Tag Archives: dissertation

Connections

This month, my life is all about making connections. From my dissertation to my graduate life to my upcoming job, I’m making connections between concepts, old friends, and new coworkers. Some of these connections are more difficult to make, others exciting, but all of them carry their own challenges, and together, they’re doing their darnedest to run me a little ragged.

First, Conceptual Connections

When feedback on the first full draft of my dissertation came back in July, my co-chairs were in agreement: it’s all there, I just needed to “build connections.” It wasn’t clear how my three findings chapters connected to one another and the rest of the dissertation to form an overarching argument. To some extent, I thought I knew what said argument was, but it was kind of obvious (like, no one would have really found it interesting or surprising). I knew there was something else there… but it was hiding right beneath the surface.

After working my way through more than half of the thing making whatever connections I thought I could between chapters, I met with one of my co-chairs, who asked all the right questions and helped me tease apart my actual argument. We sat and stared at this graphic (the fancy name for it is a “key linkage chart”) for a while, trying to figure out how the top led to the bottom… how all the pieces went together.

my current "key linkage" chart

my current “key linkage” chart

I’m sure this thing will continue to change — it’s more or less in a perpetual state of flux right now, but I’m currently in the process of re-(re-re-re-)revising in an effort to make more of the connections between concepts clear. I don’t really leave my house besides to eat and/or walk the dog, because this needs to be done before I leave for Boston at the end of August.

Also, New People

Speaking of which, I’m moving to Boston in August. Actually, I’m moving to Boston in exactly 19 days. Yikes — I hadn’t actually done that math until just now.

This move means I’m working with a whole new set of people — the ed tech team for Boston Public Schools — and (from a distance) I’m getting e-troduced to many of my new co-workers via email and hangout. So far, I’m thrilled to find that the people I’ll be working with are like-minded when it comes to ed tech, that they have found many of the same things in Boston schools that I found in my research with teachers who are trying to integrate tech, and that this job feels like a really good fit. However, it doesn’t mean making new connections from a distance is easy (heck, it’s hard enough when it’s face-to-face).

Part of the challenge here lies in the fact that I don’t yet know or completely understand this community, not having worked in a central office… um… ever. I’m not sure what matters most to this community when it comes to supporting teachers, because I haven’t been in it long enough to figure that out. I don’t know ANY of the district-specific acronyms (that’s already become a bit of a joke between me and my new coworkers — everyone is going to need to spell things out for me for a while). I have done a bit of work in urban education, but only in the context of TFA, not actually working for a district. Plus, all of these interactions are online, where it’s harder to read nonverbal and tonal cues that usually help me with these sorts of things. So needless to say, I’m a bit of a fish out of water. I imagine I’ll be doing a lot of listening for the first few weeks.

And I Can’t Forget my Existing Connections

Part of moving is making sure you connect with everyone before you move — this means my time is suddenly in high demand. Whereas it used to be okay for me to disappear for a couple of months and get my work done, many of my friends want to grab a drink, grab a meal, or otherwise get together before I move. This, in the realm of problems to have, is actually a pretty damn good one.  It makes me feel pretty loved.

That said, even these connections are at times difficult to make. To begin with, I have to say no to many of them, because the dissertation needs to take a front-row seat right now, and I can’t give up too much time to my social life. Also, I’m reserving much of my weekend time to hanging out with my partner, from whom I’ll be separated for an indeterminate amount of time. But more than that– it’s sad. These people have seen me through some of the darkest, ugliest moments of the PhD process. They are some of my favorite people and best friends, and I’m leaving a full year earlier than I originally thought I would be. At the moment, as I prepare to leave half of my heart behind in Ann Arbor while the dog and I move across the country, my emotional sensibilities can only take so much of a beating.

All this connecting has left me pretty drained these last few days (or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been getting up at 5:30 to reset my internal clock from gradschool time to realworkingperson time, or the fact that I’ve been running a lot, who knows). All of these connections are exciting — watching my dissertation come together (FINALLY), meeting my incredible new colleagues, and reconnecting with some of the best and smartest friends a woman could ask for. But… I need a nap.

