ELP Dissertation Journey Alumni Panel 24 June 2014

These are my notes from the alumni panel session. Panel members were Ron Sheffield, ELP 22, Edie Williams, ELP 22, Charles (Chuck) Watson, ELP 17 , and Bobbi DeLeon, ELP 21. The session was moderated by Dr. Mike Marquardt.

* Ron Sheffield, ELP 22, dissertation was qualitative on tribal community 
* Edie Williams, ELP 22, comparative case study on women entrepreneurs and how they decide 
* Charles (Chuck) Watson, quantitative, LMX, trust, and reciprocity, ELP 17 
* Bobbi DeLeon, ELP 21, case study of impact on action learning on improving critical thinking skills (focus groups, pre/post interviews, pre/post tests, and more) 
Ron and Edie went through process together with the other members of their comprehensive exam group. They made a pact after ELP to finish together, talked or emailed every day for two years. The best way to solve a problem is to ask the right questions so Edie liked the questions we asked. Their team did backwards planning and made tools that they are packaging for a company they formed, talked about their experience with chairs at each step, read each other’s chapters along the way even though they used different coding techniques, used each other for peer review, supported each other through IRB review. 
Ron: he wrote down all the things the Chair said after “here is what you need to proceed.” He compiled cohort wisdom and sent this to Dr. Marquardt to pass on to others. He created project plan in the notes. Ron’s dissertation was qualitative phenomenology, the common essence of the group (his tribe). This was a very different perspective on an organization. He was leaning toward a quantitative dissertation because he has worked with technology and quantitative means all his work life. He wanted to do something new.
Edie: she leaned to a qualitative dissertation at the beginning. She thought she would do phenomenology, but changed through the defense process, the committee said her study was really a case study so she had to redo chapter 3 (in a few days, lots of stress). After proposal defense, you must get proposal through chair of department (Maria Cseh). She thought she would be able to walk it through, but Dr. Cseh asked where her other source of data was, which did not exist so she reviewed the entrepreneur’s websites. You have to be agile throughout the process. When you think it is done, good, finished, it usually is not. As she was going through her Chapter 4, Dr. Schwandt was on sabbatical. Dr. Schwandt did not return her emails and phone calls for a while so she panicked and called Dr. Margaret Goreman. Dr. Goreman told her to work on other things she needed to be doing in parallel, such as going back to your proposal to redo as past (“this is what I did”). This is reflection in the dissertation wisdom. There is always something else to do. 
Mike Marquardt asked "what were the most critical things to getting things done?" 
Ron: not stopping. Don’t let excuses you tend to make stop your progress. If you don’t finish, it is your own fault. Try not to set yourself up for major life changes. 
Edie: we have been coaching two other members of their group, they should finish this year. She had a rhythm, about 20 hours per week. 
Bobbi: what helped shape her progress, she always knew she wanted to study something around critical thinking, but she just did not know what it would be, all her course papers were on related topics. She took the survey research course and developed a survey tool for critical thinking that she used for her dissertation. She did not feel she needed to finish first. She just wanted to finish. Set aside time daily to write. She had to take time off to finish Chapters 4 and 5, took time off in a hotel by herself. She worked 7am - 1 am for five days because staying home and working did not work. She had a great editor that helped her find inconsistencies between the chapters. She sent the editor Chapters 1-3 while she worked on 4 so she had a really well-edited version by the time she was ready to defend. You need to stay connected with others going through the process so you don’t feel isolated. Dr. Marquardt was very responsive with reviews and feedback. If he got something in the evening, he would provide feedback by 1100 the next day. Continuing to research is a way to procrastinate about writing. She had 50-60 books checked out from library at one time. She had to be careful not to try to get so much information that it was overwhelming, which was a big challenge for her. Her research did translate to practice so her organization uses it in teaching critical thinking skills today. 
Chuck: he did a quantitative study because he wanted to learn the techniques, he collected all his data in 3 weeks and did his analysis in a month. He took a sabbatical from work to do his analysis, living at GWU Ashburn campus. He wanted to talk about logistics since he is a project guy. Convert the project plan to a GANT chart and display it in your house. The critical moment is the chair to say you are ready to defend and the rest of the committee to defend. He brought a sample exempt IRB packet and how to fill it out and his IRB final submission. You have to work with the IRB and your committee with your methodology intact or you have to change your proposal if your methodology changes. Your chair is your principal investigator and you are the researcher. Post defense, you have to do another IRB form (“were any humans hurt by your research?”). Call and get to know whoever is walking your package through. This is very important: know the people that control your life and know who you are so they are on top of your stuff. This shows you are engaged so your odds of success will be increased. Anytime he sent something to a committee member, he sent them a printed copy with a priority envelope so they could comment and quickly send back to him. Cindy was the editor he used, but she may not be available. He used SPSS and qualtrics (www.qualtrics.com) to create a survey because they have a research arm for doctoral students to take advantage of their infrastructure for $100. Survey monkey cannot handle high volumes of data.
Ron: he really liked using refworks, you will do so much research that you will forget what you read. He paid someone to transcribe his interviews, Jill Stefanshin. Ron conducted ten interviews, one per tribal elder. He did not do pre-post interviews. He used Moustakas to interview and Seldana to code. Don’t read Saldaña front to back, use it as a ref to apply specific methodology.
Edie: don’t ever throw anything way electronically. You should keep all your data, but perhaps not the surveys. Some IRBs require to destroy the data. 
