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!

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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.

Almost at 10,000

After 3 years and 5 months of blogging here at My PhD Experience, I’m quickly approaching 10,000 site views. Wow!  I started this blog as a way to track my thoughts as I progress through the journey of earning a PhD – I never thought it would garner much attention. I’m glad it has and hope it has helped others as they wrestle with their own PhD journeys or determine if it’s something they want to undertake.

Thanks for reading!  Here’s to the 10,000th view (soon!) and the 10,000 after that!

Pass

I got the results of my field exam today … and as the title of this post indicates, I passed.  With that, I move to the next stage – the dissertation stage.

Stage One: Core Skills
— Prerequisites and Core Courses
— Comprehensive Qualifying Exam
Stage Two: Policy Fields and Skills
— Elective Courses
— Methods Courses
Stage Three: Research Foundations
— Field Statement and Bibliography
— Field Exam
Stage Four: Dissertation
— Dissertation Proposal Writing
— Dissertation Proposal Defense
— Dissertation Writing
— Dissertation Defense

What does that mean?  I will be spending the semester researching and writing my dissertation proposal.  I’m not sure I will defend it before December, so instead of taking six credits of dissertation proposal credits, I will be taking three and will have three left to take next semester if necessary.

I’m also taking GOVT 731: Russia.  This course covers both Russian foreign and domestic policy and is being taught by a member of my committee.  Although I’m not required to take any more coursework, it will help build my foundational understanding of Russian politics.  This should strengthen my dissertation proposal.

Slow Progress … Is Still Progress

Yes, no matter what the pace of progress, it is still progress.  I have one of my three fields complete and my second is almost at the point where I can turn it in to make sure I’m headed in the right direction.  My goal is to begin my third field next week and have it ready for turn-in by late May or early June.  This schedule should provide enough time to do rewrites (which I fully expect) on these two fields in order to take my field exam in August.

Just to make sure I’m covered in the event I’m not able to complete my field exam and have it graded in time to exempt me from coursework in the Fall 2013 semester, I’ve signed up for two courses in the Fall:

GOVT 731: Russia
PUAD 651: Virginia Politics / Policy / Administration

The GOVT course will fit in nicely with my intended dissertation area and is being taught by a member of my committee.  Whether the field exam phase is completed on time or not, I will likely take this course to broaden my knowledge of Russia in preparation for my dissertation phase.

The PUAD offering seems a bit odd at first, but it will actually help me get where I would like to go.  It would be my third course outside SPP, so it may or may not count toward my degree, but I have taken enough other courses to cover all my coursework requirements already.  Why would I even sign up for the course, let alone take it this Fall?  This whole “PhD Experience” (as I’ve entitled it) has done much more to educate me about where I see myself in the future than I ever thought possible.  When I first started the program, I was convinced of where I was headed.  Now, I’ve “found” a new direction that still involves earning this PhD in Public Policy and focusing on international nuclear threats.  I’m happy to say that it also involves Virginia politics … but that is a post for another day. 🙂

Field Statement Update

It was always my intention to complete this PhD program in four years.  I still have that goal in mind, but am also coming to terms with the reality that the original overall time schedule might have been unrealistic.  Some students enter the program knowing exactly what question they would like to explore for their dissertation and have a data set in mind.  It took me some time to narrow my area of focus as being back in school was, to me, like being a kid in a candy shop.  I had difficulty making a decision on what specific area I wanted to explore as I had several and brought no data set with me.  I also took three foundational courses that would not have been necessary had I studied public policy through undergrad and graduate school.  (I have a BS, MPA, and MSIM.)  Those three courses did slow my progress a bit, but I had taken them into account in my four year plan.

Writing a field statement has turned out to be much different than writing a paper for a course and it has taken some time for me to adapt.  I think I’ve finally got the hang of it, but the steep learning curve has pushed my schedule somewhat to the right.  I began the semester with high expectations and an aggressive (but modified from the original) schedule.  In the most recent draft of my plan, I fully expected to have all three areas of my field statement completed by May 2013 so I could take the field exam and propose my dissertation by July 2013.  I have one area written at approximately the 60-75% level and the other two are mere skeletons (not yet even outlines).  I think I’ve finally learned the art of the field statement, so I’m counting on finishing the first one soon.  Hopefully the next two will go more quickly as I plan to write them concurrently.

