Wednesday, February 08, 2006

the dissertation

An old friend asked me the other day just what a dissertation means. As in, what do I have to do? I blog about it a lot, but don’t ever put it in context.

First, the working title: The Effects of Two Major Welfare Policies on College Attendance by Single Mother Recipients.

Dissertations can be slightly different in every Ph.D. program. For me, it consists of five ‘chapters.’

Chapter 1: Introduction, study aims, relevance for the profession
Chapter 2: Literature review, conceptual model (more on this in a moment), hypotheses
Chapter 3: Methodology – study design, sampling plan, measures, data collection and analysis plan

The first three chapters represent the proposal. Once the proposal is complete, I must defend the proposal to a small committee of four. The defense is open to faculty and students, but I don’t think many attend (thank goodness). The committee can choose to: accept as is, accept with minor revisions, accept with major revisions, or reject the proposal. A rejected proposal means starting all over again, from the beginning. I don’t expect that to happen. I also don’t expect ‘accept as is,’ for this almost never happens. No, it will hinge on acceptance with minor or major revisions. Minor revisions means just my committee chair needs to approve the revisions; major revisions means I go back and defend again to the full committee –I don’t want the latter.

As of today, I’ve completed chapter 1 and the literature review and hypotheses in chapter 2. I started the conceptual model last night. The conceptual model is an actual illustrated view of what I am researching, complete with arrows showing direction and including all the variables I will use in the analyses. It is tricky partly because it’s difficult to do a visual in Word, but more so because I need to be sure that all the variables I’ve discussed in the lit review, aims and hypotheses are represented. This is the model I will use throughout the methodology. I finished the visual illustration last night (oh yes, my domly one, I did actual work on this last night, lol). It also requires a narrative to accompany the visual, which I hope to have finished Friday night.

Chapter 4: Results – this is where I run my logistic regressions (logistic, because my dependent variable is dichotomous – attend college, not attend college). The regression gives me an odds ratio, which basically says, given the intervening variables, what are the odds (likelihood) of this individual attending college, and is the result significant. I don’t surmise anything here, just report the results of my analyses.
Chapter 5: Discussion – summary and interpretation of findings, strengths and weaknesses of study design etc, implications for practice, conclusions.

I’m not collecting my own data, I’m using what is called a secondary data analysis – using data someone else collected and analyzing that. In my case, that data was collected by our own federal government. I’m using one of their Census Bureau datasets – the Survey of Income and Program Participants, better known in research circles as the SIPP. Because I’m not collecting my own data, these chapters should go more quickly than for other students.

And then, once completed to the satisfaction of my chair, I send copies to all committee members to read, and the entire dissertation is defended much like the proposal was, with the same choices available to the committee. Again, it'll likely hinge on accept with minor/major revisions.

I had planned to have the proposal done and defended last fall, the entire dissertation done and defended so I could participate in graduation ceremonies in May. But of course, laptop crashes, major illnesses, and recently, the car issue, have all nipped that dream in the bud. Now, I hope to finish the proposal and defend before all the faculty leave for the summer. Then spend the summer on the last two chapters, and defend as soon as faculty are back in September.

I have the best committee chair -- really tough, but really fair, and always on top of things. I send her my drafts as I complete a section, and she reads, comments, and edits. We use Word's track changes feature, and basically, when she sends me something back with her edits, I pretty much click 'accept all comments/changes.' If she thinks it should be written a particular way, I'm writing it that way! I want to get through this as quickly as possible, not delay it with disagreements.

Whew! Hey my dear, that’s what you get for asking!

And now that I see it all laid out like this, I ask myself again -- are you freakin' nuts?????? WHY are you doing this???


WistfulWench said...

I've always questioned why a dissertation is necessary after you have completed ALL that schooling. I understand that it provides "proof" that the student has actually understood what they learned and can apply it practically. But, geez! The amount of work and research required after years of hitting the books just boggles my mind!

Your title sounds as though this is an interesting project! I would love to hear your conclusions and can't wait to hear how the committee reacts!

Anonymous said...

Youare doing this because you want to. In a way it is a means to an end, a teaching position. Your description of the process is well done. However, now that you have publicly defined your time table, you must stick to it...............

As it is said, "Mean what you say and say what you mean." Though my favorite comes from Archie McNally, "One never knows do one?"

The domly one

dyercotomy said...

youve just reminded me why i decided not to go to oxford all those years ago!

mind you, could anyone have contemplated 4 years studying german literature with glee?

i very much admire you and anyone else who has the will and determination to do it, id just had achedemic overload as a teenager.

good luck and keep us posted.

Spring said...

wistful, well, there's the 'pc' answer, that it prepares one for academia, writing, and publishing; that it's the vehicle through which the student demonstrates that they can successfully use what they've learned.

And then there's the un'pc' answer, that basically they have to make it as difficult as possible to keep the Ph.D. degree exclusive. I mean, if everyone could/would do it, the value of the degree would plummet. And who would pay tuition for a degree with no value?

Spring said...

Oh domly one, yes, but sometimes I need to be reminded of that, don't I? :)

Damn, I knew I shouldn't have put that timetable out there like that, lol.

Hey, wait a minute -- you didn't write 'Domly,' you wrote 'domly.' What will all the other 'Doms' think????? *major giggles*

Spring said...

German lit, my goodness, what an interesting field of study. And I really mean that sincerely, it sounds interesting to me. I'm the proverbial forever student, always trying to learn more (even if I am groaning about the dissertation right now).

Thanks for the good wishes, and if you keep reading, you'll no doubt hear all about it.

dyercotomy said...

trust me, german lit isnt that interesting.

i also studied french lit and ancient roman lit, both of which are thoroughly fascinating, but (apologies to any german lit lovers [if there are any])there were only a couple of seriously interesting german authors, certainly not 4 more years worth of study.

Spring said...

Now ancient roman lit sounds truly fascinating!