First Draft – Complete Field Statement

I received feedback on the two sections of my field statement that were still in draft form and spent the weekend revising and rewriting to bring them more into alignment with the approved section.  After much writing and rewriting, I began putting everything together early this evening.

Because I had auto-formatted the sections in each individual document, I was able to bring them all together fairly painlessly.  I did decide to change the format from I.A.1.a. to as it seemed to be easier to follow in the larger document.  There weren’t a lot of other formatting changes necessary, though I moved all three bibliographies to the back of the document, retaining them as individual sections.  I also wrote a brief introduction and conclusion to bring the three fields together and to start down the path of discussing research questions for my dissertation proposal.

So … for you “numbers types” … here’s what I ended up with:
103 total pages
110 bibliography entries
23,556 words (not counting footnotes and endnotes)

What’s next?  I submitted the complete field statement draft to my chair, so now I wait.  As I receive feedback, I will make updates.  Once he has approved it, I will send it to the other two members of my committee and hopefully be able to take my field exam in the next 3-4 weeks.

Three of Three

Less than five minutes ago, I submitted a draft of the third part (of three) of my field statement.  I would feel relief except a) I’m too tired, and b) I’m sure there will be some editing necessary.  Nevertheless, it feels good to be “somewhat done” with the writing for my individual fields.  So where am I?

1) Bureaucratic Politics – complete
2) Russian Foreign Policy – second submission complete – waiting for feedback
3) Nuclear Proliferation to Non-state Actors – first submission complete – waiting for feedback

What’s next?  I will relax for a couple of days and then work on tying the three fields together into a coherent field statement.  Basically I will need to write an introduction and a conclusion that integrates the three and perhaps proposes some relevance to my dissertation.

But for now, it’s sleep – I’ve got to get up in about 5 hours for work … *yawn*

End of Year 3 – Status

As today is June 1, I guess that means that my third year as a PhD student is finally over.  Technically, it ended sometime in May when final grades for the semester were submitted, but today seems as good a day as any to take stock of my progress.

I’m currently in the “field stage” as anyone who has been following my trek knows.  I’ve submitted two of my three fields.  Of the two, I still have some updating left to complete on one.  I’m currently working my third field and should have my first draft submitted by the end of the month.

Fields Status:
Bureaucratic Politics and National Security Policy – Complete
Russian Foreign Policy – Submitted, rewrites necessary
Nuclear Proliferation to Non-state Actors – In Draft, submission by the end of the month

This puts me in good shape to have all three fields finalized into my overall field statement by the end of July in order to take the field exam in early August.  As long as all goes as planned, I will spend the Fall semester writing my dissertation proposal and hope to defend the proposal in the October/November 2013 timeframe.

SPP PhD Student Association

File this one under “Why haven’t we thought of this before?”

I went to a meeting today to work through the establishment of a student association for PhD students at the GMU School of Public Policy.  Now, technically, we already have a student association of which all PhD students at SPP are members – the SPP Student Association, or SPPSA.  It’s a great organization that represents all students within SPP.

What is the need, then, for a PhD student association?  Why set up an organization that differentiates the PhD students from the masters students?  A couple of reasons come to mind.  First, since I can remember, the leadership has been comprised of masters students and as a group, it is more beneficial to masters students.  And so it should be.  We have approximately 800 masters students at SPP and far fewer PhD students.  Second, and probably more importantly, the PhD student experience is nothing like the masters program student experience.  Sure, we take classes in the first part of our program and some of those are the exact same classes masters students take.  But once the coursework is over, the similarities quickly disappear.

I remember professors telling us during the PhD Student/Faculty Retreat right before our first classes began that this experience would be unique.  They said that as we progressed to our field work and then to our dissertation writing, we would go from a very social experience during which we saw our classmates regularly to a very lonely experience when we would think we were the only student going through the program.  They were right – the transition is very real.  And it brings with it a unique set of challenges that requires a lot of self-motivation.

A couple of my fellow PhD students recognized the need for an organization that understands the unique experience of PhD students and started putting things into motion a couple of months ago.  They got a group of us together today to gauge the level of interest and to gather ideas about what needs the group would answer.  It was a good discussion – there were about 20 of us there, which was a pretty good number.  We left with some really good ideas that the leadership will work over the summer with the intention of having our first general meeting after classes start in the fall.  At that time, we’ll elect representatives and hopefully work to implement some of the ideas that were brought up today and in emails over the summer.

Great idea!


Great advice for both part-time and full-time students!

The Thesis Whisperer

Last week @lanceb147 contacted me on Twitter looking for advice on doing a PhD part time. There’s not much published advice considering there’s a surprising number of students doing their PhD part time. At RMIT where I used to work 50% of research students were enrolled part time and this institutional profile is not unusual in Australia. Some are self funded students from the beginning; others have been forced to take up part time study after their scholarship rans out.

clocksMany academics have the impression that part time students are troublesome and take ages to finish, but a study by Pearson et al (see reference below) showed that students who study part time for their whole degree finish sooner and have better results than full time students.

Clearly they are doing something right!

