Jun. 26th, 2015

This week I defended my proposal for my dissertation project and it did not go as planned.  A little bit about how my phd program is organized first.  Getting a phd is basically a series of hoops.  These hoops are of varying shapes and sizes and distances from one another depending on your department.  Some are on fire while others have spikes.  My department has three major hoops.  The first is called the portfolio review.  I went through this process two years ago, at the end of my first year in graduate school.  This was relatively simply, I simply had to create a portfolio of short and long writing samples from my work in graduate school thus far justifying the inclusion of each one and proving that I have a good understanding of the breadth of my field and that I have made adequate progress in my growth as a scholar.  The second hoop is the dissertation proposal.  For this, I must write a paper that lays out my plan for my dissertation research.  I must demonstrate my familiarity with the relevant literature, and my ability to plan and prepare research.  This paper must be approved by my committee.  I must then defend my proposed project in presentation format in front of my committee.  I tell them all about it, and they ask questions and get clarification.  The third and final hoop is the dissertation itself, which must be written, accepted, and defended.  I just finished with the proposal.

I thought my proposal was pretty good.  It didn't seem, at least to me, that much different in quality than the half dozen others I read in preparation for me writing it.  Nor were the comments from my committee all that bad.  I addressed them, made corrections, resubmitted, and was ready for a defense that would not be a breeze, but I thought would mostly be me getting a feel for where my committee members and I disagree or hadn't adequately communicated what my project is.  Boy was I wrong.

It was a two hour long pummeling.  My 20 minute presentation stretched for 45 minutes because of all the questions that were interjected.  Then, after that, its was another hour and 15 minutes of questioning and critique.  For a good part of it, my committee practically started deliberating with me right there in the room.  It wasn't comments directed at me anymore, but all of the stuff they felt I had not done adequately enough to pass being discussed among each other.  It was very difficult, and a level of grilling that is completely uncommon in my department, and completely unexpected from me.  The end result:  Provisional pass.  To put in context:  this is a hoop you must pass.  If you do not pass, that is your committee telling you to leave the program.  In fact, if you are not going to pass, then your adviser shouldn't let you propose.  The provisional means that they have to pass me and that is basically the only reason that they did.  I have to complete a near complete rewrite before I can be considered official a candidate (i.e. considered having only the dissertation remaining).

One thing I did learn from it though:  I'm doing too much.  Given the amount of time and effort I spent on my proposal and the amount of work my committee thinks I should I have done, I took on too much.  My first order of business is thus to pair down my project.  I'm only keeping about 1/3 of what I originally proposed in terms of research questions and theoretical foundation.  With that, I should be able to actually meet the expectations of my committee.  At least I don't have to go through another defense...I hope.



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