Sunday, June 7, 2009

Focus - or lack thereof

I was really committed to the fifteen minute a day thing -- until my poor spouse asked me to view a movie together. I have neglected my marriage partner for some time and it seemed so easy to please him by saying yes. However, it meant saying no to my 15-minute a day dissertation exercise.

Tomorrow! for sure.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ready for Chapter 1

Today I got the green light to proceed with Chapter 1 of my dissertation. I am definitely abiding by spending at least fifteen minutes a day order to make small steps of progress along the way.

While I was taking the last year of classes, I had the opportunity to work on outside data for another faculty member on our campus, along with my advisor. What a great way to incorporate some of the learning that I was absorbing. We met today for nearly the last time. I have a few more items to add to the list, but it is primarily done. When it is published, my name will be on the list of authors, which is a good way to start!

Ready for my fifteen minutes...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Supportive Reading

So now that we are finished with the written and oral exams (omg - does that one event define the periods of my life, before the written and oral exams (bwoe) and after the written and oral exams (awoe)?), some time is available for relaxing reading. So what do I delve into? Some great reading that I would NEVER have picked up bwoe period of my life. Top on my list is "Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day" by Joan Bolker, Ed.D. - a reassuring, relaxing approach to getting it all done. Another book that was highly (and continuously) recommended by a peer is "The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I am on my first of what I expect to be many reading of this incredible tome. Ah, for the days of enjoying a good mystery.....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Now the Work Begins

It literally took me about 4 weeks to recover my 'rhythm' of life after completing my oral exams. Then about another 4 weeks to catch up on the amount of life that I had ignored (how do those dust bunnies grow so large? and who spilled fertilizer on ALL the growing stuff outside?). But I am breathing again and truly just beginning to acknowledge how good it feels to have the exams complete.

AND I have to stay focused on completing my dissertation. Because as good as I feel now, it will be nothing compared to how I will feel when I finish the entire degree and it is behind me.

Of course, I already have my eye on two additional educational conquests after this is done: barbering school (so I will ALWAYS have work) and my 2nd Ph.D.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Thank God It's Over
Just today I passed my oral exams. whew! I cannot image what it was like to have to retake either the written exams or the oral exams (there were students in our group who had to do both).

Thank God! Now to the dissertation part...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Written Exams DONE!

No one prepared me for the exhaustive time of completing the written exams. I am beat. Now to sweat to see if I can sit for oral exams, and to study for them. I am not sure that I have the physical stamina for all this.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Comprehensive Exams - Part I

Regardless of the number of times, the different ways, or the various people we asked, no one prepared us for the emotional toll of the comprehensive exams. Our small group asked the students who were one year ahead of us and received snarls and nasty faces -- I guess the impression that we were to get was that it was distasteful. The testing professors gave us the sage advice of study as you did for your finals, that should work. Then the week prior to the exams, the lead professor advised each of us that 10 hours of studying a day was not going to be enough!!!! By that time, I was no where near 10 hours of studying a day - more like eight hours, if I was lucky. I did take 6 days of vacation time off to study, but I should have taken more.

After the exams, subsets of our small group got together to see if we could recall the individual questions, in case we had to go into 'rewrites' for the exams, which was my personal goal and the goal of a couple of others. Our goal of getting to the 'rewrite' level was based on the discussion of the other professors that nearly no other student that they could recall would pass the exams -- many have failed, and if you are lucky, you would get to the 'rewrite' stage.

So we gathered together to see if we could recall the questions and discuss our answers -- what a drama we started among other students and the professors -- story best left to after completion of this entire process.

So we started studying together until a month later when we received notification of our scores -- and a paragraph requiring our signature stating that we would not discuss the exam with other students -- now or ever -- which is probably why the older students would / could not give us any information on what was on the exam.

For some insane reason, I felt as if I had possibly passed one or more of the four comprehensive exams -- not one! So, I am in rewrite mode for all four exams. I did complete one rewrite and received word that I am ready for orals for that one. I am dragging my feet on the other three -- three instructors with three different approaches to the rewrites, all different and only one instructor has been my classroom instructor, so I am unsure what they want.

So, that is the reason for the lapse between posts, and there may be another lapse until I complete the other three rewrites. O yea, and I am launching a new business in the midst of this as I am working full-time and my only daughter is getting married in four months.

Parts II and beyond to come later.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Focus on the Finish

We are a small community of PhD candidates, each with our own individual personalities and perspectives. Yet we all have the same goal of completing our degree.

Sometimes the focus is stronger at different times. For instance, my focus is there, somewhere, after full-time work, family responsibilities, and planning. It's there, but sometimes it gets buried.

Some people have our educational goal first in their lives all the time. God bless them. I just can't (or maybe won't) do that in my life right now. I don't bemoan them their decision of priorities and I hope that they don't belittle me because of my priorities.

