Closing Semester 7

The semester officially ended a couple of weeks ago, but I’m just now getting to this.  Time has just flown by these past several months!  As of this month, I will no longer be taking coursework and will be fully focusing my academic time on my dissertation proposal and research.  The Arlington Campus Library has established a Dissertation Writers’ Room and I was fortunate enough to obtain a slot.  Great news!  This means I will be able to work in a dedicated space and plan to use the time I was attending class to work through my proposal and research.

I plan to be ready for my defense in April as long as all goes well.  As I’ve mentioned before, I will need to recruit another committee member as one dropped out.  I have some ideas I will be pursuing after the next semester begins.

As for my progress, slow and steady is still progress.  After working on my question for the better part of last semester, I think I’m “there”, I just need to polish it, place it in the literature, justify it, and determine what I want to generalize it to.  Oh yeah, and write a 40-ish page paper and PowerPoint presentation to capture it all.  I’ve got my work cut out for me – back to the grindstone!

The PhD pinata (or, groping for research questions)

I certainly identify with the writer’s struggle …

The Thesis Whisperer

This post was written by Paula Hanaszwho is currently writing a thesis on the geopolitics of water security in South Asia at The ANU. She is enrolled at the Australia National University but currently spends more time on her couch than in her office or the library. Last time we met Paula she was experiencing PhD lifestyle guilt, this time she reflects on the difficult question of the research question…

I raise my arms and swing them, blindly, above my head. The full force of my swing lands on…nothing. My hands, still gripping their bludgeon, fall impotently by my ankles. I raise them and swing again. And again. And again. My misses fall awkwardly. I should be embarrassed. Before the blindfold was wrapped around my eyes I caught a glimpse of the piñata and I’m sure that I’m standing directly below it.

Or am I?

With each…

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Tempus Fugit

Where did October go?  It’s been a busy 6 weeks since my most recent post, yet it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.  As I had mentioned in PASS, I’m taking GOVT 731: Russia this semester.  Yes, I’m beyond the coursework phases, but chose to take the course to round out my understanding of Russia.  It has taken a lot of the time I wish I had to devote to my dissertation proposal because of paper writing (FIVE!) and reading.

So what’s my progress to date?  I’m still working through my dissertation proposal and it will not be ready to propose before next semester, so I will continue to plug away at it and plan for a dissertation proposal in the 201403 – 201405 timeframe.  After speaking with my chair this afternoon, this is my final course, my chair and I have decided that I will only take dissertation proposal writing credits next semester.  I should then have the time to knock out the proposal in short order and move into dissertation research and writing.

Yes, it’s another shift to the right (this time by 6 months) and I’m learning that PhDs don’t like to be rushed.  I’ve come to terms with the new schedule and updated my timeline accordingly.  I should still be able to graduate in 2015, though it might be later in the year depending on when I defend my dissertation.

Here’s the updated plan:
201403 – 201405 – Propose Dissertation
201406 – 201506 – Write Dissertation
201507 – 201508 – Defend Dissertation

One step at a time …

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*

Research Morning for Continuing Students

Today, George Mason University’s School of Public Policy held a research morning for PhD students who have passed the comprehensive qualifying exam (CQE) and are in the field stage of the program.

To refresh your memory, there are three “phases” to earning a PhD at the School of Public Policy.  In the first phase, students take core courses and move to the next phase by passing the CQE.  The second phase (fields) is highlighted by elective courses and the students assembling a field committee and writing a field statement.  This phase ends with the successful completion of the field exam.  The third phase is the dissertation proposal, writing, and defense.  Although students can be in more than one phase simultaneously, they must be completed in order.

The session was outstanding!  Six members of the faculty, led by the PhD Program Director, discussed the way forward through the field and dissertation phases of the program.  We covered the following:

  1. “Finding a research topic and asking a research question
  2. Putting together a doctoral committee
  3. Preparing your field statement and exam
  4. Preparing and defending your dissertation proposal
  5. Writing your dissertation
  6. Making use of your dissertation research”*

The Institutional Review Board also came in and discussed human subjects research and the associated rules.  Finally, the Assistant Director of PhD Student Services capped off the morning with the discussion “Creating a schedule/next steps”*.

We then had a light lunch, courtesy of SPP, during which we were able to further discuss the process in small groups and one-on-one sessions with faculty members.  Additional faculty made themselves available during this time.

I must admit that, although I previously had a cursory understanding of the process, I feel much better having attended this session.  I have a better understanding of what is expected during each step, what common pitfalls to avoid, and even what things I should be doing.  I’m now confident that I know enough about the process that I will be able to press on through the rest of my academic career at SPP and finish in the timeframe provided by my employer.

I want to thank the faculty and staff of SPP for offering the research morning and I highly recommend it for everyone going through the program.  Well done!

* – All titles excerpted from the session agenda.