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.
February 14, 2006
Sometimes I don't think my head is big enough...
To wear all those hats, that is. Yesterday, my "mom hat" collided with my "dissertating hat" and what never fails to surprise me on some level is how I respond to those rough spots.
I was totally in the zone, following the A** to Chair Method of graduate studies, thrilled that I was nearing the end of my prospectus. This paper, which was 98 pages long when finally emailed to my committee, has been an absolute challenge to finish. I've been struggling with maintaining my own integrity as a researcher admist the multiple paradigmatic epistemologies of my committee members. I've also become keenly aware that Michael Quinn Patton's (2002) comment about dissertations needing to be much more explicit in all aspects of the research process is really something they should put in the grad school welcome letter. I cannot believe how detailed I have had to be in describing my data analysis procedure. What do you mean, I can't just say that the data will be analyzed according to emerging themes? Oh, that's right--I have to explain that I know the difference between methodology and methods, and that I know there are different research paradigms, and and and and and...
So, there I was, practicing the A** in Chair Method, doing the final edits when I got a call from J's daycare. It seems that he was doing all of the -ing words a parent of a 4 year old doesn't want to hear: kicking, hitting, throwing things, spitting, and, of course, name calling. They needed me to come get him.
No one knows exactly what started it all, including J. He was pretty emotional when I got there, and he still struggled a bit when we got his stuff together to leave. I told him in the car on the way home that he had made some bad choices, but he's a good kid and I knew he could make some different choices. He fell asleep.
When we got home, he woke up, and we agreed to make some cards for the three teachers who he had been having difficulty with. He wrote each of their names on the card as well as his own, along with the word "sorry." Then, we thought about how to help each person feel better about what had happened. He stuck bug stickers on one card, flowers on another, and more bug stickers on the third card. Then, we moved on. Dinner, a short little bit of playtime, and a somewhat early bedtime in honor of how tired his body was feeling.
As I sat there with J, helping him write a few of the letters in the words, I thought about my prospectus and how just one more hour of work would be all that I needed to get it done. For a fleeting moment I felt impatient, like I wanted to get back to work. But the truth is, my committee could wait. The paper will still get read. There'll still be an enthusiastic discussion about my research proposal--it might even be more enthusiastic than I want it to be. In that moment, for a minute, I wished there wasn't even a "dissertation hat" because the work of helping J learn about relationships and kindness and making a good apology seems like more important work than any ol' research project ever will be.
The fact is, though, I also see the benefits to J of him experiencing me (and his papa, who is also in a doctoral program) wearing my grad student hat. J has aspirations to be "the president of the professors" (I wonder if President Bruininks knows he has competition from a 4 year old). As a child, I didn't really have career aspirations, and I think that it's important that J is surrounded by ideas, curiousity, cultural differences, and high aspirations.
February 6, 2006
Dissertating on location
This entry comes to you directly from Wilson Library, where I have come to track down the book Foundations of Futures Studies: Human Science for a New Era by Wendell Bell. One of the last details of my prospectus appears to be making the case for futures research, and of course, Wendell Bell is the ultimate expert on this topic, so here I am in the library, perusing Bell's work and wishing I already had a copy on its way from Amazon to me.
As I wandered the library to find this book, the familiar smell of the library brought me back to all of my lifetime library experiences. I would argue that libraries are something like airports--those cultural spaces that are constructed to be enough alike each other that we have tacit expertise even in a new surrounding. Libraries and airports are each different from each other, of course, but I also think there is something intentional about their similarity.
As I was lost in the stacks this morning, I was transported to the Millar Libary at Portland State University in Portland, OR. Anyone who knows me knows I spend too much time missing Portland, and so the sensory experience of suddenly feeling, as I'm wandering down the narrow row of the CB151s, like I could be in Portland was a lot to take in. But, these days I'm researching futures research, not Keats and Shelley or transcendentalist poets. I'm not only in a different library, I'm in a different section of the library. And something about that feels good, even if the irony isn't lost on me that I'm researching the future yet urgently missing the past.