Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dissertation Tookit Online

CGU Writing Center tutor Eric Hall wants to know: what tools are in your dissertation toolkit?

The Academic Ladder has a website called The Dissertation Writer's Toolkit which offers all kinds of goodies for free online, including:

  • How Academia Messes With Your Mind (and what to do about it) MP3
  • Steps to Avoiding Writer's Block (PDF)
  • Get Organized and Stay Motivated Tools
  • Frequently Asked Job Interview Questions

and much more!

It's worth a gander.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lori Anne Ferrell: Proposal Guidelines

A proposal? A proclamation? Here's some pilgrim for your progress

Dr. Lori Anne Ferrell, Professor of Early Modern History and Literature

Proposal Guidelines - Components of the Final Version of a Proposal

1) Statement of the problem
2) Methology and sources
3) Scope and limitations
4) Statement of thesis
5) Statement of significance of the problem

a) Chapter outline
b) Bibliography
c) Review of relevant secondary literature *--in other words, a section that refers to work previously done in a summary fashion and a literature review that discusses the various literatures that impinge on the topic in a fuller way.

So this is what I look for most particularly at this stage:

--Coherence and clarity of proposal altogether (of course, this does not preclude your changing aspects of your approach as you write, but I need to see how well you are prepared to defend, explain, and go on to write this work)

--Clear mastery of secondary literature and draft of a literature review. I always ask my advisees to send around the proposal at this stage. The other committee members can chime in later, and choose to read randomly (unlike me, acting as chair), but they must approve of this bit of writing before I am comfortable with the project overall. We need their extended input to make sure that your lit review reflects sufficient research in the sources / archives to know if the proposed project is feasible. And if they like I can require revisions as necessary to make the project feasible.

Lori Anne Ferrell
Professor of Early Modern History and Literature
School of Arts and Humanities, Claremont Graduate University

Your goal is getting your committee to sign off on the proposal

With apologies to Lori Anne for the completely historically inaccurate photos!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Early Questions to Ask Your Committee Members

Now what do I do?

Today's discussion with Professor Lori Anne Ferrell was fantastic! Check the blog later for details of her talk. In the meantime, Tanya has sent in her list of questions that she used when putting together her committee:

Questions About Process

  1. How does the committee usually operate during this process?

  2. What do you think about having Joe Smith and Jane Doe as other members? Should I approach them now, or wait until I have a prospectus or draft of my proposal? (At what stage do I have the committee sign the form?)

  3. Do you prefer emails or telephone calls for communication?

  4. For written work, do you accept emailed drafts, or only US mail?

  5. About how much time should I allow for your review?

  6. Is it better to wait until I have relatively polished drafts, or do you prefer to see smaller chunks of writing more frequently?

  7. Do you prefer to see each chapter when completed, or parts of the chapter? Should I submit each chapter as completed or multiple chapters at once? Do you prefer to see them in the order I write them as they are finished, or in the order they will end up in the dissertation?

  8. When should I submit chapters to other members? Should I wait until after you have reviewed them, or submit them to all of you at the same time? Do I submit copies at each stage to all members, or do other members decide how they would like to see them?

  9. How do I manage feedback from committee members- should I discuss their recommendations with you before incorporating suggestions? What if there are contradictory recommendations?

  10. In setting up a timeline, what are reasonable goals for time to complete:
    • Prospectus
    • Proposal
    • Chapters
    • Complete first draft of dissertation
    • Final dissertation with revisions

  11. About how much time should I plan to complete the dissertation from start to finish? When should I plan to go on the job market relative to my dissertation progress?

  12. What are the average page lengths for a typical dissertation?

  13. Any other helpful advice or suggestions?

Final questions:

  1. Is the next step a prospectus outline of the topic, or wait to submit a proposal draft?

  2. Can we schedule our next meeting now? How much time before our next meeting should I send you the prospectus/proposal for review?

Thanks to Tanya for sharing these helpful questions!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Location, Location, Location

You wouldn't know it by looking at it, but behold, the Fortress of Solitude

There have been some great responses to the earlier post about finding places to dissertate.

* * * * *

"Unfortunately mine's not public, but I've recently started squatting a vacant office at work as my 'Fortress of Solitude' - shameless Superman reference. So far the company owner is OK with it, but things can change around here without warning. I'll enjoy it while I can. It beats the heck out of my office in the cold, dim server room. I used to go out and sit at the vacant reception desk when I couldn't stand the noisy server room anymore, but people kept coming in the front door and asking me things. I have plenty of desk real estate, industrial strength color laser printer, view of the mountains and even a fake plant & picture of Hawaii."

