Progress!

Yesterday’s meeting with my committee chair went really well.  We had discussed the four case studies in my proposal previously and my task was to develop and more fully explore it using the various lenses I’ve chosen for my dissertation.  Focusing on only one case this month has helped to refine the research problem.  It has taken many months for the proposed research to develop into something that can be acted upon, and we’re almost there.  Now that we’ve worked through the methodology, it’s a matter of maturing the other three cases and rounding out the proposal.  It will still take quite a bit more work to finish, but we’ve had a breakthrough and I’m feeling better about defending by the end of the year.

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Ever Forward

It has been a couple of months since my most recent update, and I wanted to make sure I posted before the semester begins.  As a PhD student in the dissertation proposal stage, I find it challenging to track when the semesters begin and end as I have no formal classes to attend.  I noticed this has also caused the length of time between blog updates to be longer than when I was in coursework.  I will try to  be more diligent about posting here as progress is made.

I’ve spent quite a while working to scope my dissertation proposal so that the actual dissertation is achievable.  As a result, I’ve traveled down windy roads that have caused me to come back to my original idea and I’ve traveled down dead ends that have required me to backtrack, again to my original idea.  Where am I now?  I’m pretty sure I’m still moving forward, though I would never have imagined that it would take as long as it has to finalize a proposal.  I’ve walked away from the “choosing one of the case studies and exploring it in depth instead” approach from my most recent update.

So where am I now?  I am still focused on Bureaucratic Politics and the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.  The dissertation is a historical analysis of the program and has expanded to four cases.  The cases are much narrower in their focus and will examine the coordinator’s role in the program.  I have a more robust list of players to interview and it seems like the proposal is now on the right track.  I meet again with my committee chair next week for feedback.  If you remember from the most recent update, I planned to defend my proposal by the end of this month.  As I have learned throughout this process, from coursework through proposal work, plans have a habit of moving to the right.  Proposal defense will not take place this month, and I have set a revised deadline of December.

In other news, our school now has a new name!  The School of Public Policy (SPP)  and the Department of Public and International Affairs (PIA) have merged to form the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs (SPGIA).  This happened some months ago and I think it’s great news for everyone involved.  I took two PIA courses, and I have some familiarity with the faculty.  Our new website is spgia.gmu.edu.  Check it out!

Still Plugging Along

The month of April has seen a couple of rewrites of my dissertation proposal and the addition of a PowerPoint presentation to accompany it.  After getting a couple of new sets of eyes on my work, it looks like it will be necessary to scale my ambitions back a bit.  Currently, my intention is to write a historical analysis of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program using a case study approach.  I have three cases in mind and would explore them using bureaucratic politics as the method of analysis with the rational actor model as the foil.  One of the professors I asked suggested that the project, while very interesting, might be a bit ambitious.  He said analysis of this sort lends itself to depth more than breadth and exploring three cases could very well take longer than tenable to complete.  He suggested choosing one of the case studies and exploring it in depth instead.  So I’m going to write an executive summary reflecting this modified approach and submit it to my chair to see if he thinks it’s doable.

I’ve also worked to complete my dissertation committee.  I’ve had preliminary discussions with a couple of professors to gauge their level of interest and availability.  I will continue the conversation with them over the next several weeks to see if I can stay on track to defend my proposal by the end of August.

That’s all for now – see you at the next update!

Quick Update

The new semester has begun … this is number 8 … but it was difficult to tell.  This is the first semester of my PhD journey in which I have no classwork commitments – my focus is solely on my dissertation proposal defense.  I’ve been meeting with my chair every month and January was no different.  I’m still pushing to have my proposal defense completed by the end of the semester.  Tomorrow is the first day I’ll be using the spiffy new dissertation room in the Arlington library – woohoo!  (That’s as close to “shiny and new” this semester is bound to bring!)  Onward and upward!

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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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.

Ready for the Field Exam

Great news!  I received notice from my committee chair today that after my most recent revision, my field statement is complete and I am now ready to sit for the field exam.  He is out of town for the rest of this week and will begin writing questions next week.  For my part, I will need to identify a couple of four-day blocks as possible times to be available to complete the exam.

How is the field exam structured?  According to the GMU SPP PhD Student Handbook
“The field examination should include written questions on both advanced methods of inquiry (methodology) and substantive content in the domain of research interest (theoretical and empirical knowledge). The questions are broad, comprehensive, and central to the theoretical, methodological, and policy issues in the various topics proposed. While some questions should cover foundational issues, others might deal with unresolved issues in the fields. Students are expected to synthesize material from across their entire program. Although the field examination will be based primarily on the field statement and its bibliography, students might be asked questions that would require them to draw material from topics not explicitly covered in the student’s field statement and bibliography. If the field statement includes three topics, the examination must be in three parts, one part per topic. Often the student is given a choice of answering one out of two or two out of three questions per topic.”

What are the expectations for the field exam responses?  Also referring to the GMU SPP PhD Student Handbook
“There are no specific length requirements, but normally the answers to the questions for a single topic require 10 to 15 pages double spaced using normal fonts and margins. The writing should be clear and free of serious grammatical and typographical errors. Since it is a timed exam, the student can use shortened references rather than full and formal footnotes.”

So it looks like I have 30 – 45 pages of writing to do in a four-day period … SOON!

The field exam must be completed and graded by the second week of the term in order for me to avoid coursework next semester.  Additionally, I’ve switched my funding source from my employer to the GI Bill, so I need to make sure that courses are paid for by August 26, 2013.  In order to do that, I need to have passed the field exam so I can register for PUBP 998 – Research/Proposal for Dissertation.

There are lots of moving parts – August is going to be a busy month!

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*