Preparing for Qualifying exams: the rest of the prep time

Quals start tomorrow. Given I was writing 20-30 pages a week and had a busy semester at work, I had no time to chronicle my adventures here. I do feel pretty well-prepared though. I’ll go back and recap everything here after quals, and dig deeper into what worked and what didn’t.

(Feel honored though–my for-fun blog stalled out a month before this one…)

Preparing for Qualifying Exams: Week 2

Hey everyone! Very productive week here in Tulsa as I met with my advisor, had some classes, killed a bunch of to-dos, and heard back on a paper I recently submitted for publication. Good news: they didn’t reject it out of hand while laughing hysterically. Bad news: they want some semi-major revisions and the peer reviewers want to see it again to bless version 2.0. Yet another big rock for the to-do list. However, this past weekend i realized that the way I was (not) taking care of myself was not sustainable. Did some significant schedule shuffling that holds sleep and exercise time as holy, and allows me time for study, Kevin, and relaxation. I need all of those things in order to be sane and healthy. if I’m not sane and healthy, then I’m going to flunk quals and/or write a crappy dissertation and/or work myself into an early grave. None of those possibilities exactly appeal to me. So on to the to-dos!

The Quals Proper

Hoped to get done last week:

Review research methods class, get questions answered when meeting with advisor.

Did get done

  1. Met with Advisor, learned I was in good shape and was able to focus my study plans more tightly, AND that I had what seemed like the germ of a solid dissertation topic. Left feeling much better.
  2. Cohort had long talk with Dr. W in our IR2 class, He answered many more questions we had about quals and helped me focus my study plans even MORE tightly. Also learned that I can effectively combine some of the pre-proposal dissertation noodling discussed last week with my Quals prep.
  3. Outlined what I need to review and have at hand. will fill out outline in the coming weeks. my goal is to go into quals with a 5-ish page detailed and annotated outline (plus sources) that will serve as my roadmap to make sure all my dots are connected.

Next week: Flesh out 20% of my outline.

Class 1: Higher Ed Law

Hoped to get done last week:

Go to class, say 1 intelligent thing in discussion, maybe think a little about paper 1 but probably not.

Did get done

  1. everything listed above
  2.  readings for next week

Next week: Go to Class, say 1 intelligent thing in discussion, start thinking about paper 1.

Class 2: Institutional Research 2

Hoped to get done last week:

write up first article analysis, turn in lit review to peer-reviewer classmates.

Did get done

  1. Everything above
  2. Peer-edited partner team’s lit review
  3. perused comments of partner team on our lit review
  4. (monday) revise methods section
  5. (monday) write article review for class

Next week: write up next article analysis, work with partner to revise lit review, start thinking about key points of the results/discussion rewrite (turning it into something suitable for a peer reviewed journal, rather than something suitable for an institutional research report).

The Dissertation:

Hoped to get done:

Meet with my advisor, continue to do light lit browsing as quals prep permits.

  1. All of the above, presented somewhat evolved from last week but IMHO stronger Diss topic (Social Capital in the information seeking process) to advisor.
  2. Advisor liked said topic, told me to keep fiddling with that general train of thought.
  3. Learned that I can pretty much incorporate much of my dissertation pre-search into my Quals prep.
  4. jumped up and down while squealing like a toddler.

Next week: See quals prep.

Journal Article

  1. Got back article
  2. skimmed over requested changes
  3. took cleansing breaths re: requested changes
  4. emailed journal letting them know I’d be happy to make requested changes
  5. let the damn thing sit unread for the rest of the week

Next week: Read over requested changes and make plan of attack.

And that’s about it! Happy Labor Day to those of you in the States.

Preparing for Qualifying exams: Week 1

Twi finalsWell, I have to say the last three years feel both like they lasted forever and that they went by in a flash. Monday morning I woke up, and realized that a little less than three months, I would be sitting my Qualifying exams, or as I’ve been describing it to friends who are (wisely) not in grad school, the take-home test of DOOM. Basically, over a three week period in November I have to write a final exam essay test that proves I understand the research process sufficiently well to be admitted as a doctoral candidate–AKA a person crazy/stupid enough to write a dissertation. As a bit of accountability, not to mention a work log of sorts, each weekend I plan to write up everything I did in the past week for my PhD “Big Rocks”, as well as my to-do list for the week to come. I hope this will not only be helpful to me, but to those of you who find yourself in this similar predicament. Long story short, I determined that I WILL PASS QUALS ON MY FIRST ATTEMPT. I owe myself, my coworkers, my husband, my friends and myself that much. Continue reading

“Time’s a factor here!” Quoteable Quotes

LILAC logoWell, as I write this, I’m about to head off to speak at LILAC 2013 in Manchester, England! There are about 29 reasons I’m absolutely giddy over this trip (not least because it’s my first international presentation), but I wanted to give a few of you some sneak peeks and additional info about my research–think of the next few posts like the DVD special features from Lord of the Rings, but without shots of librarians in Motion-Capture suits. Today, I’m sharing some particularly memorable quotes that I gleaned from my participants.

