Learning From Other People's Experiences
Last week, one of the professors emailed out an invitation to a dissertation proposal defense. As soon as I got the email, I said I have to go. Here's one of the all-too-rare opportunities to see the inner workings of the dissertation process. Believe me, I've asked my professors many questions about their experiences on the road to the PhD., but the nitty gritty of how they achieved it is one of those things that remained a mystery. Perhaps, like childbirth, it's something to block out?
In any event, at the appointed time, I found the conference room and filed in along with the candidate (David), the five members of his review committee and four other students. For a moment, I worried that my plan to take notes would not go over well, but it wasn't really a concern.
David started with his overview. As he gave the abstract, I thought to myself "Crap! I have such a narrow area of focus, will it pass this step?" It soon became clear that what he was proposing was way too big for one dissertation, it was originally slated to be worked on by three students and because it is a novel area of research, he'll only be doing the first phase to earn his PhD.
Then he got into the various steps of the research, what steps needed to be taken and how they'd be accomplish. Throughout this part, I had questions brewing in my head, ones that come from studying psychology and reading I don't know how many juried papers in the past two years. Questions about the validity of using Likert scales with the types of questions he was planning to ask his research participants, what is the dependent variable you're looking to prove and how are you going to refute the implications that the subject may have been influenced into participating because their superiors asked them to do so?
Yeah, I know, I am talking Greek. Just call me a research geek, because I am.
Anyway, the questions I had really are because David is using a methodology I haven't really had much experienced with, a descriptive study. It makes sense when you're embarking on a study topic that no one has broached before and David sees the benefit in what he's doing because future researchers can then have a dependent variable thanks to his work.
The two hours was very well spent because I just cut out a lot of potential wheel spinning before I've even entered that first 7000 level class. In addition, I met another PhD. candidate and got further insights into the process and what roadblocks sometimes come along.
Some might think it weird that I've just completed my first semester as a grad student and I took out two hours to witness a meeting that is at best, three or four years down the road for me. I look at it as putting a coordinate into the GPS to prevent getting lost along the way.