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!

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!

How time flies …

Somehow I went the whole month of September without posting an update.  Two presentations and two papers later (with another paper and presentation next week), it’s already mid-October!  It seems I’m always surprised at how quickly the semester passes.  So … how’s it going?

The Culture and Public Policy course is quite an interesting course.  We’ve had some great discussions so far and I’m looking forward to even more of them.  I’ve learned a lot from the readings we’ve covered in the first half of the semester.  Here are some of the books we’ve read up to this point:

  • American Exceptionalism by Seymour Martin Lipset  This book was written in 1996, but it is still applicable today.  It’s a fairly easy read and helps the reader understand what “American Exceptionalism” really means.  Dr. Lipset was one of the founding faculty members of George Mason’s School of Public Policy.
  • Mad As Hell by Scott Rassmussen and Douglas Schoen  I should have read the back of the book before reading the 300-ish pages of … um … “analysis” that makes up this book.  I struggled with this book because I really expected a pollster (Scott Rasmussen) to use more sound methods.
  • The Post-American World Release 2.0 by Fareed Zakaria  This is an enjoyable read.  If you’ve ever read any of Thomas Friedman’s works, the theme is familiar.  The world is changing and the gap between the United States and the rest of the world is narrowing.  It’s not an authoritative text by any means, but it helps the reader with cultural perspective.

I’m really enjoying the Globalization and IT course.  We’re approaching Information Technology (or Information Communication Technology as the term is used in most of the rest of the world) from a public policy perspective – a “geek course for non-geeks”.  The material has reenergized my interest in IT and policy.  I changed my statement of interest last semester to focus on nuclear arms control policy as that’s the direction I wanted to head with my studies.  I’m torn again – I’m really interested in both areas, but I’m beginning to think that the IT policy area would be more suited to dissertation research and I could then expand my research to include arms control policy after defending my dissertation.  I’ve spoken to my professor in this class about IT policy topics in pursuit of a dissertation topic and will be meeting with him to discuss this in more depth.  He also provided the names of two other faculty members I will be meeting with to discuss potential IT policy dissertation topics.  I’d like to have a general area of study narrowed down and perhaps even a good idea of who will be on my fields committee by the end of this semester.

The Transnational Security Issues course is also interesting.  It reminds me a lot of the coursework from the GMU Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (now the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution).  So far, we’ve covered corruption, safe havens, kleptocracies, money laundering, pirates, cyber crime, and terrorism.

As of this week, we’re officially halfway through the semester.  Before long, the semester will be over and it’ll be time to take the Comprehensive Qualifying Exam.  Stay tuned for updates!

Almost September Already!

Today as I looked back on my most recent post, I noticed that I had intended to post periodically during the Summer.  Well, that didn’t happen.  It seems like such a short time ago the Spring semester ended; and then I look at the calendar and realize it’s been 3 months!  Where did the time go?

I’m looking forward to the upcoming semester – my schedule hasn’t changed since my last post.  I’ve reviewed the syllabi, purchased my books, downloaded my supplemental readings, and am looking forward to a very productive semester.  The three courses seem to fit nicely together and I’m excited to get started.  The main themes can be summed up in three words: culture, globalization, and security.  All three areas are of great interest to me and can help guide my studies as I work toward narrowing down a dissertation topic.  I’m still keenly interested in nuclear issues – the question still remains, “which one will I choose?”

Classes start a week from today – look for updates as the semester progresses!

2 Semesters Down … N-2 Yet to Go …

The final grade for the Spring semester posted yesterday, so I’ve officially finished my first year as a PhD student.  The first year was packed full of mandatory core courses and prerequisites.  We covered a wide range of topics from microeconomics to advanced statistical methods to national level governance and everything in between.  Seven courses, 22 credits, 3 final exams, 5 final papers, 2 mid-term papers, 8 problem sets, 4 SPP events, and countless hours preparing on evenings and weekends later, it feels good to have reached this unofficial milestone.

