What ever happened to …?

Well, it’s now a little over 10 years since my first post on this blog and about 5 1/2 years since my most recent. You’re probably wondering what ever happened to me and my PhD experience. Here goes!

As mentioned in my previous post, I ran for office. I lost. But I will say it was a great experience that I would encourage anyone who wants to be more involved to try. You learn quite a bit about yourself and others in a very short period of time.

But what about the PhD? How did that work out? In short, it didn’t. I “timed out” as my chair and I never came to terms on my dissertation proposal and I didn’t have enough time to complete my proposal before the clock ran out on me. So I didn’t finish. I would have stayed as long as it took to complete, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Am I glad I went through the process? You bet! I learned more about policy and analysis than I ever imagined.

You may be saying to yourself, “wait, that’s it? That’s how this ends?” Not exactly.

I decided to go to law school. Yes, that’s right, law school. If you remember one of my posts from waaaaaay back when, I quoted a professor who stated that public policy is the marriage of political science and law. It’s one of the things that attracted me to the study of public policy to begin with. I had wanted to go to law school for years, but the timing never seemed right and I started the PhD program because my employer wouldn’t have paid for a JD. So when my tenure at GMU came to an end, the opportunity presented itself. I had time left on my GI Bill (barely) and still had the passion for study.

So I took the leap. I’m on the other side of the bar now; I finished law school in 2 1/2 years and graduated magna cum laude. I passed the Virginia Bar in February and started my own practice in April. I love what I’m doing and couldn’t be happier. If you ever need your estate plan updated or if you don’t have one and you live in Virginia, visit my website at www.donshawlaw.com. Let me know you saw my PhD blog!

I’ll keep this blog going for a while. I hope it’s helped a few of you over the years – similar blogs helped me as I tried to find my way through the educational forest. Best of luck to you!


Lots of Moving Parts

There’s a lot happening, and I’ll do my best to cover it all.  After running into the proverbial wall on my original dissertation topic, I’m working with my advisor and others to see if I can recharacterize it in a way that will salvage the topic or if I will need to adjust to another policy topic completely.  Time is ticking away, so I will need to make a decision quickly.

I’ve returned to coursework this semester.  I’m taking PUBP 718: Transportation Policy.  It’s definitely interesting, and it’s the first transportation course I’ve ever taken.  So why, you ask, am I taking a transportation course?  The answer it two-fold: 1) I need to take something to remain continuously enrolled and I’ve taken almost everything else; and 2) transportation is an important topic where I live.

The course ties into my other news.  Up to this point, I’ve kept my academic life and this blog separate from my professional and personal lives.  I’ve done that intentionally so that students and prospective students can quickly get to the heart of what it’s like to be a PhD student.  And yet I’m unable to maintain the partition any more.  Without providing an understanding of other events, I only paint half the picture.  Events outside academia most certainly affect your voyage.  So what’s the news?

I am a declared candidate for the House of Delegates in Virginia.  I am running to unseat a 24-year incumbent and this endeavor will impact the pace at which I work on my proposal.  I put many hours of thought into the decision to throw my hat into the political ring, and in the end, have decided it’s the right thing to do.  I won’t go into all the reasons behind my decision here, though feel free to contact me if you would like to know more.  My campaign web page is http://www.shawfordelegate.com and the Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/ShawforDelegate.  You can also follow me on Twitter: @ShawforDelegate.

I will continue to maintain this page and keep you updated on my academic progress; check on me every once in a while! 🙂


Yesterday’s meeting with my committee chair went really well.  We had discussed the four case studies in my proposal previously and my task was to develop and more fully explore it using the various lenses I’ve chosen for my dissertation.  Focusing on only one case this month has helped to refine the research problem.  It has taken many months for the proposed research to develop into something that can be acted upon, and we’re almost there.  Now that we’ve worked through the methodology, it’s a matter of maturing the other three cases and rounding out the proposal.  It will still take quite a bit more work to finish, but we’ve had a breakthrough and I’m feeling better about defending by the end of the year.

Ever Forward

It has been a couple of months since my most recent update, and I wanted to make sure I posted before the semester begins.  As a PhD student in the dissertation proposal stage, I find it challenging to track when the semesters begin and end as I have no formal classes to attend.  I noticed this has also caused the length of time between blog updates to be longer than when I was in coursework.  I will try to  be more diligent about posting here as progress is made.

