Been awhile since I’ve updated, but since summer classes ended, I needed a break to prepare for the fall classes, and now I’m a month into the last semester of course work.
What does this mean for me?
Narrowing my dissertation topic (focus, focus, focus), getting my research questions together (tighten, tighten, tighten), and developing my reading list (book, book, book, article, article, article). Oh, and I also have a third committee member to add.
Two weeks ago, I submitted what I titled “The Beginning of a Rough-Rough-Rough Draft of Reading List” to my dissertation chair, and last week, I met with him to discuss the list, my topic, and possible research questions. I wanted only him to see that first very, very ugly draft and to talk about my topic so that in the next round, I could bring in other members–once I had a stronger voice in what I wanted to do. I was expecting to hear the bad, the ugly, and the grotesque, but I was pleasantly surprised. My chair said it was great draft, that I actually had a dissertation topic, and that I had good questions that could be revised/collapsed to make stronger questions. He offered solid advice on revising the list, and we set up a loose deadline for the next draft and write-up: about a month’s time.
I know there might not always be blue skies on this journey, but I think thus far certain choices I made helped me get to this point and see the next point in a positive way.
1- Picking the chair your gut tells you to pick. Early on in my coursework, I liked the professor I chose. I liked his work ethic, and at the end of the day, I realized that we shared similar personality traits, traits that equal “getting the job DONE.” I did want someone who shared some of my interests, and he did, but almost as important, and if I’m being truthful, I’ll say more important to me was having a chair who would help me get DONE. I do pretty well with this on my own. I love structure, I need deadlines, and I don’t like being late on a deadline, so I tend to do well pushing myself, but I also knew that this would be my first (and last) dissertation, and as such, I needed someone who would provide a push when I seemed to be off staring out windows and daydreaming about being a successful screenwriter…or watching too much Murder, She Wrote. My gut told me to pick him, I went with the gut, and I’ve been nothing but stoked ever since.
2- Using assignments to explore dissertation topic or research interests. I didn’t always do this–mostly because I didn’t always know what the topic would be–but this summer while taking Internet Writing I wrote a paper that connected well with many of the areas of interest for my dissertation. And the class was taught by my dissertation chair, so that was even better because both he and I could see how what I did for the paper could be applied to my dissertation (or not). In writing the paper, I firmed up my decision to pursue the topic and go forward with things.
3- Journaling. It’s funny. With the reading list, I turned in a write-up of my dissertation idea and in the process of writing it, two things happened: (1) I managed to decide what road I wanted to travel with the dissertation and (2) I managed to write a coherent paragraph about the “focus” of the dissertation. What’s funny is that it took a few rambling paragraphs of loose thoughts to get to the good stuff, and when my dissertation chair mentioned that to me, I couldn’t help but to laugh. With big projects–whether it’s a large paper, a novel, or a dissertation–I usually journal my ideas, draw some diagrams, visualize points and what might be needed to prove points, and through my literary meanderings, there is always a little nugget of A-HA that I can take away from it and use to do the next leg of the work. For about the last 8 months, I’ve been journaling, usually after I read something or after I talk to my chair or to a fellow classmate, and that time allowed me to birth something pretty good this month.
4- Playing “Find That Source!” My reading list, as I said, was an ugly draft in my eyes. My chair told me the few categories that were “required” for my list and then told me I had categories to add that connected to my dissertation. So, after we brainstormed categories, I went home and organized a few “Find That Source!” sessions over the summer. What did the sessions consist of?
Well, I organized “hunts” by type of source. First, I went through my “Mess o’ Sources” file on my computer and wrote the citation material of every source that I thought might be relevant to my dissertation and then I put that information in a One Note document. Loved One Note for this as I was able to create a Reading List notebook then a tab for each category. Because I have all my sources categorized by keywords on my computer, it was fairly easy (though time consuming) to do this part, but it got done. Second, I went to class sources, and I have a file that contains all articles read for my classes and made note of those, and then collected all the books for all the classes and cited those. Third, I collected all the books I bought throughout my time here (those not used specifically for classes), and I cited all of them. Fourth, I connected with classmates and asked to look at their reading lists and pre-proposals and cited sources that would be relevant to my list. Fifth, all those sources I want desperately but have not bought yet (and yes, there is a list of those on the laptop), I added to the reading list. As I added these sources to One Note, I made sure to put them in alphabetical order in each category so that would be one less thing to do later. Once I completed these “hunts,” I copied/pasted all the categories into a Word document and called it a day.
5- Thinking about research questions. After the I put the list together in Word, I wrote a little note to my chair with questions I had, then pasted in my recent journaling where I tried to nail the dissertation topic, then I wrote a list of research questions. Journaling and coming to a strong idea of what I wanted to do aided me in writing questions. Sometimes, a question intrigues you and pushes you to investigate a topic, and sometimes, like for me, you’ll be reading a lot of things and find topics that interest you and then you must find a way to meld these topics together in a clear, thoughtful, significant way so that you can develop questions to further explore the cohesive topic. Because I had an idea of what I wanted to do, I could then ask myself, “OK, so what do I want to learn from this topic?” Writing the summer paper helped me tremendously here (remember #2). I jotted down several questions–like 8, not sure if that was too much or not enough or even if the questions were strong enough. But I did try to remember two things my chair said, two things that were told to me my first semester from my research methods professor: (1) have questions that are complex, that do more than answer YES or NO and (2) have questions that connect to a method of getting the information necessary to answer the question. Number 2 was a biggie for me. During my meeting with my chair, he would ask, “OK, so what would you do to answer question one?” And he went down the list asking me, showing me that some of the questions needed revision and that some were OK.
Now, I’m about to plan out the next month, figuring out when I will do x, y, and z to have a new draft of the list and additional materials completed. I’m not as nervous as I was when I initially submitted the list, and I’m hopeful that I will be on task of having a solid list and strong thoughts and questions by my goal date of January 1.
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