Edie used Seidman for qualitative research. He advocates three interviews: intro, in-depth (hour plus), reflective interview about a week after the in-depth interview. Seidman provides a method of interviewing. She did ten interviews. Try not to have any preconceived notions for your case study because it might change after you collect data. 
Bobbi used hyper research (she has an unlimited license), you can drag in transcripts, she digitally recorded the interviews. She enlisted her family members to help with some of the work. One of her committee members had an eye for detail to give very specific feedback, which balanced the high-level reviews she was getting from others. If you don’t have this on the committee, find readers that can give you this balance. 
Chuck: how to deal with unexpected questions. The defense is like an open book exam and you wrote the book. Dr. Schwandt told him to read the dissertation three times before the defense. You can write notes in the margins so you can link to earlier material. When someone asks a question, you can ask them what page they are on. This way, you have built notes into your margins. Start with your results section doing this. When you start getting results/data, committee members might suggest, “that’s interesting, you should look at …” Resist this. It might be an exciting area for further analysis, but not now. 
Edie: think about where you are going to publish, why, and what the current calls for papers are. Have good argument for where your research fits and why. 
Ron came to his defense with a one page summary: picture of constructs, answers to his research question. He gave this to all committee members and examiners. He asks three former ELP members that never finished the program. Two important themes: all three had chapter 2s that were far over 100 pages long. You can research your way into paralysis. You have to stop reading books at some point. The most important part: none of the three people could say what their constructs were.  
Edie: If you cannot tell someone in 30 sec what your dissertation is about, then you don’t understand it. 
Bobbi: you are not trying to solve world hunger, not your state, not your block, just your household. Otherwise you are dealing with huge problems that you struggle to neck down to make progress on.
Lai Fong asked about how to do case study triangulation. 
Bobbi had multiple data sources: survey, interviews (the only data she coded), observations, and critical thinking tests, faculty members doing a peer review at the end, two people with doctoral degrees uninvolved with the research reviewed her coding and results to see if it made sense. She looked at the other data to see if it supported the coding from the interviews. 
Edie: secondary (company rules and regulations) and tertiary sources of data may inform your context 
Ron: triangulation is less tactical and more evidentiary, you are gathering support, it is a strategy to tell you if you are looking at the data properly.
Proposal Defense 
The proposal defense is nothing like your mock. It is just you and the committee, they have read through your proposal.
Bobbi: she thought she understood her constructs better than it seemed at the defense based on the questions. It forces you to reflect on what you are really saying. She sat in on dissertation defenses so she knew what kind of questions she had to be ready for. 
Chuck: his first defense did not go so well. The defense is designed to gain understanding what you are doing. You might come out of the defense needing to retool. The Conceptual Frame (CF) is the focus of the defense. 
Edie: biggest thing she learned through the process. She had to think through why am I here, what am I doing. GWU is endorsing you as a researcher. Your proposal defenses is your certification that GWU thinks you are capable of being a researcher: right RQ, right CF, understanding your place in the research base, do you have the right methodology. You need to understand your problem, where your research fits in the literature, and you are capable of doing the research you propose. 
Ron: the rigor of what you do in the GWU program is very high. He knows others in the William and Mary program. GWU’s rigor is much higher than Wm and Mary. GWU is very highly regarded. Getting access to sites/data can be the hardest part of the research. Be prepared to have someone destroy your first three chapters and deal with it. The question that came up over and over in the defense: why you did what you did and chose the people you did? Bobbi suggested addressing this in the opening five minutes.
Mike Marquardt asked "how did you reward yourself after meeting daily goals or milestones?"
Edie: food, exercise, and fun. 
Ron: spent time with his family 
Bobbi: spent time with family 
Chuck: his wife was his everyday editor and came to his defense, took his wife to dinner or saw a movie 
After the Dissertation Defense 
Chuck: you must get edits done, rewrites, get approval, resubmit to university system, convert to odd pdf format, 30 days to complete the survey. The last 30 days is not a time of rest. You have lots of work to focus on getting done. 
Ron: Ann Huff says when you pick your constructs, there will probably be three. Pick the seminal articles for each, print them, put them in front of you when writing. This helped keep him grounded and were the most important things for him.
How do you maintain your passion through the process? 
Edie: her passion was critical thinking, but she had to give it up because it was going down a neuroscience path GWU could not support. She had to change and develop a new path. 
Ron’s original focus was resilience, but he knew he wanted to do research related to his tribe, Quechuan. 
Did Anyone Do Journaling? 
Edie did not really journal, but kept a book. Three sections: ideas, doodle area (played with theory, very helpful for applications for theory in chapter 5), to do list.  
Ron took field notes. They were part of his triangulation. Helped him know that what he was doing was relevant and important. He used them when he was coding. He used them to validate his data. 
Edie did a focus group with volunteers. She thought someone might hear something that would spark their thinking. She recorded and transcribed it. 
Chuck wanted to mention tradition. His cohort was taught that when you get your degree: hard bound copy of dissertation delivered to committee members and elex copies to readers, provide a small token of appreciation to chair.
Dr. Mike Marquardt’s closing comments: the panel members mentioned challenges more than success they had. They may remember the harder parts better than the fun parts. The notes that Ron and Edie provided is like a sacred text (Ralph can provide on request). There is a lot of work in the dissertation. There are times when you will be frustrated, but there will be sheer joy especially at the end and making milestones along the way. He expects many people on the group to be on the fast track and be complete in the next 12-24 months. After you complete 36 hours of the program, you get an Ed.S. The keys seem to be having a clear plan, rewarding yourself, setting aside big chunks of time when necessary, strong support system.