Wednesday, February 29, 2012

want the good news first?

Yesterday until about 6:00 pm was a really good day. Various good things happened, culminating when my advisor and I hashed out the timeline and we made a plan for my approval and defense dates. He sent the dates to the committee.

I was elated! Best day in a long time.

Then a committee member wrote back saying they would be out of town April 12 through 21. Another will be gone the 20th-26. Defense deadline is the 26th (forms need to be turned in by 4:30 that day).

It was the expletive heard around the world.

If I want to graduate in May, I will now need to defend by April 11th, and be approved to do so at a minimum of 2 weeks prior to that date. Which means my committee really needs my paper now...

But my advisor was thinking one more round of revisions before I send to the committee, and he still has it from February 13. (So, I would need to receive it back from him, make the changes, send it back to him, and have him suggest more changes, then make those before sending back to him and committee.)

So I cried, got angry, and hoped for the predicted "biggest storm of the year" to dump the 8"-10" of blowing snow that was predicted (come on, snow day!) so that I could stay home in bed the next day.

Well apparently they were a little overzealous with that blizzard warning. "Snowfall amounts less than previously expected..." Yeah...there is no snow out there this morning. It's just another cold, windy day. So I have to get up, go to work, and then teach my class after work. And deal with this problem that I kind of doubt has any solution except one that starts with A- and ends with -ugust. But first I wrote this using my phone (sorry, typo police!).

I was unable to get ahold of my advisor last night. After I talk to him, I will write more.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

deja vu (counting down again)

My advisor has had my dissertation since since Feb. 13th or so. This is the part where he reads through all the changes I've made to the entire thing and offers suggestions. Then (I think):

He sends it back to me and I employ his suggestions, then I edit it very thoroughly until I think it's perfect. And he reads it one more time (I think, again), gives it his approval (I hope) and it goes back to the committee.

I had wanted to get it to the committee -- at the latest, the first week of March. Which is this week. (Or next, if you want to say "first full week.") I checked in with my advisor last week, and it turns out he's just been too busy to get around to reading it. I get that. I've been really, really busy too and he has a lot more going on than I do. It's just frustrating because we're on a path to get right back to where I was at in the fall: too close to the deadline, without enough time for the committee to feel like they could fulfill their responsibilities in a thorough way.

The deadline in April 12. (I think I've said that already. I probably say it multople times a day.) If you're keeping track (I know you aren't, but I am), it's 43 days from today -- about 6 weeks (and one of them is 'spring break'. I know I've written before about how it's a really bad idea to wait until close to the deadline: even if they were to sign it on the deadline day, there are other deadlines that are very tightly related to it, and could make scheduling the defense difficult or impossible.

I've had a couple of my committee members tell me they were expecting the paper sooner, and ask me "where is it?" And reminding me that they are starting to receive the papers of others whose committees they are on, and those may have to take precedence over mine, which is mysteriously absent. Well, I have said, my advisor has it, he is working his magic with it. He told me it could be two more weeks (this was last week, mind) before I get it back. It will probably take me another week (or close to it) to polish it. I will motor through it as fast as I can (I always do, because it always seems to come down to that!), but it does take time. Then more time for him to look at it again. Which probably puts us at the end of March. I hope not.

The way it's starting to shape up--pessimistically, but also, realistically--I'm possibly looking at an August graduation.

...That'd be OK. I'll be upset, but I wouldn't be as devastated as I was in the fall. (You know how it is when you've already been disappointed by something: you tend to become complacent toward future disappointments--at least, I do.) Pessimists are less-easily disappointed, right? The August graduations are smaller, more personal, and in the auditorium I prefer (rather than the football/concert/convention arena where the May one is). But I would still rather be DONE. I'd rather not have to make those phone calls and send those emails letting my relatives know to cancel their hotel reservations (again) and postpone their trips (again).

All this to say that this semester is certainly not turning out like I had hoped. My advisor kept assuring me we would not be pushing it close to the deadline this time, and I needed to relax a little bit. Yet here we are, 43 days from the preliminary approval deadline and 67 days from the defense deadline/final paper due to grad school deadline, 74 days from final report on candidate, and 84 days from commencement day...and I don't know if I'm going, pass, defend, or graduate.

