Posts from the ‘reflection’ Category
February 4, 2018
And now…its officially five weeks since I sent off my dissertation to the committee for review. I remember shortly after sending it out a cohort member told me she heard one should plan at least six weeks for a review cycle. I told her my dissertation was just over one hundred pages, my committee was fast and I was confident it’d all be wrapped up in maybe three weeks tops. The Lisa of five weeks ago now feels very very far away.
A doctorate begins by realizing how big the world is–the depth and diversity of ideas and the endless vantages. You come into a program with an idea that is the most interesting idea in the world. Then in the process of coursework you realize there are a million more ideas out there that may indeed be just as or even more interesting. So you roam and explore and discover and then eventually root into something that may or may not resemble what you originally planned. You settle in and commit. This settling has a humbling aspect as you come to terms with the fact that even though you see the vast complexity of a given issue…you can only address a tiny sliver. Your research will not eradicate poverty. Your research will not bring world peace. Though the exploration phase expanded your mind and your thinking—near the end of the first phase you realize your own smallness and learn to be okay with tending to the small parcel of land that is what one can, manageably, handle in a research project.
Though it sounds quite glamorous to be officially engaged in ethics-board sanctioned research–taking in abstract information and forming it into something more codified–the second phase of a doctorate is actually lots of hard work. Forming knowledge from raw information is digging and planting, bringing yourself to the work each day with faith that at some point new growth will appear. If wandering in the vastness during the first phase of the doctoral journey makes you small, homesteading new information during the second phase of the doctoral journey makes you strong. For me learning to code felt like learning a new language–the effort of identifying patterns amongst an abundance of data had an intensity not unlike intense physical labor. And then at some point in the process, growth appears and the ideas you have worked so hard to cultivate break open and flourish. Realizing the process actually worked brings an intense satisfaction that is indeed one of the best feelings ever. Realizing you have the strength and discipline to show up each day and eventually make something meaningful is empowering.
I think I am in the third phase of things. I’ve wandered far and wide, returned home and worked hard cultivating my own ideas from seed to shoot to full grown plant. I am proud of myself for sticking with it and proud of what my hard work has produced. In the flow of things, it seems phase three should be where one sits back and enjoys the fruits of ones labors—gets some much needed rest and plenty of accolades for having arrived as an actualized independent academic.
But here is what I am increasingly learning from my now five weeks of waiting…phase three is where you realize your own total self sufficiency is an illusion and though your newfound strength is something to take pride in, this new stage is one where you will realize your strength and determination alone isn’t enough. After spending the better part of nine months doing it all myself, working on my own time schedule, and moving at my own pace I now must wait on my committee members, trusting that they will get to my work at some point and being okay with the silence…being okay with not being in control. This is humbling. I am good at showing up and working hard and making a plan and getting it done. I am not so good at letting go. I am not so good at trusting.
I’ve spent the past week living in a little house located about five hundred steps from the Atlantic ocean. I an the last stop on the continent…the next piece of solid ground is in Morocco. My plan was to have this trip coincide with implementing committee feedback–writing with the ocean like a true creative. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the waves and the sky first feeling resentment that my committee so blatantly disregarded my well conceived plans, then feeling fearful that maybe it was actually that my work was so bad that they were avoiding all contact. I told the ocean these things. She proved to be a very good listener.
Here’s what I am learning in the midst of this phase…while watching the tides come in and out, watching the pelicans float along and the sand pipers scurry around like Ruby. The ocean world is a dance of mutual dependence and it is very good. Perhaps for me too this phase where I am learning dependence can be good (or at least have some good in it). Perhaps it is providing a good balance to the previous phase of self sufficiency and strength (which in turn was a good balance to the first phase of smallness.) Being self sufficient is good. Being strong is very good. But if this strength and power is not balanced with humility and tempered with connection it is way too easy to get grandiose…too easy to become delusional that my world is The World and my way is The Way. These are all ideas that sound great in theory…yet in practice more often than not I still have fantasies of the ease of Lisa-world where I am at the center.
And so back to waiting and watching…letting go little by little of my tight grip on all the things that must be my way and the bitterness of my own unmet expectations and opening myself little by little to the beauty of a dance of mutual dependence.