Continue reading

A major decision

When I was in 10th grade, I found myself in a bit of a quandary. I enjoyed band, and was a decent (if not spectacular) percussionist. However, the high school had just started a new creative writing class, and several teachers were encouraging me to take it. I didn’t really need the encouragement. I loved (and still love) writing, to the point that I currently have a second semi-active blog while working full time and doing a PhD program. The dilemma was this: Band and creative writing were offered in the same time slot. I could take one, but not both. I waffled, and I thought a bit, but ultimately my course was clear. When it came time to enroll, I dropped band and added creative writing. I still remember the conversation I had with the assistant director for percussion, who was more surprised than I would have expected given my mediocre skills. He asked me why I made the shift. Continue reading

Yellow Butterflies

So, I’ve been a bit quiet this summer.

OK, I’ve been a lot quiet this summer. I could try to explain why, but it would take about 3 hours and I’m not sure most it would make sense at the end. The short version is this: On May 12, I lost an old and very dear friend. We grew away from each other slightly in recent years, in part because of geography, in part because we both were focused (in our own ways) on “growing up” and building our careers as educators rather than nourishing our friendship with each other.

Those ebbs and flows in friendships are the way of the world, I’m well aware, but that loss made me re-evaluate a lot of things (as well as reconnect closely with my two other “besties” from that early 20s social circle). Over the ensuing summer I have been rethinking a lot of things about my goals, ambition, and the need for more compassion and silliness in my life to balance out my quest for wisdom and significance. Oh, and while grappling with that I completed a 5K walk, took 9 hours over the summer, 6 plus a research project this semester, and started my new position as Associate Director on July 1. (How am I not dead?)

I’ve tried to write a few things for this site this summer, like a piece on “Why Math Education Sucks” (which I’m still noodling on here and there), but most of my Infoliterate thoughts have been on what David Allen might call the 50,000 foot level: specifically, what does it mean to make a difference as an instruction librarian, library administrator, Ph.D student, etc.? Those thoughts have been so squishy in my head that it’s really only now that they’re firm enough to commit to a published form.

The longer I live, the more it seems that most of us as individuals have very little control over which achievements or actions will “make an impact” in our lives, or in the lives of those we hope to reach. Most of us can think of personal or professional projects we care about deeply that wound up flopping, and offhanded comments we tossed off that made a profound effect on someone else’s life, for good or ill. Everything we do makes ripples, which combine and interact with other ripples, and we can never control (and only rarely understand) their full impact.

I can set goals to earn my Ph.D, become a LIS Professor or library director, teach library students how to engage effectively with the new information landscape,  perform research to identify and highlight the blind spots in information literacy theory and practice, but I HAVE LITTLE TO NO POWER over what actually takes hold in the minds of others. It’s like doing a one-shot instruction session. Some days all the students will be glazed over, checking Facebook when they think nobody’s looking, no matter how charismatic and insightful the librarian is at the front of the room. Other times students are exploding with excellent questions and insights.

At least when viewed through the “lens” of this summer, this fact leads to one inescapable conclusion: Tying your self-worth into achieving a goal (or even a series of goals) is a fool’s errand. That’s not to say I don’t want to achieve big things with my life anymore—I’m just accepting that most of the variables that could lead me to publishing that seminal book that revolutionizes academic librarianship are out of my control. That’s scary to a person whose self-worth has long been tangled up in the need to “make a difference”, but it’s kind of freeing too.

That realization has also led me to look at what a “post-goal” mindset and career might look like. It seems to come back down to some sort of daily practice, where I simultaneously stay open to opportunities presented by the world while building the skills needed to seize those opportunities, whatever they may be. I’ll share some of those thoughts on a success-oriented daily practice next time, but for now I’ll just sit back and shake my head ruefully at the elegant chaos inherent in the way that one event, like a butterfly flapping its wings in Florida, has unexpectedly influenced change in so many other areas of my life and the lives of others.

