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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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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Hard work is bearing fruit

In the past 24 hours, I have learned that I will officially teach German again next year at UT, I received a DAAD German Studies Research Grant for research this summer in Germany, and I had presentation proposals accepted to the POD Conference for educational developers and the ACTFL Conference for foreign language instructors.

We’re also really close to passing the final house inspection for the certificate of occupancy. We’ve been living there since Februrary (shh! don’t tell!), and it just gets better every day.

On winning and losing in academia

“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
― Grantland Rice

When playing roller derby, my feelings of success are often not directly tied to the final score. If I played well with my team, if we communicated and implemented strategy, I feel great even when we lose. Conversely, if I couldn’t put my body where it needed to be on the track, or if I couldn’t get through the pack as a jammer, I feel like rubbish even if my team won.

Weirdly, I experienced both of these scenarios recently in my academic life.

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Evolution of a home office

Here are some photos of my home study space over the course of the last 3-4 weeks. On Wednesday, I finally completed a space that has both a (camping) table and chair AND a bookshelf where I’ve organized resources relevant to my doctoral exams. Before that, I was moving around between the office and guest bedroom, depending on where Elmar was installing carpet. I even used the bathroom to house my bookshelf!


2/25/15 – office with unfinished floor


3/1/15 bookshelf in bathroom


3/4/15 – working in guest bedroom with unfinished floor


3/11/15 – carpeted office with camping table and bookshelf


Euphoric or delirious? Exams next week!

I’m actually excited to take my doctoral exams. No really. I have been absolutely geeking out about aspects of my topics with committee members, other faculty and other grad students.


Source: http://www.geeknewwave.com/article/geek-out-week-3222013

To some extent, I’ve been doing the things I set out to do to prepare for my exams. I still need to pump up steps 1 and 2, but I’m in a good place. It’s weird, I feel like I could study for another 8 months and still not have everything down, but that’s not the point.

The point is to socialize me into my field, to accelerate the process of exploring diverse bodies of literature and synthesizing them, and to formally assess my ability to articulate this synthesis in writing and orally. And in the process, I’ll be teaching my committee members, who are all experts in something, but not everything with regards to my interdisciplinary topic.