Sunday, October 26, 2008

The King And I

I feel like Sisyphus. Each time I seem to be making progress on my dissertation proposal, something happens and I am propelled back to the beginning: a sentence uttered by my adviser; an article pointing the emphasis in a different direction; a drop a self-doubt pelting down on my research question from the looming dark cloud of methodological uncertainty above.

This past week, it was illness. At first, I ran my errands like a trouper, resisting the idea that an eight-mile-a-week runner could succumb to something so banal as a cold. When I could no longer deny the truth of my sorry state, I took to homeopathy and drowned myself in water and sleep to overcome it. I was bent on getting my rock to the very top of the hill.

By day three, I declared myself well and took to reading again. At first, my goal was to complete two articles and perhaps parts of a book. By late afternoon, my hopes dwindled down to merely one article. It took me the entire day and all the energy I could muster up, but I finished it. Truth be told, I think it finished me.

Today is day five. By now, I should have tackled the theory and the methodology readings that I have piled up beside me. But here they sit, untouched. Books and articles that wonder why I torture them with the bright desk light into the early morning hours without bothering to read them. Books and articles that stare at me with bitter silence, hurling unheard accusations that cut to the very core of my demotivated being.

Sisyphus \ˈsi-sə-fəs\
: a legendary king of Corinth condemned eternally to repeat the cycle of rolling a heavy rock up a hill in Hades only to have it roll down again as it nears the top.
[Mirriam-Webster's Online Dictionary]

It has not been a good week. My rock feels like it is at the very bottom of the hill, or at best, immobile. But I will arise, just as Sisyphus does. Tomorrow will be another day, and the day after that will be yet another tomorrow. One day, the king of Corinth will find his redemption. And one day, I too, will find mine. But for now, we sigh our sighs, and we begin again.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Duh (Lessons from My Timer)

When I write, I set up 15 minute chunks of time for work with 2 minute breaks in-between. It helps me to stay focused on the writing process.

I just realized that I don't do the same for reading--take a break after an allotted time, that is.

It's no wonder that I end up reading 7 pages in 2 hours. I'm not focused and there is no timer to keep me accountable.

4:15 to 5:30pm - Read 11 pages (5 minutes per page) with 2 minute breaks in between each 15 minute interval.
5:30pm - Reward myself by going for a half-hour jog.


ACTUAL (5:22pm):
I did it! I completed the reading with 8 minutes to spare, and I even made notes.

The KEY DIFFERENCE was that with the timer, I was forced to focus on that which was important to me and to ignore that which was tangential or not even useful. This is an important lesson. In reading articles at this stage of my dissertation proposal, I do not want to waste time on the agenda of the article I am reading. I want to focus on the agenda of my proposal. And I need to remember that the authors of these articles are not on my examination committee. I need to please my committee and no one else... that is, until I have to publish, but that's another blog altogether.

And now, I am off for a run. Yes!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

One Goal

Tonight's effort was valiant. I planned to get almost 3 hours of writing in, and I am glad that I worked all that time.

However, about half of that time was spent looking through literature. Obviously, I have not done all the reading that I could have done. What's frustrating is that I thought I had read enough and imagined myself able to sit down and type out the proposal; that the challenge was simply to articulate my arguments coherently enough. I did not expect to have to stop and read another 6 hours worth of articles. For the literature review section, maybe, but not in my introduction!

And so, to come up with a complete draft by early next week feels like an impossibility unless I do one thing: keep working non-stop. Given my time and financial constraints, I need to keep working. And so I will.

For the next three days, I will do nothing but make my dissertation proposal a living priority, whether it be writing or reading. I have one goal: get the damn thing done.

Will I continue to blog and journal? Of course. It's the only way to keep sane through this process.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Needed: Motivation

I've come to realize that my problem with dissertating is not loneliness per se, but a deep need to talk to someone about my progress. But not just anyone. Someone who can empathize, deeply.

For instance, today, it took all of my energy to force myself to do 4.5 hours of writing. I did it, but it was a painful process. I applied all the clinical behavioral skills I knew on myself to make it happen, including a bit of eye-movement reprocessing first thing in the morning to shave some anxiety off my body (it's never a good thing to wake up to an aching jaw--you know you've been grinding your teeth all night).

Now it's 9:48pm. I have a 200+ page dissertation sitting next to me that has to go back to the library tomorrow (it's an inter-library loan and I've used up my renewals). Do I want to force myself to work for another 2 hours to quickly read and summarize this work?

Boring, isn't it, to read about my dissertating woes? But if I don't talk about it, how else do I alleviate this pain of working when it is so torturous to work?

I suppose I could get a punching bag and beat the crap out of it. That would provide some relief. But the ultimate relief is found only in work done. So I should do that.

I will work until 11:30pm. Then I will come back and add a postscript. If you read a p.s. at the end of this post, will you leave a comment of "yay" for me?

Yours humbly,
Lonely Dissertator


11:17pm. p.s. The dissertation was an interesting ethnographic study that was only tangentially related to my dissertation. My practicality said, "get rid of it and do something else;" my curiosity said, "but it's so interesting and knowledge of this work might come in handy one day." Tonight, practicality won.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

PhD Blogs on Wordpress

I just discovered a WHOLE bunch of PhD blogs on Wordpress here.

Wordpress has some nice features that make your blogging life much richer. I signed up there, I'm not sure I have the time to muck around with yet another new blog program.

What I like about it though, is the community of PhD bloggers there. Perhaps I can sneak peeks in between dissertating and make a comment or two. Who knows? I might actually meet a couple of like-minded individuals.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

With All My Will I Will Love You

When I am sick of you, I tell myself that I chose to pursue you six years ago. I cannot abandon you now even though sometimes I hate you with all of my guts.

