Archive for the ‘Doctoral Studies’ Category

Latest Greatest Hits

Happy Labor Day, and Happy New (School) Year’s Eve for many of you!

I’m actually writing this post in early August in anticipation of being pretty overwhelmed and without much time for blogging in early September, between starting my new job and heading down the final stretch of my dissertation journey.  Since I haven’t posted a rerun updated my “Damian’s Favorites” post category in awhile, I thought I’d link some of the items I’ve recently added:

Resume, Cover Letter… Blog?: My thoughts on how an online presence is at least useful, if not essential, in getting yourself a job in education these days, as well as my own story and some outlining of how and why I do what I do.

300 Miles: The more I learn, read, and hear about the importance of goal-setting, the better I realize it’s not just buzzy edu-jargon but (if done well) an essential tool in making progress.  This is one such example.

Don’t Break the Chain: More on meeting goals, but focusing on the journey there and how one comedian set himself up for success.  Simple and silly as it may sound, it has helped me enormously in my efforts to complete my doctoral dissertation.

What Will They Remember? #FergusonThoughts inspired by the death of Michael Brown and your students’ responses.  They will remember how you made them feel.

Whether you start tomorrow or you’ve been back for weeks already, my best wishes to you and your students for a fantastic 2014-2015!

Don’t Break the Chain

Dissertation work has been going swimmingly, thanks for asking.  If we’re connected on Facebook or Twitter you are probably sick of me posting about the minutiae of my progress each day, and you’ve also seen me hashtag my Tweets #dontbreakthechain.

The idea of “don’t break the chain” comes from an article I’ve seen pop up several times over the last few years but to which I never gave much thought until now.  This 2007 article from Lifehacker outlines Jerry Seinfeld’s clever method of motivating himself to continue writing new material:

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.

Did Seinfeld actually say this?  Who knows.  The Internet is rife with stories attributing profound ideas or sayings to celebrities that may or may not be true.  The principle behind it, however, is one that I’ve actually used before, although not deliberately, in setting and meeting goals:

  • Whenever I do my 365 Picture-A-Day projects, seeing the daily photos and dates lining up one after the other motivates me to not “break the chain”.
  • The “Archives” list in this blog’s sidebar motivates me to blog at least once per month in order to not “break the chain” of months (if you actually care to look, you’ll see I’ve only missed one month in seven years).
  • I have to lift weights three times per week in order to not “break the chain” of steady progression.

I’m now applying that principle to my dissertation work.  I returned home from vacation on 11 July 2014, so 12 July was my first day on the chain.   Since then, I have made a concerted effort to work on some aspect of my dissertation every day.  Sometimes it’s for 30-45 minutes, sometimes it’s 4 hours.  The point is, as long as I put some work in, I mark the day off.

You can use any kind of calendar, physical or digital, for this task.  I’m using a website called (of course) Don’t Break the Chain; they have a Chrome plugin that allows me to see and update my calendar right from the browser:

dontbreakthechainI’ve only been at it for about two weeks now so it remains to be seen if this will help me maintain productivity in the long run, but I can say that chipping away at this monumental task little by little every day has helped me to stave off the feelings of self-doubt and paralysis I’ve written about previously.  With deadlines fast approaching (I need to have Chapter Four done and submitted by 1 Sept if I have any hope of defending in November), I’ll use any trick and take any advantage I can get.

Nothing To It But To Do It

Between completing years of coursework and conducting the dissertation research project, I think we can all agree that earning a doctorate is hard work.  I wonder, though, if sometimes we (read: I) make it harder than it has to be.

I spent the better part of May & June collecting survey and interview data for my research, and in early July took a much-needed weeklong vacation with my wife and kids.  Unfortunately, instead of relaxing and recharging, I spent the better part of the week stressing about the dissertation work I’d need to do when I got back.  When we got home last Friday I had a stack of papers with means and p-values and standard deviations all over them waiting for me, and I found myself experiencing a paralysis very similar to what I experienced this past December.  Thankfully, I was able to snap myself out of it this evening, and after sitting down with a cup of coffee and background music courtesy of Weezer (on repeat several times), I not only organized a good chunk of the statistical data, I also made a little headway on the organization and interpretation for my Chapter Four.  It wasn’t much, but it was enough to break my funk and get me rolling again.  The looming monster I had built up in my mind over my vacation was vanquished easily enough; all I had to do was just get off my ass and start working.  It wasn’t the work itself that was difficult, it was overcoming the mental block that was intimidating me.  Then again, that’s been the story throughout much of the process.  Thinking about the work is always – ALWAYS – much worse than sitting down and actually doing it.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies, until we decide not to be.

Ceci n’est pas un blog post

It’s been nearly two months since my last post, and even longer since my last post of any substance.  I could lie and say that work’s been crazy, or the holidays have been hectic, but none of that would be true.  In fact, this has been the least hectic lead-up to Christmas I’ve had in years, certainly since starting my doctoral program in Sept. 2011.