 

 

Moving is Scary (And Other Reflections)

I have started writing this post about a million times, and stopped each time, trying to figure out how to talk about this mega-huge thing that’s happening in my life in t – 1 month.

Basically, I have some news. I’m moving. To Boston. WITHOUT my husband-person.

(To start a new job with Boston Public Schools as an Online Learning Specialist.)

And this is scary.

This Post: An Explanation

Deciding how to communicate this to whomever might happen upon my website and then happen upon my blog was difficult, because my audience is so varied. I know a few close friends will read it (because I’ll post it on FB) — most of them already know that I’m moving, why I’m moving, etc. It’s also possible that my new boss will happen across this post. I hope she knows it’s the moving that’s scary, not the prospect of working with her (she’s awesome). It’s possible future employers will read it and think “this girl is crazy pants.” It’s possible that audiences I’ve not even imagined will read it. See, since this is a professional space, it really complicates the whole “blogging about my feelings” thing. And I have the feelings, folks. Lots of them.

So I thought about it a little bit, and decided to go ahead and just stinkin’ say it, because I don’t really want to be part of a professional world that isn’t willing to see me as a whole human being, put together messily and with little attention to logic or reason. Being a human is messy. Being an adult human is messier. It’s just that the tiny humans wear their messes on their shirts, and the adult humans squirrel away their messes in their brains. Well, consider this post the unloading of my brain-mess. Because finishing up a PhD has left no room inside my brain for my brain-mess, and because I don’t think squirreling anything away is healthy.

Why I’m Moving to Boston

Ha! I like how the header implies that this is an explainable thing. “I’m moving to Boston, because _____.” Like those sentences you filled in on worksheets when you were learning about compound sentences and conjunctions.

Basically I’m moving to Boston because BPS offered me a super cool job that lets me do a bunch of stuff that I love doing. That “bunch of stuff that I love doing” includes:

  1. Working with teachers to think about how to improve their practice
  2. Working with teachers to help them integrate tech into their practice
  3. Developing professional development resources for teachers
  4. Working on a team of people who care about teachers and teacher learning
  5. Making online things that help people learn
  6. Thinking about online learning and how people learn in hybrid (online/f2f) settings
  7. Thinking about how teachers learn in the midst of being teachers

You know, all that cool stuff. So really, it’s that simple. I accidentally (seriously, it was sort of an accident) landed myself a job doing exactly what I want to do at the oldest school district in the country. I get to acquire PD development experience and urban education experience while honing my skills and knowledge in #edtech. #winning.

See, in my dissertation study, sort of unintentionally, I wound up examining how PD structures impact digital integration. In the process, I discovered that I really, really, REALLY like thinking about PD and about how to improve teachers’ experiences as teachers and lifelong learners. I realized I kind of wanted to help schools design “good PD” (ftr, still deciding what I think that is). I realized I could do this in multiple contexts: either at the university level as a researcher, or at the k-12 level working with a district. I realized that this latter option was actually an option, which had never occurred to me before. And it sounded kinda… awesome.

Why it’s Kinda Weird

I always thought I’d be a professor. I had a PLAN, people — since undergrad. Get degree, be teacher for 3 years, earn master’s, get PhD, be professor, teach methods courses, get tenure, publish lots of things, etc., etc. So when I announced to my friends and family that I was going to move to Boston to work with a school district, some people were a little surprised.

This is because I had told everyone forever that I wanted to work at a R1 institution doing professory-type things. Conducting research with teams of graduate students and undergrads. Applying for grants. Leading future teachers to classroom excellence. Teaching research methods courses. To a large extent, I do still want that. This still sounds like a fantastic future to me.

Why I’m Doing this Anyway

The past few months of writing my dissertation have made me want to run screaming from the academy. I hear this is normal.