* * * * *

"I hang out in Honnold...there is lounge downstairs with food and a TV...the library is where I usually actually get work done....I do my refworks and check email....all of the stuff...and sometimes I need a book or citation...etc.
I feel like I am a real PhD student in the library where PhD's and scholars hang out....I am open to some other places as that I have a new laptop"

* * * * *

Monday, February 9, 2009

Get a Job

Another ongoing debate we all have with ourselves: at what point in this process do you begin looking for your new job? And how much can you work and still be able to finish your dissertation?

As Chad put it today, "I can leave now. When do I go?"

For those of us looking for jobs in academia, our annual conferences may force the issue of whether to apply for jobs at ABD stage or wait until we have the dissertation in hand. There are certainly instances of students who have landed incredible positions before finishing their dissertations and then needing to complete their dissertations in record time. (for a great success story of this type, see Dr. Devin Kuhn, CGU grad and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Women's Studies at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Devin also lead the Dissertation Workshop while she was at CGU!)

For those of us looking for jobs in the professional sector, there may be issues of trying to complete the dissertation once you've landed your dream job (and are putting in a lot of extra time to do really well and get noticed). There's also the issue that a lot of jobs will want you to be within a year of finishing your degree.

And then there's just the need to pay the rent.

There is no right answer for everyone for this question. So here are some things to keep in mind:

If you can afford to quit your job (or jobs) to focus on the dissertation, but are worried about the extra loans you may have to take out to do so, remember: the sooner you finish the dissertation, the sooner you stop paying fees to CGU. The money you save by graduating sooner may cancel out the loan you take out to finish sooner without working (or working as much).

That sinking feeling...

When considering taking any job, ask yourself, "Will it interfere?" If your priority right now is finishing your dissertation, remember to ask this question over and over.

Another question: will this job give you added experience that will help you in the job market? If you are an adjunct, for example, teaching a course you have taught multiple times already, it could very well be worthwhile to take the time off from teaching to go full steam ahead on your dissertation. Teaching one more section of Intro to Philosophy won't make a difference if you've taught it before, but finishing your dissertation will. However, if you have no teaching experience and are about to graduate, you are at a disadvantage if you want to apply for teaching positions.

An overall maxim: Adjuncting will kill your time. So if you must adjunct teach, be merciless with protecting your time. Structure yourself very carefully to make sure you make time for your dissertation.

Consider other options. Is is possible to get a fellowship in your field? Being paid to finish your dissertation = best case scenario.

Strategies to Get Committee Members to Talk

"I do not think that they will sing to me"

At today's workshop, we discussed the difficulty in getting committee members to give you feedback in a timely fashion (or sometimes, in a fashion at all).

Committee members may have family obligations, professional obligations, be doing extra time serving on search committees, etc. They may be on sabbatical, they may be working on other large projects, and they are most certainly serving on multiple dissertation committees.

You don't want to piss them off, but on the other hand, it's been x weeks... x months....etc and you have to know where to go from here!

This is an ongoing discussion in the group, and one that guest speaker Professor Lori Anne Ferrell may address in our next meeting on February 23rd.

Here are some of the ideas we shared today:

Be assertive. Let your committee members what you need and when you need it by. Give them a few date / time options and let them choose what works best for their schedules.

For example, try asking: "If I submit _____ by this date_____, do you think you could get it back to me by _______?"

That leaves it open for the committee member to say, "No, I have this commitment on this date, but what about the following week?"

That way, the conversation becomes a negotiation, and you both know where the other side is coming from and what sort of expectations you both have.

Another idea (and this works for scheduling qualifying exams, defenses, everything!) is to give the person three options and let them choose which works best for them. For example: "I would like to meet on Monday the 15th at 12:00 or 1:00, or Tuesday the 16th at 3:00. Do any of those times work for you?"

When I was working at a florist, we had a wall full of possible ribbons to wrap flowers in. We found that if you asked the customer which color she wanted, she would stare at all of the choices and not be able to decide, or take forever to decide. But if you simply narrowed down the choices for her and asked, "Would you like the green, blue, or yellow ribbon?" the customer could easily decide. I think the same principle holds true for setting appointment days and times---if you leave it wide open until infinity, nothing will happen. But if you narrow the choice down, it's much easier for someone to check their calendar and choose one.


Aya attended the recent CGU IRB workshop and reported back about what she learned.

If you'd like a copy of the PowerPoint presentation given at the workshop, you can find it here.

If you'd like to see sample IRB forms and samples, click here.

Aya said some of the most useful information was about how to get your IRB to pass, such as the importance of not letting your target group know what you're trying to figure out in your research.

She also said they stressed the language of the IRB form - "no harm will come to you during this study" will not pass, but "we will minimize the harm" will pass.

Remember, the IRB is a contract between you and your subjects.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dissertating in Public

When you'd rather study anywhere than here:

If you're like me and sometimes you just need to get out of your house to read, study, or type notes into your laptop, you probably know all the cafes in a ten mile radius where you can study. And you're probably sick of the ones you have frequented.