January 7, 2018
And just like that…over 4 months have passed since the last entry (ironically the entry that was going to get me “back to blogging” in a rhythm that would allow me to record how the dissertation was unfolding as it was unfolding.) When I was going through coursework I was intentionally cobbling together a personal learning network on social media of others who were a bit ahead of me in the process so that I could look to and learn from them as they navigated the very uncharted waters of what one actually does when one enters the intensive research/writing phase of a dissertation. It seemed like what happened almost universally was radio silence—the once continuous stream of communication and information on social media disappeared.
And then after a time they’d come back telling the world they’d survived and all the champagne emojis would flow as we’d celebrate their accomplishment and the new consonants that could now be in front of their name. Though it was fun to see and celebrate, I always kind of wondered just what happened during their silence. Was this more secret initiation that you couldn’t talk about to the non-doctoral? Was there some kind of vow involved that conscripted you to forsake social media updates?
August 28, 2017
Interviews are wrapping up, focus groups are motoring along, coding in earnest has begun. I feel like I’m in the somewhat abstracted and murky middle ground of discovery. Stuff kind of comes into focus for a few minutes and I can see a larger picture. Then it all spins like a kaleidoscope and I lose all sense of direction. It’s dazzling. It’s disorienting. And I have a sneaking suspicion…it’s right on par for life as a researcher.
The last couple weeks of life as a research gathering instrument have once again taught me that this work is way less difficult in ways I initially expected it to be. People are more than willing to share their stories, ideas, etc. I still am totally amazed at the power of open space, an open mind and (on my part anyways) focused listening to create the atmosphere that leads to a genuine connection with another human. I think in many ways this personal learning might be one of the best things externally to come out of my doctoral journey. Well…clearly the 200+ page dissertation will be what brings world peace and makes me a rock star but…the listening and being present thing too I think might be a good side benefit!
On the flip side, the last couple weeks of life as a research gathering instrument have once again taught me that his work is way more difficult in ways I never imagined it to be. Synthesizing, abstracting, and generally sorting through all the pieces for the bits that are salient to my own tiny slice of research is a mental cardio workout, to put it mildly. When I was designing my study, I loved Charmaz’s perspective that as researchers we co-construct the data with our participants because this view felt alive and energetic. It resonated with my own views. While I still love it on some level….I’m realizing that co-construction requires a depth of engagement that basically takes all of your focus. Coding this data is nothing you can do while concurrently watching television or when you have a couple minutes waiting for a take out order. It requires space and time and a conscious clearing of your schedule. (Things I may or may not have said over the past couple weeks: I’m sorry I can’t hangout with you anytime this weekend because I need to spend time with my data.) Once you get into the flow it does indeed flow but…I must bring the intense focus I’ve learned from interviewing to the data itself and once again learn to listen in written words and typed metaphors.
And so…a new week begins. Back to opening time, opening space, opening the data, opening myself, and giving the kaleidoscope another twirl to see what might emerge.
August 7, 2017
And just like that…five weeks have passed. Week seven is in the books and I’m on the brink of my eighth week as a research gathering instrument. Though I had all good intentions of keeping up the weekly check in, the past month plus has been spent on the road visiting friends, visiting family, being a bridesmaid, and further fine tuning my packing skills by moving locations every two to three days. It was amazing though it did make me realize that life on the road and life as a writer are, for me at least, not so compatible.
The good news is I was interviewing (from such memorable locations as small closets and many a hotel room) and transcribing consistently so now have fourteen interviews down (when I left though I hoped to hit ten…I was stuck for awhile at seven…well laid plans are basically a siren call for unexpected chaos to enter the research process…frustrating but you do survive). I will have number fifteen tomorrow and will, hopefully, reach twenty by the end of August. I also have the first focus group scheduled for today beginning phase two of my research design.
Looking back at my life as a researcher these past five weeks, I can say with complete certainly I’ve become a much better interviewer. I’m much more comfortable listening without low grade panic that I won’t get good data. I’m much better at ignoring the voices of my own neurotic insecurities and entering wholly into the world of my interviewee. Its been such an honor to receive stories from each of my participants and I hope for them too it has been a good experience of being heard. As a person who naturally skews private and may even be guilty of seeing people more as a bit inconvenient to a very rich personal, interior world in my own head…the gift of intimacy has been humbling and inspiring to me on a personal level.
