Wednesday, April 30, 2008

No rest for the wicked

ABD, well, that means it's time to get back to work!

Actually I've gotten a fair amount done this week. I had a very helpful meeting about my dissertation topic, although it doesn't sound so helpful when I explain the upshot of it was ... to schedule another meeting. But really, it was useful. I've also been working on three, er, two proposals for ASHE. I'm submitting three; one is already out of my hands, the one with my advisor. Another one is a four-author paper that even if it doesn't get accepted at ASHE has another audience it will probably play to. And then the last one is my paper from my contemporary theory class. Tomorrow's goal is to submit those proposals (they're due at 10:59 p.m.) and to submit a dissertation fellowship application. Friday's goal is to eat pancakes. And, um, that probably won't take all day. Let's pull some things off my "long-term to do list" and my calendar:
  • order new beaters for mixer
  • buy peanut butter at Whole Foods
  • buy summer foundation at Sephora
  • avoid thunderstorms
  • send some PPI emails
  • go to the gym or yoga

Monday, April 28, 2008


After five years of graduate classes, I am finally done with taking classes forever. Technically, I suppose I could still flunk a class, since grades haven't been posted yet, but that's extremely unlikely. So - basically - I'm all done. To show for it, I have this pile of notebooks to figure out what to do with. All done but the sorting.

And I have a shelf almost full of books. There are still spaces, though - whoops. But I'm done! Whee! Happy dance! For tomorrow, we dissertate.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


  • Terence posted some pictures from college. My first though was, wow, they look so young! Then I realized that just means that I am getting old. So I pulled out my college photo album and found something weird. The girls look dated (clothes, hair), but they don't look so young. The guys, they look like boys. I don't know what it is, if it's some sort of mental filter and a guy would see the opposite.
  • Summer is in the air. The temperature is 80 and humid, and I'm already complaining. The graduation tents are going up. And I went to my last class as a graduate student today. Whee!
  • Papers. Gotta focus on writing papers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

1/3 there

One paper down, two to go. So far my time allocation scheme seems to be working. I had through yesterday to finish my first paper; today, Thursday, and Friday to finish the next one; and the weekend for the final paper. It doesn't make for an exciting week, however.

Now don't think that I'm trying to do an entire paper from start to finish in three days. I've done all my research and written an outline. This is literally just the writing - getting what's in my head and in my references into the paper. As I start to fill in the outline, though, I'm finding that there are points that need to be eliminated, added, or rearranged. (This will be less true of my final paper, which does original data analysis, and thus follows the time-honored form of intro-lit review-data and methods-results-conclusion.) Eliminating points in particular worries me, because my papers always tend to run short.

3 days to write at least 25 doubled-spaced pages. Except I write single-spaced, so that's about 13 pages. Let's say five pages a day. I'm at 2, so back at it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Publish or perish

Our courses can be roughly divided into two kinds: methods and topics. In methods, you learn how to use a technique (surveys, regression, path analysis); in topics, you learn about a subject matter (access to higher education, politics of education, classical sociological theory). Topics classes in particular tend to require a final research paper as the major part or sole component of the student's grade. In our program, there is a definite push to think of each paper as potentially publishable. (Another school of thought holds that each paper should be written with the dissertation in mind. That doesn't work well in our program, but why is another post altogether.) The benefits of this are straightforward - you build up your CV from the beginning, making you a stronger job candidate. There are also side effects, however, that I'm not entirely sold on.

First, you have less control over the topics of your research. There are plenty of topics that someone earning a PhD ought to have taken a course in, but this covers a much wider territory than your average professor's research agenda. Your conference presentations and publications may suggest a jack of all trades, when you really want search committees to know you're interested in a specific area. Second, this really limits the kinds of research you can do. If you're using "human subjects" (which includes interviewing people) and want to use the results for anything other than class, you have to get it pre-approved by the institutional review board. This is often nearly impossible within the confines of a semester. This mostly leaves quantitative methods, generally using pre-digested data, again because of time constraints. So your CV reflects a certain set of techniques, not necessarily your preferred ones.

I'm thinking about this as I start to cast a critical eye on my CV in preparation for next fall's job market. Conference proposals for a major conference are due in a few weeks for the most important conference in my field. It is held right when applications are starting to flood in to departments. What does my CV say about me?