Overplanner Me Does Not Like.

But, I'm trying to maintain my positive (or at least, sane) attitude, mostly fueled by the knowledge that worrying about something out of my control won't help me out in any way.

Still though, I worry.

Monday, February 27, 2012

grad school inspiration board

Some people know I have a Pinterest account. What you might not know is that I have an inspiration board on Pinterest that is dedicated to words and images that have somehow helped me in relation to my grad school journey.

I invite you to check out my Grad School Inspirations board on Pinterest.

See if any of these help you out with whatever your current struggle and goals may be.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

short month is hitting me hard

So much going on, and so little time. Sorry about that. I have a ton of stuff to talk about, but no time to actually write it down. Stuff like...

  • A couple of speaking engagements (both dissertation-related: one more stuffy, one more student-oriented)

  • Dissertation, always: currently, advisor is checking on the changes I made to the rest of the chapters...)

  • The class I'm teaching, always

  • Shoveling, because it's winter in North Dakota and some snow finally decided to fall, only 3-4 months late. Not that I love snow, but it's so weird for it to be so warm and wet in February here.

Regarding the dissertation deadline, I feel cautious and moderately concerned. With about 7 weeks until the approval deadline and another full revision needed by me (and another very very detailed reading by my advisor), plus committee reading schedules, revision requirements, etc... that 7 weeks will be gone in no time. We shall see.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

dissertation summary

Today I have decided to pick apart the chapters of a dissertation (at least, mine) so you readers can get a view of how it all comes together. I hope it's helpful!

First I do have an update. When we left off, I was starting to crush myself under the stress of looming deadlines, as is my style. Healthy right? And then I received the changes to the particularly painful lit review chapter. After putting on the finishing touches and reading the chapter through to catch any weirdness that tends to occur when you chop up 85 pages of writing and re-order it, I sent the chapter to my advisor on Monday morning.


So here is what happens now, as I understand it.

  1. He will read the chapter and probably catch a few things I didn't catch, or make some suggestions based on the comments I wrote for him.

  2. I will make those changes/take those suggestions in to consideration.

  3. I will receive (hopefully) the OK from him to rework the other chapters so they incorporate suggestions the committee offered, and also flow nicely with the 'new' chapter.

  4. He will check over my changes to those chapters, probably offering suggestions and catching things I didn't catch, again.

  5. I will fix those.

  6. He will read the entire thing front to back, possibly making more suggestions, which I will consider/repair/work in.

  7. To the committee it goes! (Again, heh.)

I think I've just described the rest of February. Ideally, this will be back to the committee the first week of March. Let's hope! (That'd be about 6 weeks prior to the preliminary approval deadline). A decent (but still not super) cushion, much more palatable than the 12 days they were given in the fall.

Now... to describe where I'm at, progress-wise. I wonder if reading the list above, people might think: "So you finished working on one chapter. There's... 4 more to go?! And one chapter took a week plus two weekends, plus months of re-organizational work with the advisor? GOOD LUCK with that deadline."

Thankfully that isn't the case. The chapter in question is Chapter 2: Literature Review. My fellow grad students may understand what that means, but for those who don't, here is a brief summary. The literature review is a very detailed tour of the research and knowledge about the topic area. It must be well-researched, and provide detailed background information, historical stuff, right up to the present/modern interpretation (if that's your study/program's angle). It must also tell somewhat of a story that leads the reader in to your logical reasons for doing your study, and it must show that there is a gap in the current research on the topic (this is a gap you intend to fill with your study). The length and detail varies depending on the program (and even the advisor I bet), but in my program this is a very detailed, in depth chapter that must start with information and finish with justification, with a logical flow of how you got from A to B. Does that make sense? Here is a real-life example from my own work.

