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.

Complete Field Statement – Rev 2

After receiving feedback on my field statement last weekend, I worked through whatever free time I had this week to update the paper as required so I can move into the next phase of the program.  I have now finished and submitted the second draft of my complete field statement.

As with my last update, here are the statistics for you “numbers” types.  The second draft is a little heavier than the first:
106 total pages
113 bibliography entries
24,177 words (not counting footnotes and endnotes)

Back to the wait …

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 1.1.1.1. 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.

Semester #6 Begins

Yesterday marked the first day of the Spring 2013 semester here at George Mason University.  It’s a bit different this time around in that I have no classes with other students.  I’m taking a directed reading (a.k.a. independent study) to round out my knowledge of bureaucratic politics in anticipation of my field statement.  The deliverable for the course cannot be a field statement, so I will have to work on the areas of my field statement separately from this course.  I’m starting with an approximately 1000 word prospectus to describe bureaucratic politics and which parts I will focus on as I continue my studies.

This is the first semester I’ve set my own schedule – it will definitely take some getting used to.  I plan to be on campus 2-3 days a week as has been my habit over the past 2 1/2 years, but I’ll no longer have to commute back home at 10:00 PM!

As for my field statement, it’s coming together, but I’m still not where I want to be.  My three areas of concentration are:
1) Bureaucracy and Foreign Policy
2) Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction
3) The Relationship of Russia with its Neighbors (this one may need to be fleshed out a bit more)

I have two members for my field committee, but am still looking for a third.  This means I’ll have to write and recruit simultaneously.  If I continue down the path of the three fields above, I will need a “Russia Expert” to round out my committee.  At this point, I’m still looking.

I still intend to follow the schedule in my revised plan: I’ll keep you informed as the semester unfolds.

 

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 … 🙂

Nearing the End of Semester #4

It’s crunch time. There’s one week of classes left in the semester and everything is coming due at once. To close out the semester, I have to submit three papers. One is due next Thursday, and the other two are due the following week. At that point, I will have completed four full semesters in my PhD quest.  Woohoo!

There is one more administrative issue that I must address before the “official” end of my fourth semester. My Field of Study Plan is due. What is a Field of Study Plan? The GMU School of Public Policy student handbook states, “The Field of Study Plan (maximum 1000 words) will describe a Concentration or a proposed research area, including citations relevant to current research in that Field. The Plan must identify three substantive courses and at least one advanced methods course that the student intends to take that will serve as a foundation for the Field. The Plan must be approved by both the student’s Field Committee Chair and the Director of the Ph.D. program.”  As we are expected to update our research interests every May, it is my intent to submit an approved Field of Study Plan by the second week of May.

Assuming all goes as planned, the upcoming Fall 2012 Semester could be the last semester of coursework. I have two classes selected for next semester, but I’m still on the fence about which should be my third. Look for an update in the coming weeks in which I’ll share my schedule.

Over the summer months, I’ll be reading quite a bit as I work to put together my Field Statement (more on that in an upcoming post) and I’ll also be working to finalize my Field Committee (again, more to come later).

Anyway, it promises to be a busy couple of weeks – I’ll see you on the other side!