I think it documents well my interest in the topic fund raising, probably at just the right level. No one is looking for someone exclusively focused on it, the way they might want someone who studies college student issues. It overemphasizes my quantitative bent, as I'm more of a mixed methods type, but I think the nature of my dissertation will clear that up. What my CV fails to do is show my interest in organization theory, because that is not a topic that is emphasized in our department. My work in it has mostly led to class papers that aren't particularly publishable. For example, last semester I wrote a paper for sociology that analyzed the treatment of Max Weber's work in the first 25 years of Administrative Science Quarterly. I can't imagine that any other journal would be interested, and ASQ needs a big anniversary to wax nostalgic.

So it would be helpful to do something in that vein for this conference, but I have nothing in the pipeline to use. I'm co-author on two proposals, both related to fund-raising, and something solo would be nice. Now I think I could submit the paper I'm writing for my access to higher education class, but the topic is not really where I'm trying to position myself. (It is noteworthy that I did manage to find a way to write a paper using organization-level data for a class where individuals are usually the unit of interest.) Another classmate indicated interest in collaborating with me on it, so I may go ahead and use it mostly as it stands for this conference and then work with him to expand it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Classes march on

I had one of those weird classes today where apparently my reaction to the texts was different from other people's. A lot of folks, including the professor, said one reading in particular was very difficult. Now, no doubt it wasn't an easy piece, but I have found a lot of other pieces this semester more challenging. (This isn't an underhanded way of praising myself for being smarter than the other kids; there have been other readings where the situation was entirely reversed.) Moreover, I found it very helpful in clearing up some other stuff we've read that I've never quite gotten, whereas some folks - and this isn't too strong a word - hated it.

This kind of thing is interesting when it happens, especially because it's not a case of where the reading was clearer to one person because it fell within their specialty or because they have experience with the method. Sometimes a student just finds a work unexpectedly difficult, or really engages with something, and it seems like there is no good reason.

Monday, April 14, 2008


The new Nick Cave album is pretty awesome. The title track is catchy, but you really have to see the video. (It's also at YouTube.) Nick is strangely mesmerizing, seedy, and a little bit off, all at the same time.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Songs I'm embarrassed to admit I like

(And yet they're all on my iPod.)
Tragedy - Bee Gees
The entire Cyberpunk album - Billy Idol
Shake Your Pom Pom - Missy Elliott
Everybody (Backstreet's Back) - Backstreet Boys
Broken Wings - Mr. Mister
Baby One More Time - Britney Spears
It's My Life - Bon Jovi
Hotel California - Eagles

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stuff on the internet

Yup, it's quiet around here ... too quiet. Sorry for the posting silence, but this week is pretty much the same as last week, except this time I'm sparing you the details. In the meanwhile, here are some links that are growing stale.

Remember memorizing multiplication tables as a kid? I still can never remember 7x8 - I have to remember 7x7 and then add another 7. I figured it was just me, but apparently I'm not unusual.

Interested in politics? Finnish salmon? Robots making Luther Bibles? Then this blog has something for you!

Hamlet, the text adventure.

Interesting article on magical thinking

Monday, April 7, 2008

How to write a dissertation abstract

I spent a significant part of today reading dissertation abstracts and far too much of that time being frustrated. Why? Apparently writing a good abstract is much harder than it seems. So let me tell you how it should be done. Now, I've never been on a dissertation committee. I've never even written a dissertation. But I don't think that matters much. How much attention does a committee pay to an abstract? They probably don't even read it, since they already know what your dissertation is about. This is a plea from the user end, as someone who has to read abstracts.
  • You have a limited number of words. Sure, you can make it long, but ProQuest will shorten long abstracts, and that's how everyone will find your dissertation. So you might as well keep it short and control what readers see.
  • Don't use those limited words to tell us why research on, say, cranberries is important in general. Chances are, we found your dissertation by deliberately looking for info on cranberries.
  • Don't give us details of your sample selection. Yes, we want to know if it was a case study of one cranberry bog, if you used the Cranberry Bog Data Set, or if you limited it to female-owned bogs. Maybe tell us your survey response rate. But that's all we want at this point.
  • Don't tack on a final sentence that tells us more research is needed. Trust me, we fully expect to see that in the conclusion, so it can go unsaid for now.
  • Don't use the future tense. Your dissertation exists, right? Tell us what it does, not what it will do.
  • Keep discussion of the research questions brief. That's because ...
  • ... we should be able to figure out your questions from reading what you found. This is what most readers are really looking for - your findings.
  • Do include your methods, albeit briefly. We want to know if you use regression or Delphi or ethnography or laboratory experiments - we don't care if you used MICE in Stata on missing data.
  • Don't include a bevy of citations. It's one thing to tell us you're comparing actual cranberry cultivation practices to the Ideal Method described by Schnauzer (1997) but another to recapitulate your entire lit review.
  • Finally, if your chair tells you something different from this, do exactly what they say.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
When I left for Chicago, all the trees were bare. When I arrived home from Nashville, many trees had buds and blossoms on them. Many plants still only have tiny green buds, but the flowering trees are putting on a good display. Pictured here are cherry blossoms from the First Baptist Church parking lot.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Friday's review