Different perspectives.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Little Encouragement Goes a Long Way

Although I am still waiting the results of the written exam, I decided to go out on a limb and apply for the six-month sabbatical that is offered at my work. It is an incredible opportunity - they pay for your salary for six months while you work full-time on your dissertation! You can also choose to work half-time for 12 months and get full-time pay. It seems as if I could concentrate better working full-time on my dissertation.

I was thinking about taking the sabbatical soon (like next month or so!), but it turns out that you need to apply in March for decision to be made in June for the next year. My request is to start the sabbatical ten months from now.

With the state of the economy and the overload that everyone is carrying at work, I filled out the request thinking that the paper would be shuffled from one place to another. Imagine my surprise when I received a personal letter from our company President commending me on my work and letting me know that he supported my request! He did add that the economy would make a difference and I still am unsure if I will receive it or not, but what a ray of sunshine that brought to my day!

I do hope that I receive it!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Read Some More

Studying for, and then taking the comprehensive exams took a lot of time. I am still unsure how I did with the exams, and still studying for possible rewrites and then orals, if lucky.

However, after taking a couple of days to rebalance, I find a backlog of things that need to be done -- annual taxes, husband's bookkeeping, other obligations that I have set aside for a couple of months like volunteer research.

On top of that, I am setting my goals for 2009, one of which is to enjoy cooking more -- interestingly, I am practicing what I preach to my math students -- change in attitude. I am saying to myself that "I enjoy cooking", I agree that it takes time to cook well (just like math), "I am a good cook", "Others know that I am a good cook". My family has noticed a major difference.

And then there is the extra reading. There doesn't seem as if there is enough time in the day, but I know that there is. It's always a matter of balance.

Speaking of which, I am running out of time today, so I will return later to write more.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Concept Paper is NOT a Proposal Paper

I thought that I would be ahead of the curve in creating an extended concept paper that was close to a proposal paper. Turns out that isn't a good idea. It always go back to consider the audience -- the audience for the concept paper is a possible committee of faculty who may serve on your dissertation committee. They only want an overview and two pages is maximum. So my goal this weekend is to drop five pages out of my concept paper. However, I think that I will keep the original that I created this weekend as my final version proposal paper will look alot like what I wrote for this week.

Balance in your life is going to be a lot of keeping sane during this process. I am lucky that I am able to compartmentalize my life among my spirituality, my spouse, my job, my children, and all these silly extras that I take on. I am blessed.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Getting Back to Basics

While reviewing the many errors that I made during the comprehensive exams, I realize that the biggest errors I made were conceptual from beginning definitions. Much of my research these past two days have been focused on class notes from the FIRST WEEKS of classes -- not reviews of finals of those classes, but basic concepts.

Again, the study group forces me to defend my airy defenses -- the best way (or at least the best way for me) to gain deeper understanding and also defend my beliefs is to start with definitions and move from there.

There are still a lot of distractions -- for instance, tonight watching the presidential news conference which is important to me as a contributing citizen, but yet pulls away from the concept paper, my readings, and my time with family (does sitting in the same room with family as we watch tv count???)

Leaving early to get back to my readings.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Weekend Work

At the end of the weekend, I am sometimes fretful about the amount of work to be done. Working fulltime, keeping a happy marriage, staying in touch with friends (I found this is very important piece to my mental well-being), keeping up with the adult children, o, yea, and remembering to eat healthy and exercise keeps me organized when I don't really want to!

In addition to all of the above, I have volunteered to work on a research project, which I absolutely love. Doing research on a regular basis actually appeals to me. Wonder if I could make any real money doing that?

Speaking of money, my personal goal of financial independence has led me to help create a number of websites, which require a fair amount of writing also. Luckily, I have and outstanding graphic designer and superb programmer. Writing the patent application and completing the text portion of the website require a lot of time -- maybe next week?

However, the content paper assignment is complete. The requirement was for two pages. I took a 20 page proposal from a prior class, changed a few items based on what I learned from other classes and created a six page concept paper that should take me quite a way into this term. I'll find out this week if I am on track or not.

A few of us met as a small group today to review some items from the comprehensive exam in preparation for the rewrites and oral exam. We've been meeting on Sunday afternoon since the comprehensive exams. I feel very comfortable with the group and free to ask 'stupid' questions and pound out the answers until everyone in the group understands. I wish that everyone in our group would join us -- maybe they understand everything so well that they don't need the interaction. I really learn more through our give and take process. I have tremendous respect for our professor (who I hope will agree to serve as my advisor), but do not feel comfortable in challenging any information that I do not have a deep and complete understanding.

Huge breakthrough today in discussing semi-partial regressions from a simultaneous regression and from a hierarchial regression. The simultaneous regression calculates semi-partials from the correlational matrix while the hierarchial regression calculates semi-partials from the regressions calculated through the analysis. HUGE breakthrough, thanks to the patience of my study group.

For some reason, PhD classes do not encourage study groups. Independent study is preferred and promoted. Understandably, you need to earn your degree by yourself. However, the constant discussion within our study group inspires me and allows me a platform to discuss statiscial options with the others that is unlike any other platform. Thank you, study group!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Concept Paper

A concept paper is due on Tuesday for class. Surprisingly, here is where all of the preparatory classes come into play. From the beginning, I have had a general topic that I was interested in studying and now the preliminary research I have done comes in handy. Pulling from a number of different reports and essays that I wrote for other classes, the concept paper is coming together easily.

