dissertation update: moving forward

I’m getting there… after a rough patch of self-doubt and getting lost in my mounds of data, I spent November rereading the literature on qualitative research methods (specifically grounded theory) and working on connecting the major themes that were emerging during coding. The word “emerge”  is so common in these methods books, making it seem like insights just float to the top while you’re immersed in the data. That’s super misleading. It takes hard work and lots of decision making to integrate these swirling ideas into a meaningful theory.

I probably drew and revised 10 diagrams that I discussed with multiple experts and study participants over the course of the month. I’m finally happy with two diagrams that depict a theoretical model of the central theme I pulled out: engagement. From there, I’ve described the diagrams in prose and will work through winter break to explain and exemplify each category with examples that show variety. So far, that’s been sort of fun?

It feels like I’ve reached the top of a huge hill on a mountain bike, and while there’s still work to do (i.e. ride back home over more smaller hills), I’ve accomplished the hardest part. It feels good.

manic depression of dissertating

As a scholar studying graduate student development, I have seen how others experience their doctoral work as a roller coaster of ups and downs. This knowledge doesn’t exempt me from the crazy, but at least I know I’m not alone and that any and all feelings about dissertating are valid. So the downs are less dark, and when the ups come, I know to milk them.

Also, welcome back! Our blog was hacked last year, and Elmar has recently rebuilt the website. Since my last post, we took a six-week road trip through the US Southwest and California, I mentored two undergraduates on social science research and five undergraduates on teaching German to 6th graders, I taught more lower-division German classes, we traveled to Seattle for the 10th Honk Fest West, I made progress on the dissertation and several academic publications, we went to Germany and spent time with family (including two young nephews), we camped in Corsica, and I experienced concussion symptoms after hitting my head on a metal pole (stupid bad luck involving my parked bike falling over and knocking me over into a metal pole).

So with all that, it’s no wonder I’m still plugging away at the dissertation. And that’s the important part: I’m still plugging away.

coding interviews in Corsica

Weird hobbies add balance to grad school

I just spent two and a half weeks in a dissertation bootcamp. We wrote individually, but within a community of practice in which we discussed strategies for sustained writing success. I’ve found that, despite all the challenges I’ve faced, as most grad students do, weird hobbies with a strong sense of community have helped keep me sane.

Dead Music Capital Band - photo by Book of Honk

Dead Music Capital Band – photo by Book of Honk

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Loss and community

When Elmar and I decided to move from Germany to Texas, I wanted him to get to know bits of where and how I grew up. Some of our hobbies here have been the adult versions of activities I did as a kid: kickball, roller skating / roller derby, and music.

We played accordion and flute for a bit with the Austiner Klezmer Bund in 2014, Elmar went to a few Minor Mishap practices, and we most recently found a great fit playing tenor sax and cymbals with the Dead Music Capital Band. All of these ensembles perform at Honk festivals for community marching bands. We’ve become part of the vibrant Honk community.

On Memorial Day Monday, the Honk community lost someone in a tragic accident. We performed klezmer with her at Honk 2014. She always invited Elmar out after Mishap practices. Two weekends ago in an East Austin backyard, she sat in with DMC on a set-closing song. And now she’s gone.

While we weren’t super close with Leah, her enthusiasm and kindness will stick with us. To bring it full circle, Elmar will unfortunately experience a sad part of how I grew up. But I also know this: the community will heal each other. Be sad, hug each other, and play on.


Honk 2014 Austiner Klezmer Bund

Honk 2014 Austiner Klezmer Bund

Research stay in Bielefeld

This summer, I’m studying abroad with funding from the German Academic Exchange Service and the Texas Language Center. (Thank you! We spent all our money on building a house.) For my dissertation, I needed to put together a workshop on drama-based instruction for doctoral students who teach German. I have some great people in my committee for both German and for drama-based pedagogy, but no one combines the two. Elmar got summer funding to put together an online course, which he could do from anywhere thanks to the wonders of technology. So here we are in OWL.

Human foosball at the Uni Bielefeld

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Back in Old Germany

Before Elmar and I left for our summer in Germany, a lot of our friends in Texas wished us well on our “European Adventure”. I haven’t been here since 2011, yet it feels too familiar to be an “adventure”. Many Americans see Europe as a luxury destination, but I see it as “home 2.0”.

Elmar checks out the real estate market in Oerlinghausen

Now that our house in Austin is done, Elmar checks out the real estate market in Oerlinghausen

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