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February 26, 2006

The Difference Between Theory and Practice; Or, How I Learned Where to Draw the Line

On Saturday, I told a friend, "Constructivism is well-accepted in theory, but not so much in practice, I think." This, on the heels of my prospectus meeting, which can barely be called a prospectus meeting, I think. It depends on your definition. If a prospectus meeting is one in which the candidate is supported and encouraged to refine the research into an even more workable project, that was not what I experienced. Here's ten things I learned after two solid hours of terse discussion about my project:

1. Faculty are nearly as good as graduate students at the art of deconstruction. For a while, there wasn't even agreement on whether my research question should start with "what" or "where."

2. Hierarchies really do exist. Whenever possible, avoid having deans, department chairs, provosts, or any such administrator on your committee. They have more to prove than you do.

3. That advice you might have gotten about not having a minor but having a "related concentration" instead is really, really good advice. Whenever possible, heed this advice.

4. Positivism rules. If your research is operating in another framework, choose your committee members very, very carefully.

5. Relationships matter. Sometimes you might end up having someone on your committee who you don't know so well. This is a very, very, very bad idea. Either get to know them well, or find someone else.

6. Find out what your advisor thinks his or her role in these meetings is. Yes, this IS your time to prove yourself, but before you walk barefoot across hot coals, you might as well find out what your advisor will be doing while the soles of your feet are burning.

7. The proposal process might be seen to be a sort of Delphi, in which experts (that's your committee members) are consulted with regularly until they come to consensus. Don't wait until the proposal meeting to find out what they think! Ask a few times.

8. The dissertation process is only partly about your intellect. It's also about politics, relationships, and simply spending enough hours with the A** to Chair Method. While you're writing those brillant sentences that only Foucault and his followers can understand, don't forget that the relationships with your committee members matter too. The more the see you as a whole person, the better off you'll be.

9. A good dissertation is a finished dissertation. That can only happen if your proposal is approved.

10. Trust your instincts.

Well, obviously, there's a story behind this top ten list. At the end of my prospectus meeting, I had the green light to do pilot testing, but I no longer have a research question. Yep, folks, that's true! No agreed upon research question, in spite of several iterations in my meeting. There was, however, some agreement that my research is worth doing, so where that leaves me, I'm still sorting it out. As the dust settles and some things get figured out, I'll write more about it, but in the meantime, I want to share that in my master's program, when I took research methods and the topic of choosing one's committee came up, we were told to think of safety above all else. That this whole process lends one to vulnerability and this is not the time to make choices that go against a person's feeling of personal safety. That might sound a little cheesy, but at this point, I'm reminded of that advice. It's where I draw the line.

Posted by chri1010 at February 26, 2006 10:31 PM


This again remined me of my master's thesis
experience and I really appreciate that
I had the greatful advisor as well as the
comitte members. It seems that relationships
with one's advisor and comitte DO matter a lot.
After going throuh the thesis process, I really
think so. And then your experience made me
more assure so.
By the way, finished thesis is a good thesis,
which seems to apply to dissertation, as well.
Around this time last year, I had not finished
my thesis yet...
Laurene, you just started it. Defenitely,
you can do it.


Posted by: Akiko K at March 13, 2006 10:33 AM

It's been a while...Hope that means you are full steam ahead on your piloting/research question(s) reformatting. Sending you good vibes--and the fresh ones, not the ones left over from my own efforts! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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