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.

Publishing

Mar. 24th, 2014 10:56 pm
9unm3741: This icon is for all space related posts. (space!)
I have finally gotten my first publication accepted by the journal "Space Policy"!  They have to draw up proofs to send to me for final approval before working out when it will be published, but it has been accepted and the publication is definite.  The title is rather a mouthful, "Redefining Safety in Commercial Space:  Understanding Debates over the Safety of Private Human Spaceflight Initiatives in the United States".  As the title indicates, I examine the debate over the safety of commercialization of human spaceflight.  I don't determine whether it is safe or not.  I don't have access to the immense amounts of data needed for that, nor do I have the expertise to interpret it even if I did.  This expertise may not even be possible considering the complexity of spaceflight systems (an issue I do address).  Nor do I take a side for public or private spaceflight.  If you're curious I think some third way would probably be the most appropriate, but one thing I do argue is that describing this debate as public vs private may be an overly simplistic descriptor.  My task is to examine how various actors within this debate define safety (i.e. how safe is safe enough?  how do you tell if its safe?  How do you run an organization to make it safe?).  From this, I examine the various political motivations for these various definitions and how that impacts policy making.

I've been working on getting this paper published for about 3 years now.  I'm very happy to finally have it off my plate.  Just not knowing how to write for a journal (as opposed to for a class) was a big factor in this.  I also started when I was still in physics, and didn't know anything about social science methods, having to learn them as I went and making lots of mistakes that cost me lots of time.  Trying to balance this with the immense workload of graduate school also meant that there was a lot of time when I just wasn't making any headway.  But now its done!  Yay!
9unm3741: This icon is for all space related posts. (space!)
Well I got back from San Diego last night.  I was fairly disappointed with my presentation.  Not that it wasn't well received or that I didn't do a good job with it, rather, almost no one was there to hear it!  By the end of the session there were literally only three people who weren't part of the panel left.  As such, there was almost no discussion, which makes it hard for me to gauge where my work sits with the rest of the academic community and such academic isolation can be a real bitch.  On the bright side, there was one person who came to the panel specifically to hear my talk.  It turns out she studies space tourism.  So I did get to do a little networking.  But I will still have to present the work at another conference so it doesn't get isolated from the field.  Oh well.

In terms of the rest of the conference, it was a lot of fun.  San Diego is such a cool city, and I finally got to have some really good Mexican food (no such thing in upstate NY or New England).  Went to some parties where I got to mingle with some very influential people in my field.  Also, the President of my professional society (the society for the social studies of science, or 4S) threw a party that got so rowdy that the police had to break it up.  Who says academics are stogy?!

All in all it was a good conference.  Unfortunately, now I'm back in the real world, and I have a lot of catching up to do on work I didn't do while I was in San Diego.  Oh well, such is life.

Conference

Jul. 28th, 2013 09:30 pm
I am officially going to San Diego in October to present my research at the society for the social studies of science (4S) conference.  The last time I went, in 2011 when the conference was in Cleveland, my research was pretty well received (amongst the few people who actually went to my talk that is).  This year I am presenting an abstract for a paper entitled "Struggles for Power and the Privatization of Spaceflight."

Essentially the argument I make in my paper is that the privatization effort currently underway in the U.S. is not a structural shift in the way the U.S. does spaceflight.  Instead, it is indicative of a shift in the power struggle between two ideological groups:  industrialists in favor of a nationalistic space program, and neoliberals in favor of deregulation and federal market protections.  This is important because the ideological underpinnings of our current reform efforts will shape the next stage of space development in a way that the U.S. may not be able to undo.  If you're wondering, I'm not actually in favor of either camp, and I'm frankly disappointed at the uniformity of the actors involved in this debate.  Lets hope this one goes over as well as the last, and that I have the time and motivation to edit it to publishable quality.
Yet again I have managed to not post for a long time. The end of my Masters program draws near, and with it a massive move to Troy, NY. I have been clawing my hair out finishing my thesis and preparing to move, which includes moving stuff from both Aurora and Toronto. Did I mention it's stressful? Anyway, that doesn't mean I haven't had stuff I wanted to post. I have been playing a bunch of new games and mods for old games, all of which I would like to offer my impressions on. I also have my thesis to discuss. I will soon also have my new PhD program to discuss as well as (I hope) my first published paper. But this will all have to wait until I am sure I have survived August. Wish me luck. I will need it.
This post is intended to provide some background on which to support subsequent posts.

Living In Canada
So far I have been living in Toronto, Canada for about four months now. I have to say, despite the modern counter culture obsession with Canada (ie if X gets elected again I'm moving to Canada) its not all that great. It is wet and it is cold and, despite our view of Canada as being just a colder moose filled US, there are subtle cultural difference that are substantial and numerous enough to cause significant culture shock. For example, Canadian niceness is different from American niceness. I have found that American niceness is primarily action based. You do nice things for people. Canadian niceness not so much. Its more along the lines of trying to be nice is nice enough. As a result, many more Canadians try to be nice than Americans, however, it has been difficult adjusting my expectations of people who are trying to be nice to me. An example. In Canada, people are more likely to offer to help you than in the US, however they are less likely to succeed in actually helping you.

Masters Degree in Science and Technology Studies (STS)
This is why I am in Canada. I am studying to get my MA in STS at York University. STS is a fairly complicated and ill-defined discipline. Areas of study encompassed within STS might be social studies of science and technology, history of science and technology, science and technology policy, and anthropology of science and technology. This is not a comprehensive list, and each of the disciplines listed here exist both inside and outside of STS. My area of specialty is science and technology policy. Specifically, my research focuses on space policy. I'm trying to publish an article analyzing the debate over the safety of commercialization, but more on that later.

Research
As stated, my current research is on the the debate over the safety of commercialization of human spaceflight to low Earth orbit (LEO). Essentially, my research discusses how the current debate over safety is disingenuous and a proxy debate for the differences in values of actors on opposing sides. I am pushing through my first draft for publication this month, and hope to have a final submission sometime in January or February of next year. When this happens I will make sure to post. In the mean time, I have presented my research at the Atlanta Conference for Science and Technology Innovation Policy in Atlanta, Georgia, hosted by Georgia Tech as well as the 2011 Society for the Social Studies of Science annual conference held in Cleveland, Ohio. An abstract is available from both conferences for those who are interested. I am also starting new research on public interactions with space exploration. I will be submitting my research proposal to my department here at York next month, so more on that when the time comes.

That's all for now. I don't want to inundate the reader with a wall of text, so more background will be provided in a subsequent post.

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