Friday, September 2, 2011

On prospectus--probably the first of many entries to come

Now that I passed my prelims, I can focus on the next rite of passage, the prospectus. I would like to document my experience, hoping that it will be helpful to someone out there. It's a little bit risky to share such an experience since I will probably try something and fail and then find new and better ways to get stuff done and fail again. In terms of projecting a successful academic identity, it would be much better if I could present my experience as a succession of right decisions after the fact but where is the fun in that, right? Besides, I believe someone else can learn from my mistakes. Moreover, I'm hoping that you will help me with your suggestions and feedback.

This is the second week of classes and only yesterday did I learn that I passed my prelims. Before hearing the good news, I was worried so I found focusing on the prospectus rather difficult. It amazes me that everyone was so confident that I was going to pass. Yesterday, I saw one of my professors and she congratulated me. I even got a hug (Yay! I love hugs). She said, "Of course, you were going to pass". As flattered as I am by this confidence by my professors and colleagues, I have to say that before learning that I passed, hearing comments like this stressed me even more. I'm just glad that the waiting is over. It is funny that only after people congratulate me that it sinks in. Yes, I did it. I passed the exam. How weird! It seems like success or failure is almost always on the faces of others. Anyway, I'm digressing again, my point was this. Not being able to write anything for my prospectus, I spent the first week of the semester organizing my stuff, finding my previous papers and sources I have used so far, etc.  But now it is time to concentrate on the next task, "The Prospectus." Even the word is intimidating, don't you think?
Anyway, here are the things I have done so far

1. I brainstormed about the things that I need to do. I started with my goal, that is to be ABD (all but dissertation) by the end of this academic year. Then I made a list of more specific objectives to reach my goal. Next, I came up with a list of outcomes so that I can work in a more product oriented way. Unless I do this I can keep reading/writing/working forever, and happily too. Finally I had a list of questions that I wanted to ask my adviser. The questions were mainly about his expectations, the procedure, the role of the committee members, IRB approval process, additional sources, and things that are more closely related to my dissertation topic.

2. I made an appointment with my adviser, well actually two appointments since we could not go over all my questions in the first meeting. Probably I would not ask for the second meeting so soon if he had not suggested meeting again himself. I kind of feel bad that I took so much of his time but talking about these questions in advance might save us both some time down the road. I feel very fortunate that I have a supportive adviser who finds time for me when I need him. Not many advisers care for their advisees, or so I hear from my friends in other programs.

3. I asked for the prospectuses (what is the plural of 'prospectus' anyway ^_^) that my friends had written. It's good to have friends who are ahead of you in graduate study. I chose people who I believe take what they do seriously rather than choosing people who have similar interests with me.

4. My roommate, who recently defended her prospectus, gave me a how-to book about preparing prospectus. I began reading that book. I could read only one chapter so far :-( and learned what a dissertation proposal is

"Basically a dissertation proposal describes a plan of work to learn something of real or potential significance about an area of interest. It is a logical presentation. Its opening problem statement draws the reader into the plan: showing its significance, describing how it builds upon previous work (both substantively and methodologically), and outlining the investigation. The overall plan of actions flows from the problem statement: specific steps are described in the methods section, their sequence is illuminated graphically in the work plan (and, if one is included, by the time schedule), and their feasibility is shown by the availability of resources. The enthusiasm of the proposal carries the reader along; the reader is impressed with the proposal's perspective on the problem, is reassured by the technical and scholarly competence shown, and is provided with a model of the clarity of thought and writing that can be expected in the final write-up. The reader comes away feeling that the opportunity to support this research should not be missed. (p. 5)
Krathwohl, D. R., & Smith, N. L. (2005) How to prepare a dissertation proposal: Suggestions for students in education and the social and behavioral sciences. New York: Syracuse University Press. 

This definition is kind of scary. I do not think I am going to impress anyone. I will be happy if my committee members think I do a good job.

5. I found the papers I had written for my classes that are related to my dissertation topic.

6. Last year, I had attended a workshop on prospectus writing organized by our department so I found the handouts from that workshop and read them.

7. I read the graduate student guide for our program about the prospectus process to familiarize myself with the steps and procedures involved. I learned that I have to defend my prospectus within seven months, that it must be around 5,000 words (plus bibliography), and must consist of 8 sections--problem statement, theoretical framework, literature review, description of the method adopted to explore the problem, tentative chapter outline, bibliography, tentative timetable for doing the research and writing the dissertation, and projected date for the oral defense of the dissertation. This is pretty similar to the sections mentioned in the how-to book I'm reading.

Now I have to do

1. Do the things that my adviser suggested
2. Begin reading the additional sources he recommended
3. Read my friends prospectuses
4. Read my own papers
5. Keep reading the how-to write a dissertation proposal book.
6. Contact two scholars, one from SLA and one from SLW, and ask for some sources, which is kind of difficult for me. First of all I do not like asking for favors and I like it even less when I have to ask for a favor if that person is not someone I am closed to. Nevertheless my adviser suggested this so I took a deep breath and wrote the emails. To my surprise one of the scholars I contacted responded promptly and suggested some readings on the topic. I'm still waiting for the other email. Even if the email never comes I would not blame that person since he is probably very busy. Besides he does not even know me.

So I have my little to-do list. Ah, how much do I love to-do lists ^_^. I crossed over some of the items in my previous to-do list with great pleasure. Now, that I have a new to-do list I definitely feel less overwhelmed. Back to reading now. If you have any suggestions about prospectus writing please let me know.

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