With that in mind, I’ve updated my schedule:

201304 – 201307 – Finish Field Statement / Obtain Final Concurrence from Committee
201307 – 201308 – Take Field Exam
201309 – 201312 – Propose Dissertation
201401 – 201412 – Write Dissertation
201501 – 201502 – Defend Dissertation

Hitting The Wall

Looking back at my PhD pursuit so far, it seems like I’ve been a student forever.  The end of this semester marks 2 1/2 years here at the School of Public Policy and 3 years at George Mason.  (I studied at the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution for a semester.)  It’s not a long time in the grand scheme, but retrospect has made it seem that way.  It has been both rewarding and challenging thus far with all the accompanying peaks and valleys.  Academically, this semester hasn’t been any more challenging: the courses are interesting.  But for some reason, maintaining motivation is becoming more difficult.  I liken the whole process to running a marathon and I think I’ve hit “the wall” or at least “a wall”.  In marathon running, “the wall” is a phenomenon runners experience around mile 20 when their bodies begin to react to prolonged exercise.  They have used up their available energy and it takes a concerted effort to finish the final 6.2 miles.

I’m finding the transition from coursework to field statement is my “wall”.  While I enjoy coursework, It’s time for me to move beyond it and focus as much as possible on field statement/proposal/defense work.  This is good because as of the end of this semester, I’ve fulfilled all my coursework requirements.  In this program, PhD students write a field statement in preparation for the field exam.  This exam is proctored by the field committee: a panel of (usually) three faculty members who then become the dissertation committee.  The PhD student works to put together the committee of faculty members who have interest/expertise in at least one aspect of the student’s fields.

I’m ready to push into this phase of the program once this semester ends.  In the Spring, I will be taking 1 or 2 directed reading courses as an aid to prepare for the field statement and exam.  My challenge is, however, that I am still working to put my committee together.   I’m very happy with my committee chair, but have not been as successful at identifying the other two committee members. If you’ve been following my posts over the years, you’ll probably remember that at various points along my path, I’ve thought I had my committee finalized only to realize later that perhaps a different mix would be more appropriate (for one reason or another).  Now it is getting to crunch time and in order to move forward with the field statement and exam, I will need to quickly assemble my committee.

This is my “wall”.  I’ll let you know how things go.

No Plan Survives First Contact …

As I look back on my most recent post, I note to myself just how aggressive the plan I laid out 2 months ago really was.  Although I’m theoretically working only 20 hours a week and am theoretically able to dedicate the rest of my time to my studies, the theoretical and the actual don’t always match.  I’ve “donated” a lot of extra time to my employer over the past two months and I’m struggling to figure out how I can more efficiently organize my time.  As a result, I’m nowhere near as far as I’d like to be on my field of study plan, and will need to be more creative going forward.  After speaking with a classmate, I learned a couple of important pieces of information I will need to work into my plan.

What did I learn?  After completing all required courses (both core and elective), PhD students need only 6 credit hours to remain full-time.  Awesome!  I have carried 9-11 credit hours every semester since I started the program and, after this semester ends, I have completed all required courses.  Great news!  I also learned that I may be able to take those 6 credit hours as directed readings since I’ve not taken any directed readings yet.  A directed reading is an individualized course put together by agreement between the student and a professor with a syllabus and agreed-upon deliverable(s).  So, the combination of a reduced hours requirement and ability to take directed readings should definitely help.  I will be checking with the university staff to make sure everything works, but things are looking up.

Back to my plan … given the slow progress this semester, here is my updated plan:

201211 – 201304 – Write Field Statement / Finalize Field Committee / Finish Coursework (including directed readings)
201304 – 201305 – Finish Field Statement / Obtain Final Concurrence from Committee
201305 – 201305 – Take Field Exam
201306 – 201307 – Propose Dissertation
201308 – 201403 – Write Dissertation
201404 – 201405 – Defend Dissertation

We’ll see how well this plan survives … 🙂