I’ve chosen not to take courses this summer, but I will definitely stay busy.  I spent many hours trying to figure out which direction I wanted to take as I moved beyond the first year.  I had narrowed my research focus to two fairly broad areas: information technology policy and nuclear policy.  After much deliberation, I decided that while I’m keenly interested in both, my greater interest lies in nuclear policy.  When I submitted my updated research goals this month, I incorporated this adjustment and am happy with my choice.  I will spend a fair amount of time reading to prepare myself as I move forward.  I’ve put together a reading list and will work my way through what I can over the summer.

I’ve also enrolled for Fall 2011 classes since I last posted.  The class list is a little different than what I had originally planned, but not radically so.  I will be taking PUBP 800 – Culture and Policy, as it is my last core course.  This is significant in two ways: it marks a milestone in my progress (completing all core courses), and it means I’ll be taking the comprehensive exam in January.  I also decided to take two PUBP 710 courses: Transnational Security Issues and Globalization of Information Technology.  The Transnational Security Issues course should dovetail nicely into my nuclear policy interests.  I chose the second PUBP 710 course, Globalization of Information Technology, partly because of my continuing interest in Information Technology policy, but also because I’m hoping it will spark ideas related to my nuclear policy interests.  Perhaps I’ll be able to weave the two together as I continue toward a dissertation topic.

Well, that’s it for the Spring Semester … I plan to update this blog periodically over the summer, but first I’ll take a week or two to relax, recover, and regroup.  Before you know it, August will be upon us … and the Fall Semester will begin in earnest.

Goals / Research Statement

In my most recent post, I mentioned  the need to update my goals/research statement.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what direction I’d like my research to take.  When I wrote my Statement of Purpose (SOP) during the admissions process, I was convinced I knew what my research would be.  Quoting from my SOP:

I believe that the GMU PhD program in Public Policy (with a concentration in Organizational and Information Technology) would be of great value in my efforts to achieve the understanding necessary to increase organizational effectiveness.  It would provide me the ability to focus my analytical and management skills in analyzing government’s Information Technology challenges and would possibly open new areas for research.  Upon completing the PhD program, I would like to apply my newly acquired skills to discover new and innovative ways to affect organizational structure and policy within the government.

I think this is still a rich area for research – and it *is* something that interests me.  But I’ve also come to realize that there are other topics that interest me.  I’ve rediscovered the nuclear world – a place I spent 5 years.  My time as an international arms control inspector gave me a real appreciation for reducing the nuclear stockpiles that exist around the world.  In addition, there’s the discussion of finding a permanent solution to the issue of spent nuclear fuel, perhaps closing the nuclear fuel cycle in the United States, and nonproliferation.  It’s an area of public policy that truly fascinates me.

Through discussions in classes over the past year, I’ve discovered and rediscovered interest in numerous other areas of public policy.  At times, I feel like a kid in a candy store; at other times, I feel overwhelmed with the variety of choices available to me.  Although the dissertation looms in the distance and is not of immediate concern yet, it’s important to narrow down my topic sooner rather than later.

We’ve been told on more than one occasion that the best dissertation is a done dissertation.  We’ve been cautioned not to “hover” – that is, not to succumb to analysis paralysis when choosing a topic for our dissertation.  Those who hover take much longer to write and complete.  The first time I heard that advice, I thought it was pretty cynical; now I agree with it.  It makes sense.  Our goal as PhD students isn’t to discover something Earth-shattering; it is to contribute to the world of human knowledge in some way and write a dissertation about it.  A classmate relayed some advice he received recently: take all those disparate interests you have and put them in a box.  Focus on one topic, write your dissertation, and when you’ve earned your PhD, then go back to the box and explore your various interests.

I still have some thinking to do before I submit my revision to my goals/research statement.  I plan to meet with my advisor soon and get his advice.  Part of our conversation will be guided by what courses are available next semester and in what combination.  I’m considering courses that are broad enough that they can be applied to many of my interests, but narrow enough that they begin to solidify my direction as I continue on this journey.  A sneak preview of what courses I’m considering:

  • PUBP 800 – Culture and Policy (mandatory core course)
  • PUBP 840 – US Policy Making Institutions
  • PUBP 710 – Transnational Security Issues

This list is subject to change … stay tuned!