But beyond that (because that’s not enough of a reason to leave), I would like to gain some practical experience doing the thing I research. If I eventually choose to go back to academia, I’ll be armed with some experience as a PD professional at the k-12 level. Also, I’m almost done with this beast of a dissertation, and continuing to wallow in it for one more year while I do the academic job market dance makes me want to crawl under a table and cry for a while. A long while.

Furthermore, a career in k-12 education does not mean a career void of research, problem-solving, and publishing. A number of my favorite academic minds aren’t in the academy, but left it to return to the classroom or to work as administrators. These individuals attend the same conferences I attend, write for academic and practitioner journals, and are extremely tapped into the lives of the classroom simply due to the nature of their work. They maintain a foot in both worlds, even though it might not seem like it. In the words of one teacher-PhD:

I often feel like the world looks at this choice we’ve made as some sort of failing condition. Once in a while I get a student asking me, carefully, why I’m not teaching college if I’ve got my doctorate. The assumption often seems that it’s because I couldn’t make it as an academic so now I’m stuck teaching high school.

I do not know where I will end up after this year. Because my partner is still looking for a job and because I’m not yet sure what this new adventure holds in store, I might stay in Boston, I might look for an academic position, or I might seek out administrative certifications. But I do not subscribe to the notion that just because I’m in k-12, I cannot contribute to the scholarly community. That only the life of an academic at an R1 institution will allow me to question, shape, and change education writ large.

NOT Why I’m Moving to Boston

And for clarity’s sake, here are a few reasons that are NOT reasons why I am moving to Boston:

  1. Because I am getting divorced. (Seriously, why is this the first place people’s heads go when I tell them my partner is not joining me? He’s employed here, people. And if you’ve ever met my husband, you can imagine what he would be like unemployed. Not okay. We’re fine, and we’ll be fine. Get over it.)
  2. Because I run. Would I like to qualify for the Boston Marathon? Sure. Am I going to any time in the next 5 years? Hella no. Is Boston a runner’s paradise? Definitely. But no, I don’t base major life decisions on my hobbies.
  3. Because I hate academia. That’s just stupid. I’ve spent 6 years of my 7-year career in academia. I’ve been happy. I’m sure my career, in whatever form it takes, will continue to interact and intersect with post-secondary institutions.
  4. Because of the sports. I really can’t stand the Patriots. I can handle the Red Sox and am indifferent to the Bruins and Celtics.
  5. Because I’ve always wanted to live in the city. I come from the cornfields, and a dream of many cornfield-dwellers is to move to a big city. This actually terrifies me a little bit, I have to be honest. I’ve never done well with big transitions, and this is the biggest yet.
  6. Because I love lobster. Though I do love lobster.
  7. Or clams… or oysters… Though I love those too. Actually if I’m being honest, the food might have been a motivator…

Dang it, now I’m hungry. And on that note, it’s just about dinnertime here in Michigan, and I have one more month at home with my husband and puppy to enjoy our evening dinners and chill time, so I’m going to peace out. I hope this sheds some light on why I’m moving to Boston, and why it’s scary, but also pretty awesome.

 

Finding My Process

It’s a dissertator’s right of passage (I think): figuring out one’s process.

It’s messy.

Sometimes it’s downright disgusting, as the coffee cups pile up and the books spread out across your desk, mingled with piles of artifacts collected from teachers, your sweaty water bottle from this morning’s run, and half of an apricot that you put down and then completely forgot about when an idea struck you.

First

This process began (for me) with a couple of weeks of ToTaL confusion. The school year at my research site ended, and I wandered about unsure of what to do next. I:

  • went to a conference (Computers and Writing 2013, which was a blast), and talked about some of the preliminary stuff I was noticing during data collection.
  • exercised.
  • napped on and off in the afternoon, with the dog on me and a book open, pretending to read.
  • transcribed a couple interviews.
  • met with committee members, hoping that would inspire me to get moving, and asked one of them what in the world I should be doing with these mountains of data staring me in the face.
  • organized a happy hour outing.
  • had lunch with some friends.

