped. But I have decided that it is probably best for me to be a grown up and simply accept that I now get to do what I originally wanted to do! I have a topic! Woo!

You get what you get and you don't throw a fit. Moving on.

He told me to write up a new topic proposal, beefing up that pilot study into a dissertation-quality piece of work. We are meeting about it late this week!