My study is about the technology beliefs and fluencies of college students who are studying to become teachers. So chapter 2 needs to explain to the committee (and whomever else reads it) why this is an important study. So my chapter starts by describing the history of technology in the united states, moving in to how it is used today in business and personal lives, and also how technology used to be, is now, and should be used in schools. It moves in to the research that has already been done on these topics. It discusses those for a while, through the use of examples (we call these "empirical studies": it's research where someone actually studied and reported something--didn't just tell us about it) and sourcing experts' published articles and books on the subjects. New terms are introduced, and then used throughout (they are not used prior to their introduction and discussion of what they are and why they matter). Eventually, the chapter rolls in to a summary type of thing, several pages long, where the aforementioned terms, studies, topics and concerns are synthesized in to a reason why my study is important, and finally, what my study is.

That's chapter 2. Mine is (I just checked) 89 pages long right now, and that's with no figures or pictures. There are a lot of headings and subheadings (4 levels deep). They take up 6 pages of the table of contents for the dissertation! The references/bibliography section (which is probably 95% made up of sources used in this chapter) is 26 pages long, with an average of two lines being taken up for each source. The 6 pages and the 26 pages are not part of the 89 pages. If chapter two were to stand on its own, with its references, it would thusly be 115 actual pages long. 121, if you included a table of contents!

Now imagine if you will, you have written a paper like this through the course of many sleepless nights and hermit-like weekends...and you are asked to revise and re-organize it so it will flow differently. (The goal being: you are changing your logical reasons for doing the study; the preceding info must reflect that.) You need to do a lot of outlining, cutting, pasting, and re-writing. The re-writing comes in to play not only for the transitioning from section to section (since section A did not previously belong above section B, so they are disconnected!), but also for the emphasis. Some things you want to emphasize, aren't emphasized enough, so you have to rework and supplement your other sections to emphasize the right things. The goal is that the reader will read it and think "oh, this is an important issue, and these other issues support that idea." And additionally, remember how I mentioned that you have to define and build on your terminology throughout the paper--not using terms until you have introduced and familiarized the reader with them? Think about doing that, with 90 pages, and the having to essentially 'turn the paper upside down.' Suddenly none of the terms you used in a section that used to be at the end, can be used since you've moved that section to the beginning. FUN FOR YOU!

That is what I've been doing over the last week-plus-two-weekends.

I have a total of 5 chapters, but chapter 2 drives all of the others as so.
  • Chapter 1 is the introduction. A summary of the rest of the chapters, introducing the problem and foreshadowing what is to come in Ch. 2 and beyond. Mine is currently 8 pages long, and will probably remain close to that length when I rewrite it.

  • Chapter 2, we just talked about. 89 pages, give or take a few by the time it's final. The end of chapter 2 also has the research questions -- these are questions I decided were important to explore, after doing all that research for the chapter.

  • Chapter 3 is methodology, so it talks in great detail about how the study will be done (quantitatively--with stats) or qualitatively (with interviews/people's thoughts). Mine does both. It also justifies "why" you're doing the study using the methods you chose--how do these methods answer those research questions? Mine is 16 pages. It will grow a bit.

  • At this point I just want to note that in many PhD programs, the above three chapters must be complete before the dissertation proposal is even accepted by your committee. I only needed summaries of mine; my proposal was about 40 pages long total, I believe. I later used it as a starting point to build my dissertation.

  • Chapter 4 is the results. It is not what I think of the results, it's the results, and an objective indication of how this result answers the research question. (Did I reject the null hypothesis based on this finding?) Lots of charts in this chapter makes it longish, page-wise. Mine is 40 pages right now.

  • Chapter 5 is discussion. THIS is what I think of the results (in my "educated" opinion). I tie the results back what was researched in Chapter 2 and my research questions. Did this study help find anything new in terms of the research? What are the implications? I also talk about stuff like limitations in my study and what others could do in the future to improve this research. Mine is 42 pages. The END.

  • Well, not really the end. There are still appendices and references, those take up 50 more pages after the end of the last chapter. There are also about 25 pages before the first chapter starts, by the way. These include table of contents, the abstract, the signature pages, dedications, and all that biz.

Stack it all together and it's... 270 far. (Remember last year, when I was so sure I was almost done? ("It's already almost 90 pages!" hah!)

Hopefully with that list, you can see why Ch 2 takes so long. It's over twice as long as the next longest chapter! And it's very research intensive. The rest should be easy and breezy (in relation to chapter 2). I'll be chipping away at that very soon!