Then

Then I came to a realization. I imagine most dissertators have this happen to them at some point. The Realization can take many forms. Here are a few that I have experienced or that I have caught wind of from others:

  • Oh crap. I need to apply to that conference. Must find panel find chair write proposal send quickly!
  • Oh crap. I haven’t read enough about ________ (or _________) (or _________). I am stupid and know nothing how did anyone ever agree to let me do this.
  • Oh crap. I just got an email from a committee member asking me where that draft is. I have not written that draft. I better start writing that draft.
  • Oh crap. I’m gonna run out of funding. (Or: oh crap, I wanted to apply for that funding.)
  • Oh crap. My partner just got a job and we need to move.

My realization went a little like this: oh crap, I took an incomplete because I couldn’t find time to write a seminar paper in the midst of data collection, and now I need to write up findings from my quantitative data before the end of the summer.

Then a slightly less awful realization: hey, I could turn that into a dissertation chapter.

Then I decided to get. to. work.

Followed By

As soon as I decided it was time to get to work, I realized I have no idea how to work. I knew a few things needed to happen, like organization of some of my variables. And I knew I needed — NEEDED — to figure out how to work with the SPSS syntax for my statistical model. What followed was some serious procrastination while I organized, reorganized, coded, and recoded some of my quantitative data.

The problem at this stage: my brain could barely focus on one task at a time, because each task made me think of something else I needed to do. For example, every time I want to run a model to examine whether a variable is important to it, I need to clean up (or even create) that variable to include it in the model. Today this has happened to me twice. Every time it happens I have a tendency to leave the task I’m on to go do that, which means in any given span of two to three hours, I’ll leave my central task and not get back to it again until half a day has gone by. Very, very frustrating. And I know this isn’t the best way to work, it’s just that I haven’t figured out what the best way looks like yet.

And Eventually…

VICTORY! Not only did I get my model program to work this week, but I have some pretty interesting findings that I think I can say a lot about. For example, I discovered that teachers’ consultation with colleagues does seem to have an impact on (or at least explain a significant amount of the variance in) teachers’ digital practices in the classroom, but that this is only true for some of the most central teachers in the network — the ones with lots of nominations from their colleagues. I also discovered that this seems to hold even more true in teachers’ “close colleagues” network, meaning friendship matters a lot to teachers when it comes to influencing their practice. Wahoo! I have stuff to write about! (And just in time, too. That paper deadline looms.)

Finally

After a month of screwing around and trying to figure out what this dissertating nonsense looks like, I

processstarted writing some stuff down. At which point I discovered that not even this part of the process gets to remain the same. See, I’m what you might consider a “neat” writer. Even my messiest drafts look pretty clean if you look at them when they’re in progress. By this I mean, I don’t tend to write a lot of notes to myself when I write, nor do I tend to leave citations out during first passes. I tend to plug through a paragraph until I’m really happy with it, then move on, even if this means I’m going back and forth between reading and writing. This might extend to a three-page or even ten-page section, depending on the length of the piece, but I don’t leave chunks of self-commentary in drafts for later pickup.

I’ve been self-conscious about this for a very long time, because many of my colleagues do this frequently. Their drafts are marked up, cut up, divided into chunks with lots of meta-commentary. I’ve always wondered if I was a worse writer because I didn’t do as much reflection in writing, in the draft, as they did.

Well I can quit worrying about that, because now I’m doing a lot more of it, apparently. As I started writing what will be my first findings chapter, I realized that my old “plug on through till it’s good” strategy was NOT going to work if I wanted to get anything accomplished today. So I left notes to myself and to my committee members, questions and follow-ups for further analysis, and a few spots where I need to go back and add citations.

Just looking at this page makes me nauseated, because it reminds me of all the things I need to do before this piece can be finished (no wonder I used to avoid all that meta-commentary).

So I’m finding my process.
Which I’m discovering is, in and of itself, a process.
It’s going to take me a while.