On a more practical note, its also been interesting going so deep into the qualitative research process. In many ways, it feels like a totally inefficient method and one I’d kind of not recommend to anyone who isn’t okay with very high levels of ambiguity. There is such a steep learning curve—the friction in human to human communication of any sort is a challenge to navigate and requires pretty deep reflection to test out and sort through. You will become hopelessly interwoven with your data and vice versa. This will most likely bring up things you never anticipated…its good stuff if you discipline yourself to work through it but…it will require work.
For example, I’m beginning to code my data which means I’ve concurrently begun fantasizing about algorithms that might do this all for me—computer code lines that I can blindly trust so I don’t have to deal with learning to trust myself again in this new endeavor. Like interviewing, like presenting, like writing…I know the early stages of fear and uncertainly always evolve into some level of mastery but like all of the former…knowing and feeling are sometimes diametrically opposed.
And so week seven of being a research gathering instrument finds me back at it again, showing up for the work with eager anticipation and a humble spirit ready to learn remember that this time and this challenge truly is a gift.
June 25, 2017
And just like that, I’ve amassed another week of life as a research instrument. This week has brought three more interviews and revealed what I hope are the first glimmers of actual categories emerging. In addition, I’m getting way better at interviewing, meaning I’m talking much less and listening feels like it’s slightly less exhausting than it was last week. Finally, I think I’m about 20% speedier with transcription and data cleaning than I was last week…which is massive.
My goal for this upcoming week is to get in four more interviews and bring my total up to ten. Though I was hopeful that having two people tell me almost verbatim the same info meant I was saturating a category thus could be one of those GT anomalies that only has to interview like eight people total to come up with a brilliant and robust theory…on my last chat with the supervisor he seemed to be using the phrase “at least twenty” quite a bit. If I can hit ten by the end of next week, I can use the following week when it seems many people take vacation to do a deep dive into actually assessing all thats come in on a somewhat deeper level and then strategize from there (yeah…gathering and assessing concurrently is a not so much thing not because I don’t believe in it but it feels like so much mental gymnastics to go back and forth so for me at least I think I need one of the other.)
In all honesty, the prospect of chatting with at least fourteen more people doesn’t feel like a bad thing because while its challenging and all to hold interviews, transcribe, etc. its even more super interesting to get a window into how diverse the world of design education really is. So far I’ve only swam in the pool of North American educators but in many ways between institution type and student population, all my participants seem to be worlds apart. This week I begin adding in international perspective to the mix (yep…first interview time where time zone is completely not in my favor but all part of the process) so it will be very cool to see if/how that perspective shifts anything.
And so week two check in seems a bit less dramatic than week one but I’m cool with it. There is indeed beauty in the routine slog and much celebration too that I’m actually at. this. place.
June 17, 2017
- Three interviews down.
- Two more scheduled.
- Multiple memos on all sorts of things.
- A coding scheme (that admittedly only exists in my head so far but still…that somewhat counts, eh?)
Time to make good on the whole “back to blogging” promise of last month and actually get back to the writing process about life in this interstitial place that is being a doctoral candidate and now also a research gathering instrument (related: I now relate way more closely to the non-human actors of surveys, questionnaires, etc.)
I still think that the whole doctoral process has two distinct parts to it. There’s the “constructing new knowledge part,” which is why you initially write the application letter, how you justify the tuition payments, what you tell people you want to impress at parties, and generally what seems to be the main impetus for doing a doctorate.
Then there’s the “constructing a new you part” which you definitely don’t put into the application letter, makes you constantly question if those tuition payments might be better spent on therapy…or maybe a beach house, and what you only likely bring up at parties after copious amounts of whiskey have made an appearance. As this is based on a sample of one, I cannot say this is a universal but I’m pretty sure “personal growth and transformation by being forced to work through my own issues” has not been on anyone’s list of “why do a doctorate?”
Yet, through my own nearly four years in, it is the latter that keeps surprising and fascinating me. Though this may be because I’m introverted and more than a little self absorbed, I still think there’s something to it.
And, as this is my blog for the next couple weeks “back to blogging” is going to look a lot like “here’s what I learned this week” through the process (and yep, these learnings are all helping me work through my “issues”.)