I turn on soft music, preferably Adagio from Live365. I create the mood lighting. A candle works wonders--the flame flickers in the corner of my eye as Adagio softly and desperately serenades the romance back to life. I pour you and I a libation. Tonight, it's Rooibos, for our health.

So what if we only spend an hour together? It is better than no time at all. At least I whet my appetite for more of you.

Tonight, I celebrate my love for you with all my tenacity. I will sit here and devour your words. I will cherish this moment. I will do everything necessary to make sure that my love for you does not die, even though there is nothing I want more right now than to leave you forever.

One day, by God's grace, you and I will cross the threshold together. You in my hands as I bow to receive the word that confers me with the three letters that will make you a part of my name for the rest of my life.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Social Science Research: Deduction versus Induction

Many social science research texts (and professors) talk about hypothesis testing as a deductive process. "It's like moving from a general principle to specific instances," they tell us, and then, to complete the picture they explain, "as opposed to induction, which moves from specific instances to make a general principle."

Take for instance, the online Research Methods Knowledge Base. The author explains that in a top-down, deductive research process, "we might begin with thinking up a theory about our topic of interest. We then narrow that down into more specific hypotheses that we can test. We narrow down even further when we collect observations to address the hypotheses. This ultimately leads us to be able to test the hypotheses with specific data -- a confirmation (or not) of our original theories." (ref.)

Yet, when one looks up the definition of deductive reasoning, one gets something like this:

"Deductive reasoning is reasoning which uses deductive arguments to move from given statements (premises) to conclusions, which must be true if the premises are true. An example of deductive reasoning, given by Aristotle, is
* All men are mortal. (major premise)
* Socrates is a man. (minor premise)
* Socrates is mortal. (conclusion)" [ref.]

So, is hypothesis testing a deductive process as explained by the author of the Research Methods Knowledge Base? No. In fact, the process described is mostly an inductive one. The only thing deductive about the process is "thinking up a theory about our topic of interest." The rest of the process has its foundation in induction--that is, trying to induce from the data that the general principle is correct.

It is no wonder I have been confused about this for so long--bad teaching.

The scientific method, whether it be pure or social sciences, relies primarily on induction. Don't let someone confuse you by telling you that quantitative research is deductive and qualitative research is inductive. They both utilize inductive reasoning because they rely on data to make conclusions.

So where does deductive reasoning occur? In disciplines that come up with principles without the need to refer to data, for instance, mathematics or theology. It is, as mentioned above, when we just "think up a theory" or when we use abstract reasoning to come up with general principles.

An older Wikipedia entry on Deductive Reasoning found in explains it well:

"Alternative to deductive reasoning is inductive reasoning. Many incorrectly teach that deductive reasoning goes from general information to specific information and that inductive reasoning travels in the opposite direction. This is not accurate [emphasis added]. Deductive reasoning applies general principles to reach specific conclusions, whereas inductive reasoning examines specific information, perhaps many pieces of specific information, to derive a general principle. By thinking about phenomena such as how apples fall and how the planets move, Isaac Newton induced his theory of gravity. In the 19th century, Adams and LeVerrier applied Newton's theory (general principle) to deduce the existence, mass, position, and orbit of Neptune (specific conclusions) from perturbations in the observed orbit of Uranus (specific data)."

In The Method of Sociology, Znaniecki explains it this way:

"Sociology can be nothing but a strictly inductive science. This does not mean that it should not use deduction: no science can live without the help of deductive reasoning (...) induction is the dominant and determining method of sociology: deduction must remain entirely subservient to it as an auxiliary method (...) The fundamental distinction between [deductive and inductive methods] is that from the point of view of the deductive method the final test of a new truth is its logical agreement with a truth already established, whereas from the inductive point of view the final test of a new truth is its validity in theoretic application to empirical facts. It is obvious that a science dealing with empirical reality could not be deductive, for it would either be incapable of proving anything or else be inapplicable to its object-matter [emphasis added]" (1934, pp.218-219).

I rest my case.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Process, process, process. That seems to be what I am doing a lot of these days. It's a qualitative research thing, particularly if one tends towards social constructivism, an epistemology I find myself embracing more and more.

Heather, another aspiring scholar, has taken the liberty to keep me accountable on my blog, which means more regular updates. Doesn't hurt me to do so. In fact, it may help me to share some of my processing.

Where have I been?

Over the last month, I have been working on my dissertation proposal. My adviser (I prefer to spell it with an "o", but when in Rome...) has been wanting me to write, but I've been hesitant, finding that writing without reading beforehand is a waste of time for me. I don't think by writing drafts, I think by writing memos. "Journal While You Work," I call them. I even have a little acronym: JWYW.

And so, I open my MacBook, and turn on the little yellow sticky notes and start typing. This is what I would write right now if I were to write in my virtual stickies:

- 1:59pm. I've written and edited two pages of my intro. It's a good start. I like them. But I did have this artificial target to get a full draft done by yesterday. I won't punish myself for an arbitrary target. I will look at the work done and rejoice over what I've accomplished. Besides, Adviser is very understanding about how long it takes to write. My client is at 4pm, which means I have to stop working at 3:20pm. That gives me 1 hour 20 minutes. What should I do? I feel stuck with the headings. I don't really know how long a qualitative dissertation proposal should be. It's so creative and subjective. I think what's more important is to fill up the information on the existing headings, "Introduction" "Conceptual Framework" "Research Questions" "Research Methods" and "Validity." Go with these for now and just add content to the scaffolding. Let Adviser comment and suggest edits. God, will this be done by the end of the week??? (That, by the way, is a prayer, not an utterance of exasperation.)

The rest of this post to be completed at the end of the day.