What Exactly Is a Doctorate?

I saw this graphic almost three years ago when I began my PhD journey – it’s as true today as it was then …

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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*

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. 🙂

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 … 🙂

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.