- Follow the flow. (or how I’m learning if I want people to take me into the rich parts of their stories, I must show up and be patient.)
Though I’m tightly planned in this endeavor and have the whole process journey mapped out, researching with humans (and I’m going to even say researching as a human) means it’s all inherently an experimental process. Hands down the biggest thing I learned this week is to be present fully with participants so they trust me and allow me to meander along with them as they share their ideas and process their motivations. It’s not a linear process for my participants and I must be open to the wander because then I can be part of the discovery. As a researcher I never realized what an intimate thing it is to gain access into participant experiences but I now realize these interviews are indeed somewhat sacred moments.
- Video is worth it (or how I’m learning to cringe a bit less at my own voice, gesturing, and generally be less self conscious.)
On my REB application, I had to do all sorts of justification as to why I wanted to use video. At one point I was ready to scrap it as in all honesty I didn’t have a great reason beyond just I thought it would be more personal to have faces than to just have voices. Though it was a hassle to justify, I’m 1000% glad I did because seeing expressions and gestures has made the data much richer than just voice alone could. Conversely, I feel like my participants seeing me in all my quirkiness (including with a small dog at one point) has made them feel more open and again helped them trust me.
- Listening is hard work. (or how I’m learning to not just nod and murmur comprehension all the while daydreaming but actually internalize what is being said.)
It seems fairly straightforward that in an interview you’d ask a question, the participant would answer, and you’d follow this pattern for the hour. Turns out because my interviews are unstructured, questions don’t occur in a linear manner but instead weave in and out of what is being said. Many times multiple questions get answered without me explicitly asking and even better, often questions I didn’t even think of are “answered” as I learn to step back and listen to my participants. This is hard stuff to navigate because if I haven’t been listening carefully it’s immediately apparent. On the other hand, if I am listening closely I can further prod and we can go even deeper together as we connect past segments together and see what more emerges.
April 3, 2017
- Created a prelim slide flow with educated guesses as to what will go where and why.
- Took a very long walk and tried to think of good visual metaphors for transient spaces that might guide the overall design of the presentation. So far inspirations include: air plants (no roots!), rock climbing (ever changing topography calls for ever nimble response!), and points on a map (movement and networks!) but I’m still too in love with the look + feel of my initial presentation to make a logical design decision.
- I’m thinking this writing every day idea was a stupid idea because so much of process is mulling ideas while doing other stuff. Or perhaps…the weekend won (as it always should). Anyways…tomorrow is a new day.
April 1, 2017
Today marks twenty days until I formally defend my dissertation proposal (April 21!!!)
Today also marks the first day of a new month and the somewhat recent beginning of a new season here in the northern hemisphere. The freshness of new and the round number of days until the “big day” clearly means I’d forever regret not starting a twenty day writing challenge (or at least…on the first day this seems like a good idea.)
In all seriousness, this feels like an important season in the long, liminal space of being a doctoral student. I feel I’m maybe on the brink of the next step (which I fully cannot imagine) and though I’m trying my best to be present in the moment…the emotions are running high and the days are far from being well curated mindful polaroids. I think if I don’t consciously leave some sort of trace—engage in some list making and reflection, I’ll lose some this season in a blur of just trying to stay afloat.
500 words max each day outlining + updating the following:
Oh, of course use Scrivener to compose all of the above because nothing like learning via blogging! And to Dr. Lisa of the future…I hope you are smiling as you reflect back on these salad days. : )
- Further refined the presentation outline. With 14 sections and 20 minutes max things are looking good.
- Began brainstorming a graphical model of traditional F2F studio pedagogy and studio learning in a more open/less transmissive space to show visually my study focus. Hopefully this will not “lull” (*committee member’s word) audience into thinking I’m going full online only to bait and switch that I’m actually more curious about the deviant motivations + behaviors of educators who have ever reason to go full traditional but choose to augment + expand their studio spaces vie the internet.
- Added paragraph to the proposal on tacit knowledge a la Polanyi to Ch. 1 (fully aware no one will see this until post defense but still…good to put it in while its fresh in my head)
- Bulked up on McLuhan reading…pretty sure he can get a passing reference and add “gravitas” (*committee member’s word) in the “Problem Statement” zone with his message + medium thinking re: interaction and spaces and pedagogy and medium
- Summarized Polyani’s ideas to a cohort mate and now feel 30% more confident in his thinking re:tacit knowledge (bonus: told my parents too…now we’re all way more aware of the tacit knowledge sprinkled through our day…which might make it less tacit…hmmm….)