The books that I have been reading about how to write your dissertation are reassuring. One in particular promotes "messy writing" - make a mess then clean it up. Somehow that is an encouraging way for me to get started -- just begin writing something, forget spelling, grammar, or context, just stream of conscienceness.

My topic is a comfortable place for me and one that I work with daily. There isn't a lot of research on the topic, which makes me feel excited about contributing to the body of knowledge. Everyone says that the process always takes longer than you expect. Another PhD completer told me that she created an outline, did her research, then completed her entire dissertation in four weeks flat. I wonder if she lies about everything?

My goal is to step through the process accumulating knowledge and enjoying the path along the way. So far, its' good

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The next fifteen minutes

The second book that I am reading might be called "PhD Dissertations for Dummies", but it isn't. It could be considered depressing by some readers. Look, I know that writing a dissertation will be a lot of work. I'm not afraid of work. I know that parts of it will be boring. I had other long-lasting boring assignments. I know that there will be mishaps. I have had accidents blow up in the middle of my most thought-out plans. Can't someone tell me how rewarding it will all be when it is done? Can't some adviser paint the picture of how accomplished I will feel at the end? A little ray of sunshine anywhere for the writer of a dissertation?

When I speak with other PhD successes, I feel as if they are laughing at me. The ones who don't laugh are those who completed their degree like I am -- older students, working full-time, with a family, who really dig their teeth into the project and don't let go. I need to listen to them more.

I like the idea of a timeline, a GANTT chart of all the parts leading up to the completion of the disseration. It gives an air of predictability to this process -- a false sense that I am in control, when in fact I'm not. Last fall, if everything had gone well, I could have conducted four (not 4 --need to practice my APA formating) months of my research. But everything did not go well and that is not just part of my dissertation, that is indeed part of life. Nay, it is life. Isn't it how we react to all of what doesn't go well that which truly makes the difference?

Two years ago, I was introduced to a young and successful politician who explained to me that he was "A.B.D." - All But Dissertation. To me, that is the absolute worst state. It would feel as if I had either been left at the altar on my wedding day, or I decided to stand up to my fiance' on our wedding day -- totally incomplete. No, I'll be finishing this one way or another. And I think that I will choose to enjoy the process.

Our next assignment is to write our Concept Paper for next week. My project is pretty clear and the instructor gave me unofficial blessings on it. I would like for my instructor to serve as my dissertation chair if he has time. His attention to detail will be most helpful for me. We have successfully worked on another smaller project and seem to have compatible styles.

Nothing that I have read yet has recommended a small project with your potential dissertation committee chair. The small project that we worked on together gave me an idea of how it would be to work alongside him and I think that I can do that successfully. I have suggested this to everyone else in our group who is moving along together in this venture.

That's another feature that I don't see promoted -- a cohort group moving together towards their terminal degree. Especially as working adults, it seems to be of great assistance to encourage one another. At different times, one or the other of us threaten to quit, but another one of us won't allow it and prod each other along the path towards our PhD.

Writing for fifteen minutes a day and organizing my thoughts is not so bad. I think that I'm going to enjoy this blog.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Initial Fifteen Minutes

The book said to write fifteen minutes a day. Well, actually, the title of the book is "Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day". In an effort to share my experience, I decided why not use those fifteen minutes of writing and start my first blog. There must be others who are working adults returning to school to complete a terminal degree. I'm well over 50, love my job that does not require a PhD, but there is that list that I made when I was 18 and idealistic. I had very concrete goals then and the first one was to complete my PhD by the time I was 25. I didn't necessarily want to teach, I just never wanted to be in poverty again and education seemed the best route out.

Now is the best time to earn my PhD ~ kids are all gone (well mostly), spouse and I are experiencing a comfortable and exciting period in our relationship, love my job (whoops, sorry for the bold enthusiasm), have great health, with a nearby school available to me.

The coursework is over, one set of comprehensive exams are complete, ready to begin thinking about a topic of interest - and what could be more interesting than a topic that involves adults returning to school!

Let's return to the book and a particular phrase that I found meaningful: "... writing in order to think, rather than thinking in order to write...". I found that specific logic to be particularly true for me in answering one of the comprehensive exam questions. It was one of the two comprehensive exams that seemed 'easy' - not because either one was 'easy', but because I was able to complete the answers in sufficient time which allowed for time for expansion and some rewrite of answers. It was during the answer expansion and rewrite when I found my writing promoted my thinking, in fact, to the point that I completely reversed my opinion (which was requested) and came to a startling conclusion that I do not believe I could have attained by just sitting there, staring at the computer screen, waiting for deep thinking to produce the same insight.

Fifteen minutes today - this may be very doable. Late goal of graduating and completing by Dec 2010, but may be able to do everything by June 2010.