So here are a handful of ideas around CGU you might want to try out, if you haven't already:

  • Le Pain Quotidien (175 N. Indian Hill, Claremont Village Expansion, right next to Laemmle Movie Theatre). Unfinished wood tables, incredible menu, coffee that comes in a metal teapot with a cup that's more like a bowl...bowls of coffee are awesome. Upside: did you see the bowls of coffee? Downside: It's a restaurant, so you really should order some food if you're going to be there for a while, and it is a little pricey. Also, you may not feel as comfortable busting out your laptop here, although people do. Just use good judgement / study etiquette. If the place is busy, don't hog your table. If it's empty, feel free to make camp but order food and tip your server well. I've found they're very student-friendly here.
  • Coffee Bean (101 N. Indian Hill, Claremont Village Expansion, next to Laemmle Movie Theatre neon sign). Spacious, unobtrusive music, outlets for laptops, totally fine with you making camp for three days while only buying one coffee. Upside: free wifi, cheesy jalapeno bagels, atmosphere conducive to studying, open late! Downside: is sometimes crowded, limited food selection.
  • Some Crust (119 Yale Avenue, Claremont Village). Small, but great coffee and incredibly delectable sources of sugar rush. High stool seating by the windows make for wonderful typing experience: good natural sunlight and excellent people watching. Upside: Supporting a local mom and pop business, nice feel, unobtrusive music. Downside: can be crowded, closes early.
  • Coffee Berry (2232 D Street, downtown La Verne). Frequented by University of La Verne students and faculty. Indoor and outdoor seating, good selection of snacks. Upside: near lots of shops for lunch or dinner breaks, lots of places to sit. Downside: can be loud, you will run into your students if you teach at ULV.
  • Home Brew (601 W. Arrow Highway in San Dimas. I always take Bonita to get there and turn into the parking lot before Bonita hits Arrow.) It's in a weirdly "Western" shopping complex, alongside Boot Barn and Big Sky Sushi, which has great sushi, by the way. (studying and sushi, what more could you want?) The sign for the cafe is tiny and I had been going there for years before finding out what the name of the place is. Upside: its huge, has great large tables and good lighting, outlets for laptops. Downside: sometimes has live music, tends to have a kind of sketchy contingent loitering there. Wireless can be iffy. (which, from my perspective, is a good thing - I don't need the temptation of the internet!). Get password for free at counter.

and there are multiple locations for Starbucks - eh, you know where they are. I'm just not a big supporter of Starbucks.

Over the weekend, I also studied at:

  • The Gypsy Den Cafe (2930 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, at The Lab "anti-mall" complex). I spent five entire hours here on Friday and have to rave about it. Lavish with hanging carpets, nude paintings, and gorgeous glass bottles, the Gypsy Den was the perfect study hideaway. Sparrows were flying in from outside, chirping around me and nibbling crumbs on the floor. I felt like some kind of dissertating Snow White. Amazing menu, outlets for laptops, wonderful staff. Upside: they were totally cool with my friend and I and our laptops clicking away for 5 hours. Downside: It was a little bit crowded, but I think it might have been due to people escaping the rain. The restrooms are also really far away, but a bit of a walk can be nice during a mega-typing-session
While on the topic of Getting Stuff Done...

Study Dates

Find people you know who need to get a lot of work done. It might be fellow dissertators from our workshop, it might be underclassmen you know who are studying for their qualifying exams, it might be people who need to grade or publish or get a job. Just people who are motivated enough that they can keep you motivated and won't talk to you too much. :-)

Call these people up, give them a day, time, and cafe, then meet them there.

Study dates can get you out of the house, away from the internet, socializing in public, and properly caffeinated.

Study Aids

When you're packing your materials for working in a cafe or other non-home spot, here are some things to keep in mind / possible solutions for I-need-to-type-quotes-and-the-book-won't-stay-open:Get two of the biggest size of black binder clips (steal them from work!). Binder clips are great because they're easy to throw into your laptop case, will definitely hold your pages flat, and are easy to bend open when you're turning the page. They can eat up your pages a little, so they are not the best bet for high quality books you're preserving for life. But who are you kidding? Your books are full of coffee stains, pen ink, and scone crumbs.

A friend of mine has this incredible traveling book stand that I saw her use while studying today, and I now officially want one.

Lightweight, small, easy to set up on a table top, only $28 from And you can personalize it! It costs extra, of course, but if you need "My Name, Ph.D." or "Dr. Me" as incentive to keep going, then by all means, put it on there! There are good pictures here.

Where do you go to get work done? What tips do you have for dissertating in public? Please post a comment and share!

Monday, February 2, 2009

New Writing Center House

It's pretty darn exciting: we're out of the basement! The Dissertation Workshop will be the first workshop to warm up the new house: 141 E. 12th Street.

You're Not Alone - Here are some of the members of our group!