- Began scouting out blended/hybrid lit to possibly incorporate into the lit review per committee feedback
- Began trying to detangle “New Media” per committee feedback (spoiler alert: it feels super opaque and gimmicky but trying to keep an open mind)
- Realized this morning while running that I’ve already presented to two of my committee members on these ideas and I’ve lived through it (they might have even actually liked and been interested and encouraging in my ideas…shocking, eh?). Also, I’ve gotten over being scared of my supervisor so in all honesty, I probably don’t need to use mental effort to make up and play out scary stories of insecurity about what’s going to happen and if I will live. I could make up scary stories of insecurity about my external but as I’m still filled with warm fuzzies that he did in fact accept being my external, imagining him as anything but benevolent feels wrong. This all sounds quite silly when its written but it did feel like a giant exhale to realize…like maybe this whole thing will be okay after all.
- Read blended/hybrid lit to see if it’s necessary or just a rabbit hole
- Read New Media lit with a consciously nonjudgmental attitude to see if it’s necessary/beneficial to my overall narrative
- Slide Design 1.0
March 21, 2017
And just like that…I have an external committee member, feedback from the internal committee member previously known as the external committee member, and a list of potential dates for my formal proposal defense.
On Thursday morning (in before external time) I woke up with the conscious resolve to be through with the drama and shift my focus toward proactive researcher self-improvement. I was going to master NVivo, qualitative research analysis, and finally investigate Scribner. In addition, I was going to get back to blogging more regularly because writing helps me not only be a better writer but also process life.
Oh, and I was about to embark on an 16 hour road trip to Colorado so having a head filled with positive possibilities was way preferable to a head filled with “what-if” scenarios involving me never getting an external.
Somewhere between the Mississippi River and Des Moines, I got an email saying the five words I’d been fantasizing about for over two weeks, “An external candidate has agreed.” I kept on reading it over and over again just to make sure it actually was real…I had really understood and there actually was no rejection in the sentence. Reading the news was like a giant exhale.
I used to think that this kind of waiting was all an academic head game—it existed in my mind and just involved mental toughness, steely resolve, and perseverant thinking. I’ve since come to realize, like anything in life, waiting and all the complex emotions it brings is a whole body thing. I felt the tension of waiting in my chest and in my shoulders—the frustration and anger of waiting was in my stomach. It seemed even at times I felt the impact of waiting running in my veins. Waiting is achy, exhausting, uncomfortable business.
This experience has made me realize I know very little about patience and trust…I know very little about waiting with grace. Looking back from the comfort that is resolution, I can fully acknowledge that my experience of waiting was basically a first world problem…it was never “if” I would receive a positive resolution, rather it was just “when” that positive resolution would come. I have people in my life who are waiting on questions that have no guaranteed positive answers, just invitations to be present and learn from living within the tension. This experience has made me realize these people may be true superheroes…they certainly are people I want to learn from.
This experience has also made me realize the best thing about being in a season of waiting is the knowledge that you’re not alone. Given the complexity of my situation, my friends couldn’t fix it or make it go away. That said, they could and did listen as I worked through all the messiness of my feelings and rehashed the situation again trying to find a solution within my power to enact (even as we both knew deep down known that a “situation” of our own making was a myth at best.) These friends did not make the waiting hurt less but they did help me find perspective and humor in its midst. These too are the people I want to learn from…the friends who never cease to inspire me.
In the midst of all this, my supervisor and I discussed once more that doing a doctorate is roughly 20% growing a knowledge base and 80% growing as a person. These past two weeks have been crazy hard but I’m hopeful they’ve contributed a bit more to the 80%. Last week I could never imagine thinking this but…though it is excruciating at times, I’m glad for the process. Well, perhaps I should qualify that…I’m almost as glad about the process as I am that I now have an external. : )
March 15, 2017
If last year I was framing this journey as trying to listen to dark matter, fully appropriate a year later to find myself floating in deep space. It’s admittedly a pretty dark place but when I’m able to look past all the immediate discomfort of the present…so dazzling to realize I actually am here.