The Power of the Cohort

My Ph.D Cohort

All Ph.D programs, or at least all Ph.D programs designed for working people, should be cohort-based. I’m a pretty diligent and motivated student (when I can stay away from the funny pictures of celebrities on Tumblr), and I like to think I’m decent at my coursework. However, I can think of two occasions in the past year where I might have dropped out, or at least slowed my pace, had I not had a cohort-mate to vent with, and had I not known that my departure would leave a hole in a group of friends I had come to care for very much. In this post I’ll share what I think are the benefits of the cohort, and suggest ways that students and faculty can prevent or address common issues that keep cohorts from working as smoothly as they might.

Benefits of the cohort

Built-in support system

If you haven’t gotten the memo yet, doctoral work is stressful. Having not ever tried grad school while not working full-time (I also worked 40 hours a week during my MLIS due to those pesky light bills) , I can only assume that juggling a Ph.D with a day job is even more intense. To make matters worse, when you start a Ph.D your free time largely vanishes. Most doc students cut their socializing to the bare essentials. I’m getting out a bit more now that I’ve gotten my bearings. However, for the first year I really only hung out with my husband, a few very close friends, and my family. That meant my cohort became a very important aspect of my social life.  They also “get it”. While I have the most amazingly supportive husband who is interested in and supportive of my work, and has even taken over laundry and dishes for the duration (!), he isn’t undergoing the lived experience. Ditto my work colleagues and other friends. The cohort understands.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses—for instance, I’m good with social theory, but was happy to escape Calc 1 with a C. I helped my friends earlier in the program during our theory heavy courses, and now that we’re hitting the quant research sequence, they’ll probably wind up nursing me through all these icky numbers in the stats classes. Plus, sometimes you’ve got more going on at certain times than others, and group members are there to pick up the slack. (this can also be a drawback, which I’ll discuss in a sec)

Get out of your comfort zone

Being an academic librarian, my closest colleagues are librarians. Oh, I have good relationships with a lot of faculty, but I really don’t know much about life in the administrative/staff realms, except to the extent it touches our lives directly. My cohort, on the other hand, encompasses people from community colleges, regional universities, a flagship branch and a private liberal arts school. In addition, our job descriptions include just about every possible administrative department or experience level, and a few faculty members to boot. Hearing each others’ perspectives have given us all a greater understanding of the bigger picture, and we’ve already identified many ways we can help each other succeed.

Cohort Pitfalls

That said, it’s not all sunshine and roses—I have an awesome cohort, but cohorts can be toxic just as easily as any other group. Here are some common issues that come up, and how to deal with them.

Interpersonal drama

Like any group, Drama can evolve in a cohort. There is only one cure for Drama, and that is maturity mixed with a common goal. You may think one or more of your cohort partners are insane or infuriating, but when the rubber hits the road, you need to be prepared to set that aside and work together. Also…don’t date anyone in your cohort till you’re ABD. Fortunately that’s not an issue in our group, but I’ve heard tales that this often leads to Bad Things.

Seeing the faculty as the enemy

Especially in this age of accountability, in most cases your professors genuinely want you to succeed and will help you to the best of their ability. That’s not to say they’ll make it easy on you. Understand they’re working in your best interests, and take things in the spirit they’re intended. Also, by the point you enter Ph.D work, it should be obvious that Professors are People Too. They have failings, frailties, are overworked, and just plain screw up sometimes. While you should expect a quality education, also understand that by the time you reach Ph.D, you will be interacting with professors on a more-or-less equal level. Lower your expectations of them at the same time you raise your own expectations of yourself.

Lazy study mates

Fortunately, this is another one I have only heard about, not experienced. However, there is a surprising amount of group work in a doctorate, and one weak link can cause a lot of damage. While everyone can and does have a bad semester where others pick up their slack, there comes a point where you must be ruthless in the service of your education as well as the greater good of your cohort. Speak to them privately, quietly refuse to be on their teams, or simply have a chat with their advisor or your instructors. Once is ok, twice is coincidence. But as soon as laziness becomes a pattern, you have to find a way to nip it in the bud.

So, those are my tips! Hope you enjoyed. This is looking like it’s going to be a great summer, and I’ll be back “soon” as class and research project events warrant. I’m working on an IRB right now for a project that I will (hopefully!) get a chance to present at ACRL 2013, so I hope to share that experience in a forthcoming post.