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. 🙂

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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

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 … 🙂

Year 3, Week 1 – Complete

I posted early last week about how the summer months flew by and how I found myself back in class without having posted much in the intervening time about where things stand or where I’m headed this semester.  The first week of the semester is now complete and it’s (past) time to update you on what courses I’m taking.

So without further ado, here’s the list:
1) PUBP 705 – Advanced Statistical Methods for Policy Analysis
2) PUBP 820 – Technology, Science, and Innovation: Institutions and Governance
3) PUBP 880 – Doctoral Seminar in Global and International Public Policy

This is a great lineup of courses and I think they fit very well into my planned way forward.  I need to spend a little more time on my Field of Study Plan to define the lenses through which I will be analyzing nuclear nonproliferation policy in both my fields and my dissertation.  I think these courses will help me flesh out those areas in order to then define my fields.

While I am on the topic of fields, let me take a moment to provide a rough schedule for the next two years. As I was preparing this schedule, I took into account where I am in the program today and the fact that I must continue to take coursework until I have passed my field exam.

201209 – 201212 – Write Field Statement / Finalize Field Committee / Take Coursework
201301 – 201302 – Finish Field Statement / Obtain Final Concurrence from Committee
201303 – 201304 – Take Field Exam
201305 – 201306 – Propose Dissertation
201307 – 201402 – Write Dissertation
201403 – 201404 – Defend Dissertation

The schedule is in rough draft form right now.  It will change some here and there, and I will add more detail as time progresses.  I will also need to run my dissertation through a prepublication review by my employer, so I will need to build that in to the process.  As I am writing and submitting chapters to my committee, I will be able to submit them for prepublication review at the same time.  As the schedule is built right now, I will also need to take coursework next semester (as a result of not having completed my field exam before the semester begins).  Because I will have met all the coursework requirements, however, I may be able to take only two courses instead of three.

Well, that’s all for this update – stay tuned for future updates (which should be more frequent now that the semester has begun).

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.

Another One Bites the Dust!

Last week saw the official end of my fourth semester as a PhD student.  Grades have been posted and all is well!  I’ve also submitted a draft of my Field of Study Plan that will be updated over the coming months.

So what’s next?

This summer will be spent reading in support of updating my Field of Study Plan and creating my Field Statement.  The Field of Study Plan is a brief document prepared in anticipation of the Field Statement.  It enumerates the elective courses I intend to include in my studies as well as a description of what area of public policy I intend to cover in my fields and ultimately my dissertation.  The Field Statement builds upon this plan and further narrows my focus while increasing my expertise in my chosen area (nuclear proliferation policy).  It will also help me understand what other areas of public policy are influential in the conduct of nuclear proliferation policy.  Although I have no coursework this summer, it promises to be a busy one.

Before you know it, August will be here and semester #5 will begin.  Stay tuned for updates!

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!

First Annual Graduate Student Research Conference

Today, GMU’s School of Public Policy held its First Annual Graduate Student Research Conference. What a day! Students at the Masters and PhD levels from George Mason University, Catholic University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Webster Worldwide made presentations. I took the day off work to attend and I’m glad I did. The agenda was packed – from 9:00 AM to 5:45 PM. In all, there were 33 presentations and I made it to 11 of them.

Dean Rhodes kicked the morning off with an introduction and welcome to the day’s festivities. He spoke of the three great events of this academic year: the dedication of Founders Hall earlier in the year, this conference, and the upcoming graduation events in May.

After Dean Rhodes’ remarks, we broke out into our first two rounds of breakout sessions. Each round of sessions focused on different tracks; some rounds had three sessions, while others had two sessions. Each of the sessions had multiple presentations grouped together by a common theme. For the morning rounds, I chose the sessions on Regional Policy Issues and Government & The Presidency. The presentations were as follows:

Regional Policy Issues
– Highway Underfunding and User-pays Systems: A Case for Raising the Federal Gasoline Excise Tax
– The Human Dimensions of Contemporary Renewable Energy Actions in the Washington D.C. Region: Policy, Political Economy and Culture
– Trust and Police Legitimacy

Government & The Presidency
– Congressional Caucuses – The Invisible Committees
– Politics and Transparency Policy: Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama
– Modeling the Effect of Photo Identification Laws on Voter Turnout

After the morning sessions were over, it was time for lunch and the keynote address by Dr. Pfiffner, the Director of the Doctoral Program. Dr. Pfiffner is an exceptional scholar and I really enjoy hearing him speak. Today was no different. He recounted the origins of public policy as a discipline (the practical application of political science and law together) and then the genesis of independent schools of public policy within universities.

After lunch, there were two more rounds. This time, I chose the sessions that focused on International Trade & Financial Policy and International Affairs & Security Policy. These sessions covered:

International Trade & Financial Policy
– International Currency Competition: Are there Alternatives to the US Dollar?
– Does Free Trade Agreement Increase Trade Flows? Bilateral Free Trade Agreements and Trade Volume in Services
– Overcoming the Adverse Effects of Geography: A Cross-Country Analysis of Information, and Communication Technology (ICT) Diffusion on Economic Development

International Affairs & Security Policy
– The Social Construction of President Bush’s 2006 Visit and India’s Nuclear Separation Plan
– The Durand Line’s Role in the Afghan Taliban Insurgency

Following the final round of sessions, we all got back together for the closing reception – a fitting end to the day. As I said, I’m glad I took the day off work to attend. There was an awful lot of information shared in what seemed like very little time. I’m not sure I’d change anything – the presentation lengths (about 15 minutes each plus 10 minutes for Q&A) seemed about right and all the topics were interesting. The food was good, and the conference was run very well. In the end, it was definitely a worthwhile endeavor, and I’m looking forward to next year’s conference!