I did my research masters over three years part time and worked for 2 days a…

View original post 1,322 more words

Progress …

The transition from coursework to the next phase of the program does seem a bit overwhelming (see recent posts).  However, even small steps toward my goal help provide a sense of accomplishment.

The reportable “small step” in this update is that I now have a complete committee.  Woohoo!  I’m now officially off of the recruiting trail and can now focus more fully on writing my fields and completing my directed reading.  I was pointed in the direction of a professor in PIA (Public and International Affairs) within GMU who is an expert on Russia.  After having a good conversation about the process in SPP and my research interests, he agreed to be the third member of my committee.

So, the phrase that pays is “progress” … now, it’s back to writing.

A Banner Day!

On January 5, we started the Comprehensive Qualifying Exam – our first real “checkpoint” through which we have to pass as students on our way to earning a PhD in Public Policy. Four days later, we turned it in and the wait began. The exam is basically a pass/fail measure which covers the material from our core courses and requires that we apply it.

I won’t bore you with the details of the test other than to say I was very happy to turn it in; not because I knew I did well, but because I was glad I could come out of my four-day sequestered state. We were told that it would take about two weeks for the faculty to score the exam and let us know how we did.

I have to say that waiting for my score was excruciating! Each passing day was worse … would this be the day I got my results? … what if I failed? … what could I have done differently? … did I answer everything they asked? As the days went by, the self-doubt mounted. There were points in time when I had resigned myself to having to take the exam again in May. There were others when I thought I probably did “ok”. But I never knew.

That all changed at 4:16 PM today. I got my results – and I PASSED! HOOAH! It was a great feeling of relief knowing that I had successfully maneuvered through the first gate.

But that wasn’t the only bit of good news for the day. Back in August, I had applied (for the third time) for a program at work that would allow me to split my time between work and school (20 hours at work, the other 20 allocated to academics). It’s a pretty competitive program and only about a dozen applicants are selected each year. In return for the reduced workload, the program requires a 3-to-1 payback of the time spent devoted to academics. It’s a pretty good program if you can get into it.

Three semesters as both a full-time PhD student and a full-time employee have been pretty trying. By the end of each semester, I’m usually exhausted; both mentally and physically. All that is about to change!

I learned that I was accepted to the program. I don’t have any of the particulars on when I’ll start my reduced work schedule, but just knowing that I’m now in the program has lifted a great weight from my shoulders.

So … great news all around – a banner day!

The Home Stretch!

In two weeks, I’ll have three full semesters in the books – wow! I have a couple of papers left to finish – no matter how good my intentions are throughout the semester, it always ends with me pushing right to the due date. I noticed I’ve been a little more comfortable this semester than during the two previous ones (almost like I’m getting the hang of this!).

I’ve met with the professor who is the resident expert on all things nuclear and he agreed to be my field chair. I’ll be meeting with him again soon after the semester ends to finalize things and move forward. Now I need to find two other members of the faculty to serve on my committee. It’s all coming together.

But I also have to keep my eye on the CQE – the Comprehensive Qualifying Exam. It’s the first weekend in January and yes, it’s a little daunting. We’ve all been told that we have the skills to successfully navigate the exam, but the thought of an all-weekend exam that covers our core courses is, I must admit, intimidating. I’ll be gearing up for it once my papers are finished. Stay tuned!

Overcoming “Impostor Syndrome”

I was two-thirds of the way through my first semester as a PhD student when I looked back on this blog to see that I hadn’t updated since the end of week 1.  How time flies!  It has been quite a challenge.  Our professors have continuously told us how this experience is completely different from our undergraduate and graduate programs and they have not disappointed.

I’ve learned of fascinating research that some faculty are pursuing and this has helped me try to focus where I will go with my dissertation.  Who knew that public policy could cover such a broad spectrum of topics?  Yes, that’s one of the things that attracted me to the program in the first place, but I had only scratched the surface with my incoming presuppositions.

I’ve also learned of the power of “impostor syndrome”.  While not an authoritative source, Wikipedia provides a good description.  I’ve been in and out of the university classroom essentially since graduating from high school.  I cobbled together enough credits to earn a BS from Excelsior College, and found time to earn an MPA from Troy State University and an MSIM from Syracuse University all while working full-time.  In all that time, I had never been affected by “impostor syndrome” … until becoming a postgraduate student.  I can’t say that it’s been easy – it hasn’t.  I’m still working full-time, but surprisingly, it’s not the workload (either at work or at SPP) that has been challenging.  My challenge has been adjusting to a research framework approach and producing work worthy of a PhD student.

I’ve wondered frequently if I had somehow “slipped through the admissions cracks” and if I’d be “found out” as not being of PhD quality.  That is, until I found out that my classmates are experiencing similar feelings.  One evening, while commiserating about an assignment we had, we all discovered that we had the same misgivings at varying levels.  This helped calm the feelings we had been having individually and taught us a valuable lesson: work together and we’ll all get through this.  I can’t say that the “impostor syndrome” has gone away completely … it hasn’t.  But I can say that its effects have greatly diminished.