It’s a Post-Doc Life (Part I)

It’s the last day of the first half of the year and four months following the defense of my dissertation. My writing has been stunted since that time; or rather my blog writing, and I feel the need to finally put to print the journey of my dissertation. This first part is a bit wordy. Feel free to skip to the next post for my dissertation tips.

I began a doctoral program in education and educational leadership in summer 2009. My institution provides 3 credits of tuition support per semester (student is responsible for anything above 3 credits, all fees, books, supplies), so I was a part-time student for the next three years. Last May, thirteen months ago, a member of my dissertation committee outlined how I could complete my doctoral work more quickly than planned with a few course changes. The original idea was to defend in fall of this year with a December graduation date. Always up to a challenge, I added the final courses to my summer calendar, moved to full time student status (expensive), and gathered my committee for a preliminary research discussion.

I worked with my advisor to schedule dates for a preliminary oral defense and dissertation defense. Our graduate college requires filing of intent to present a dissertation and committee in the term prior to the oral defense. And the final defense must be at least six months after the preliminary oral. My committee paperwork was submitted in May 2012, summer term, my prelim was on August 22; the third day of the fall semester, and my defense was scheduled for February of this year.

Those summer classes were essential for defining my theoretical perspective and Chapters 1 and 3, the introduction and methodology of my prospectus. I had a solid Chapter 2, the literature review, developed over the prior year. I hastily prepared for my prelims and capstone defense (final project) in August, one of the busiest months of the year for student affairs professionals. I was underprepared for this step, failing to adequately prepare my committee, but managed to muddle through. There was great benefit from having not only a student relationship but also a professional relationship with my committee. They were incredibly gracious.

And then I ignored my research. For six weeks.

With the school year securely under way, I burned vacation days and went back to writing. After several false starts on analysis, I consulted my advisor and hired a statistician to assist with the more complicated calculations. As the statistical work began to fall into place and I developed rudimentary skills for analytical writing, I sent my completed questions to my advisor for review. Four of the seven questions required nine tables each of painstakingly intricate ratio analysis. The final paper included 54 separate tables and figures. I wanted to club myself over the head on many occasions.

As I was finishing my results and powering though my final chapter at the end of the semester, my editor suffered a broken elbow and notified me that she would not be able to do any work until after the first of the year. With a late February defense date, this seemed minor, so I kept at it, taking some time though the holidays, but working, writing, revising, lather, rinse, repeat.

January was spent in edits. My editor made recommendations, I would approve or rewrite a bit. I primarily used the editorial process for structural detail such as the table of contents, placement of tables, and pagination. Also, there are rules for publishing from our grad college that are not strictly APA style, and my editor was well informed.

With advisor approval, I was able to send a draft to my committee on February 12, fifteen days before my defense date. This may seem late for many writers, but being early in the semester, there were not yet many defenses scheduled in our department. I moved into fine-tune mode and began work on my oral presentation.

The very next day, my advisor, faced with a medical situation, requested that we move my defense date ahead a week to February 20 or 21. Now you recall that my grad college requires that a defense must be six months at minimum between prelim and final oral defense. As such, moving to February 20 or 21 required special permission. After significant wrangling by my advisor and committee, the grad college approved the request, and my defense was moved to February 20. I requested more vacation days to prepare and ultimately, a week early, I defended.

And I passed.

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A Parent in Student Affairs

This post was shared on The Student Affairs Collaborative as a series of reflections on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.

September 11, 2001 was a beautiful day in the middle of the country with skies so blue it hurt your eyes. A student stopped by our office suite early that morning and mentioned a plane crash in New York City. We pulled out a small television we kept in the office to see what news we could find. As it turned out, that 4-inch Sony was the only TV in our building that day. Many of my colleagues spent hours gathered around my desk as we attempted to make sense of what was occurring.

I watched Katie Couric speaking with NBC Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski, when he paused and then said a large explosion had just rocked the Pentagon. It was 9:37 EDT. Karen Kincaid died in that crash of American Airlines Flight 77. She graduated from my high school a few years before me. Everyone who met Karen said she was the nicest person they ever knew.

My husband worked on campus and we were in constant phone contact sharing online information. U.S. news sites were bogged down with web traffic, so we found most of our information from the BBC website. I called my parents in Colorado. It was still early there, so my dad was a bit foggy when answering the phone. It took a bit to convince him to turn on the television. When I reached my sister, she shared that my brother-in-law was currently on a flight to Denver. It was several hours before we could confirm his arrival. His return flight became a fight for the last available rental car and a long drive home.

I kept busy checking on students on internship or exchange along the east coast. One student was interning with a firm just 25 blocks from the World Trade Center and had been at a meeting only 6 blocks away at the time of attacks. Another student, like Valerie, was enrolled at William Paterson with a clear view of the Twin Towers as they collapsed.  A third, enrolled at another campus in New Jersey, canceled exchange, packed her car and returned home within a day.

Although not much work was completed, we remained at the office through the day. Around 4:00 p.m., word began circulating that there was a gasoline shortage in town. My husband and I decided to head out a bit early to pick up our 2 ½ year old daughter from her childcare, just a mile west of campus. As we approached the main thoroughfare though town, traffic was at a stand still in all directions. Cars filled every intersection. We backtracked and cut through parking lots, seeking an open street. After several blocks of thwarted attempts, my panic level was reaching epic proportions. We could not cross the highway.

I had worked all day to make certain my students were present and accounted for. It never occurred to me that I would not be able to get to my own child a mile away.  And there it was, that work/life balance that so frequently challenges us in student affairs, smacking me in the face. Yet this time, it was accompanied by fear like I had never felt. A fear so strong I can feel it now; the fear that I could not protect my child.

Of course we eventually navigated around town, and within a few days, life returned to something resembling normal in our university community. But we knew that every other person in the country was to trying to make sense of it, just like we were.

Patron saints and appreciation

In student affairs as in many professions, you have your ups and downs. Long hours, short budgets, and late nights are just par for the course. But then when least expected, an appreciation for your efforts appears from nowhere. And although things do not usually end well for patron saints, I love a challenge.
Thank you, Sebastian!

‘Twas the night before finals

Twas the night before finals, and all through the college,

The students were praying for last minute knowledge…

I passed a blurry eyed student as he was on his way to a final exam this week. He was gripping a Red Bull in each hand. And I was reminded of this final exam diagram shared by one of our peer mentors.



Happy Finals to All and all a Good Test!


Happy Anniversary eighteen and life

Happy Second Anniversary to the eighteen and life blog! Traditional anniversary gifts of china or cotton are now being accepted. Or not.

Thanks for your encouragement. And thanks for sticking around and reading.

A countdown of your top-5 favorite posts of the last year:

5. Gridiron Challenge and Support

4. Laws of Physics and College Transition

3. (Go to) Class Investment

2. Happy Anniversary #SACHAT

1. Digital Storytelling: Adventures in the First-Year Experience