I’ve spent quite a while working to scope my dissertation proposal so that the actual dissertation is achievable.  As a result, I’ve traveled down windy roads that have caused me to come back to my original idea and I’ve traveled down dead ends that have required me to backtrack, again to my original idea.  Where am I now?  I’m pretty sure I’m still moving forward, though I would never have imagined that it would take as long as it has to finalize a proposal.  I’ve walked away from the “choosing one of the case studies and exploring it in depth instead” approach from my most recent update.

So where am I now?  I am still focused on Bureaucratic Politics and the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.  The dissertation is a historical analysis of the program and has expanded to four cases.  The cases are much narrower in their focus and will examine the coordinator’s role in the program.  I have a more robust list of players to interview and it seems like the proposal is now on the right track.  I meet again with my committee chair next week for feedback.  If you remember from the most recent update, I planned to defend my proposal by the end of this month.  As I have learned throughout this process, from coursework through proposal work, plans have a habit of moving to the right.  Proposal defense will not take place this month, and I have set a revised deadline of December.

In other news, our school now has a new name!  The School of Public Policy (SPP)  and the Department of Public and International Affairs (PIA) have merged to form the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs (SPGIA).  This happened some months ago and I think it’s great news for everyone involved.  I took two PIA courses, and I have some familiarity with the faculty.  Our new website is spgia.gmu.edu.  Check it out!

Four Years

Four years ago this month, I started this blog as I looked forward to entering this journey that has become “My PhD Experience.”  It has been quite a ride and it’s still going!  I’m amazed it has been four years.  Sometimes, I look back and it seems like it was just yesterday I and my cohorts were starting this quest.  Other times, I look back and it is hard to conceptualize a time I wasn’t a PhD student.  To those who advised that the PhD is all-consuming, you were absolutely right!

Where am I in the whole process?  As with my previous update, I’m ‘still plugging along.’  I have spoken with two other professors and asked for their review of my dissertation proposal.  I received a lot of great feedback and I will be using it to shape my proposal.  The timeline is moving to the right a bit more and I will be taking my second directed reading this fall to remain continuously enrolled.  You see, I’ve used up my 6 hours of dissertation proposal credits and need a couple more months to finalize my dissertation proposal and defend.  So now I’m looking at the December 2014 timeframe to defend the proposal and advance to candidacy.

Still Plugging Along

The month of April has seen a couple of rewrites of my dissertation proposal and the addition of a PowerPoint presentation to accompany it.  After getting a couple of new sets of eyes on my work, it looks like it will be necessary to scale my ambitions back a bit.  Currently, my intention is to write a historical analysis of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program using a case study approach.  I have three cases in mind and would explore them using bureaucratic politics as the method of analysis with the rational actor model as the foil.  One of the professors I asked suggested that the project, while very interesting, might be a bit ambitious.  He said analysis of this sort lends itself to depth more than breadth and exploring three cases could very well take longer than tenable to complete.  He suggested choosing one of the case studies and exploring it in depth instead.  So I’m going to write an executive summary reflecting this modified approach and submit it to my chair to see if he thinks it’s doable.

I’ve also worked to complete my dissertation committee.  I’ve had preliminary discussions with a couple of professors to gauge their level of interest and availability.  I will continue the conversation with them over the next several weeks to see if I can stay on track to defend my proposal by the end of August.

That’s all for now – see you at the next update!

SPP Newcomers

It’s that time of year when those offered admission to the PhD program have to decide whether to join the quest.  A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by one of those prospective students.  Like everyone who has started something new, he was looking for insight into the program and had read my blog.  We had a really good email conversation and covered those questions not addressed in my writings here.

Four years ago, I had a lot of the same questions and was looking for an “insider’s perspective” on the PhD quest.  The closest I came to finding that insight was a blog by a law student, so I decided to start my own blog to help those who would join me in working toward a PhD.  I’m always encouraged when I hear from a future fellow student.  To the prospective PhD student, thanks for the email exchange.  I’m glad I was able to give you a better understanding of what the program is like.  Let me know if I can help in any other way and I look forward to seeing you around campus this fall!

Dissertation Writers’ Room

I spent a few hours in the Dissertation Writers’ Room (DWR) this afternoon – it’s nice!  There are electrical outlets galore and plenty of storage space for those of us lucky enough to have received a spot.  There are 4 carrels in the room and we are able to use it whenever the library is open.  I will definitely be taking advantage of this space frequently as it’s nice and quiet.  The only complaint/critique I have is that the overhead light is on a timed motion sensor; it has shut off on me at least half a dozen times in the hour and a half here … and no, I’m not sleeping!