Most of my evening hours the last several weeks have been spent working on my dissertation.  I completed my 300-hour internship early in November, I’m nearing the end of my coursework (kind of hard to explain fully here, but for all intents and purposes, one more class in Jan-Feb and I’m done), and I’m preparing to be raised to candidacy for the Ed.D.  After that, all that’s left between me and the degree is the little tiny matter of the dissertation.

Some background: my university program embeds the dissertation writing process into the coursework, to some degree.  Students write the first two chapters during two different courses in Year One, we typically write Chapter 3 (or most of it) during one of our courses in Year Two, then we go to committee at some point early in Year Three, get approval to start our research, conduct our research during the second half of Year Three, finish writing, and defend by November to graduate the following January of Year Four (or Three-and-a-Half, as I like to consider it).  Long story short, I’ve been working on this document since October or November of 2011, revising and polishing along the way, on a topic that is very important to me.  To say I am invested is an understatement.

I spent most of November and early December this year majorly overhauling my Chapter 3 and preparing for my committee meeting.  While I expected to be asked to make some revisions prior to moving forward, I was also expecting to be approved to begin my research upon making those changes.  Instead, I was told to make more changes than I expected would be necessary and told the committee would reconvene in January to determine whether or not I could proceed.

Maybe this is par for the doc student course, but I wasn’t ready for that, especially after the hours I had invested in this project.  The drive home felt like an eternity, my shoulders hunched around my ears out of a growing sense of stress, and I found myself seriously questioning how I was going to move forward.

Typically, when I have a task to accomplish, I like to get on it right away, no matter how daunting.  But I came home from that meeting, put down my laptop bag with my notes in it, and haven’t been able to open it since.  Not “haven’t wanted to” – “haven’t been able to”, as in, I go to take out the notes to get cracking and I just start to feel overwhelmed and anxious.  It’s been a week since that meeting and the bag still sits untouched next to my couch.

I’m not writing this post for “oohs” and “ahhs” and “poor babys” from the Internet.  In fact, I think part of the paralysis I’m dealing with right now is my own shame at how paralyzed I’ve become by this task that, until now, I have been handling with relative competence (or so I thought).  Maybe I’m hoping that reflecting in writing will help me to knock out the cobwebs and be able to get over this funk or malaise or whatever it is and get down to business right after Christmas.  Perhaps seeing the problem in writing will help me to realize I’m blowing it out of proportion in my mind and it’s not as insurmountable as I’m making it out to be.  I’m not really sure, but whatever it is, I hope it works.

If nothing else, hopefully it will be an entry I can look back on this time next year, as I’m preparing to graduate, and laugh at, remembering that time I panicked unnecessarily and frantically spat out a blog post full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Coming Attractions

Ever since my initial headlong dive into blogging in 2007, experience has taught me that I need to pace myself in order to avoid running out of things to write about.  Maintaining a twice monthly posting schedule, as I have done (more or less) since 2009 or so, has helped me to survive those dry spells by writing, stockpiling, and auto-scheduling blog posts for the future while the iron is hot.

Not that I’ve run out of things to say, but unfortunately my time for writing and reflection has been overcome by an unusually heavy run of both personal and academic obligations lately – even now, I’m dashing this post off on a break from writing a research paper on educational funding in the state of New York.  I’m even writing this post as much for myself as for my readers, so I can publicly bookmark some ideas that I wanted to write about as we head into the summer months.  This is what I’ll be thinking about as we approach the home stretch of the school year:

  • You Can’t Say You Can’t Play, by Vivian Gussin Paley, a kindergarten teacher who noticed some of her students habitually excluding others.  She writes about her new classroom policy and its short- and long-term impacts.  Haven’t read it yet, but heard about it on a This American Life rerun a week or two ago, and it’s going to be one of my first downloads for my Father’s Day/birthday present, the Kindle Paperwhite.
  • Acronyms in Special Education – Anyone who moves in special education circles, personally and/or professionally, knows that the field is awash in alphabet soup.  Jim Gerl asks us to think about the ethical ramifications of this jargon.
  • Edcamp Leadership 2013 is coming back to the Garden State this summer after a successful inaugural run last July.  I’ll be attending as an organizer, aspiring school leader, and possibly a presenter, so I’ll surely be writing about my day from all three perspectives.
  • I’m not only a proud member, but also a part-time employee, of the New Jersey Education Association, and I’ll be attending their Summer Leadership Conference in August and hopefully writing about my takeaways from that.
  • Summer provides an excellent opportunity for professional reflection, and I’ll look to do that as I get back to my on-again, off-again Habits of Mind series.
  • This has been a hell of a year as far as grad school is concerned, and this summer I’ll be looking to wrap up most of my internship hours, polish up the first three chapters of my doctoral dissertation, and prepare to take my research proposal to committee by mid-fall.  As long as I’m not all written out by then, expect an update on that as well.  I will be done with my coursework by February, and I’m (perhaps naively optimistically) targeting an August 2014 graduation date.

Lots to think about, but unfortunately very little time to write about any of it at present.  Here’s to the last two to five weeks of the school year, depending on where you are!  Stay tuned…