I started the day off by earning demerits - sleeping in until 8:30 and not really getting going until 10:30. I also decided to reapply Friday to different purposes, but not nefariously. It's supposed to be a "my stuff" day, but what I had planned to do was a project that requires a lab computer, and I knew it would be hard to get access to. So if I moved that to Saturday, Friday could be used for something else, in this case, my access paper at the library. That lasted until 4 p.m. Then home to dinner and the gym, followed by some class reading for next week.

That concludes my week of updates, although not the work I have to do. It was pretty motivating to know that I would embarrass myself in front of the entire internet if I goofed off. Of course, that's not a long-term strategy.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Thursday in review

Thursday morning was a grab bag of stuff. I printed readings, registered for summer credits (zero dissertation hours - yes, you're registering for nothing!), sent some emails, updated PPI stuff, yada yada yada. Then I couldn't face my paper, so I worked on my annual evaluation form, which is due on tax day.

Went to class in a torrential downpour. Then I stopped by the library to pick up an interlibrary loan needed for my access paper, only to discover the book couldn't be removed from the library. (I'm pulling the data for my paper from it.) So I spent some time working on it, finding it wasn't as complete as I expected and getting frustrated. I went home to mull on it and surprised myself by actually writing up a chunk of that paper - the data and limitations section. I know it's not my priority paper for this week, but I figure paper inspiration is rare enough to be seized whenever it happens. Then I went to yoga, still sore from Tuesday's class.

I really should take a post-yoga shower, but I need a cup of hot tea first. Maybe I can finish The American College and the Culture of Aspiration, 1915-1940 tonight. It's a library book, and someone recalled it. Pfft.

In which we talk about our fellow students

Setting: The office. Officemate's phone rings.
Officemate: Ha ha.
Me: What's so funny?
Officemate: Oh, I'm just updating Mr. Brilliant on sports.
Me: He's awake? (Being a notorious nightowl.)
Officemate: He only sleeps about 3 to 4 hours a night. That's why he works 10 to 12 hours every day, and has time to swim every day and go to clubs and stuff.
Me: Why do you tell me this? How am I supposed to compete on the job market with people who only sleep 3 hours a night?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Accountability on Wednesday

I work at home Wednesday mornings. I wrote up some notes for an article I'm responsible for regarding tonight's class and wrote an outline for my stratification paper. Then I went to Costco to pick up some new contact lenses. (I really wanted to go to Cost Plus and DSW, but I was disciplined. Also, I didn't have time.) At noon we had a PPI meeting and then lunch at the Commons. I spent some more time working on Project Snowball. I'm on the fence about whether that one is "my stuff" or "advisor stuff," because my advisor is the first author, but I'm responsible for getting this particular article out. So I guess it's both. I also had a brief meeting with my officemate about a paper we're writing. Basically, we agreed to put it aside until May, since we're buried under end of the semester stuff and I have to get ASHE proposals out.

Then at 4 we had class, except today we took a field trip to Fisk. When I got home a friend called and we chatted for a while. I've spent the rest of the evening reading. After a certain hour, I can't do anything else - I can't write at night, and I do Stata better during the day. So, reading for this paper. Woot. And laundry. Double woot.

Interesting point about outlining this paper: My original idea was promising, I think, but when I turned in my formal proposal, it had gotten vague and unfocused. So I've been thinking and reading, and when I wrote up the outline, I had a realization: "Oh - so THIS is what my paper is about." It's not that I discovered that instead of being about dairy cows it was about goats, but that my angle on dairy cows was that Jerseys in particular produce delicious cheddar cheese. (Metaphorically, of course.) That's one of the mysteries of the human brain - stuff rattling around in the subconscious is sometimes just ready to come out.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Tuesday's report

I spent half of this morning working on PPI stuff for my advisor and the rest of it doing reading for my stratification paper. Once again I spent some time chatting, but then I didn't take a lunch break. In the afternoon was my contemporary sociological theory class. Then I was planning to run to Costco to get more contact lenses, but I didn't feel like fighting rush-hour traffic, so I did some more reading before going to yoga. After yoga I read one chapter but was pretty wiped out, after two weeks of no yoga.

Score? I was reasonably productive, but I feel like I need to be writing my paper, not reading for it and thinking about it.