Newman Workshop at Andrews Fall 2007: Trust, Feedback, and Dissertation Titles

The following are notes and scribbles from my attendance at the Nov. 8-11 Doctoral Dissertation Workshop with Dr. Isadore Newman.

This workshop is mainly for the faculty to learn the process of working with doctoral students and for doctoral students to learn the process of writing a dissertation. Three students were selected for the “fish bowl” section of the workshop and I was one of them.

These notes are from Dr. Newman’s introductory remarks about the process of writing a dissertation.

Trust
If you trust your chair and your committee, they can be critical and give you feedback and you can learn. If you don’t trust your chair, you’ll feel like “why is everyone out to get me”?

Purpose
In your purpose statement/paragraph you need to ask and answer the question – so what? Why are you studying this question?

Research Design – is in chapter three.
Make sure you’re clear on the difference between a procedure or a design.
Designs are: case study, quasi experimental, etc.

Don’t get tied up in the method. You have to let your title, purpose, and problem dictate your method. “Try to control your emotionality about that.”

The Process
He knows someone who did a dissertation in five weekends (wrote a chapter a weekend) (himself). He knows another person who was much brighter and took 10 years to do it (his wife).

PDS is pre-dissertation syndrome.

Dr. Newman told about a student that found that people who finished their dissertations were more neurotic than those who didn’t finish – they were more normal people.

Neurotic behaviors are what get you finished: structure in your life.

There’s a price to pay for not finishing. There’s a price to pay for finishing. Hopefully when you finish, you can switch back and be normal again.

One thing that helps is doing things in small pieces. Set small goals. Do little pieces. Don’t say I’m going to write chapter 1. Write the purpose. Get feedback. It’s easier to do 2-3 pages a day vs. 30 pages by the end of the month.

The Role of Feedback & Relating to Feedback/Criticism
Realize that no matter what you say, it’s going to be changed. The person giving you the feedback is giving you their time and their intent is to help you become successful.

When you send the document to the committee, ASK for criticism. What can I do to make this better? It frees your committee to be very candid with their feedback. Build an expectation for criticism and feedback. You want to help your committee to know that you won’t get mad or cry and walk away.

It is not intelligence that finishes the dissertation. It’s a style. It’s a support system. The workshop is to help give you a style.

It’s not going to be perfect. Is it “good enough”? Be willing to share it and get feedback. That’s a style.

The dissertation is the beginning of developing a scholarly community. You write, get feedback from your committee, and rewrite based on that. Same as writing articles. You get peer reviews and revise based on that. You are learning from a scholarly community. The dissertation is the beginning of learning to function in a scholarly community. The intent of the PhD is the way to develop people to contribute to the scholarly community.

The time to be the most critical is at the proposal stage. Proposals are a contract.

Who cares? That’s the importance of your study. Why is it important to do? That’s the purpose of your study.

Someone asked: how do you choose a chair?
Choose a chair who has a common interest in your topic. Choose a chair who is willing to take the time. That’s what most people say. Newman says it’s a two way street. You have to feel that the chair has the ability, skill, and knowledge to support you through the learning process. It’s one-to-one learning. You should have enough respect for them, to understand why they don’t like something. There’s probably a good reason. “I’m arguing with you because I respect you. If I’m arguing with you I can learn something from you.”

A dissertation to read: Jill from Akron. Who completes and who hasn’t completed dissertation. University of Akron. It’s online. 1500 subjects. Look it up & read it.

Someone asked: how do you deal with time constraints?
Time constraints. Do your reading in the bathroom. No one will bother you. Take an hour a day to do the reading. Don’t look for large blocks of time. Instead take short periods of time and work on it consistently. You should write at least an hour a day. You’ll continuity vs. if you do it for 10-12 hours on the weekend. Don’t stop at a place where you’re stopping. Go past that to a place where you have a place to start next.

“I’d rather read short pieces several times vs. a whole dissertation.”

You’ll have at least three first drafts. Dissertation writing is a different type of writing.

More on feedback & change.
Newman is a “statistical therapist.” People come with statistical problems and he helps solve them.

Every time you give something to someone to read, it’s going to change. So you should expect that.

The importance of the title
If you don’t have a title, then you don’t know what you want to do. The title is the summary of your summary. The title is an advance organizer (link). It gives you an expectation of what to look for. Does the title reflect the purpose? Are they consistent? Is the problem consistent with the purpose and the title? If not then we change it.

Take notes when you meet with your committee members and then read it back afterwards.

A few other scribbles
Purpose statement – a few paragraphs
Importance answers “who cares?”
The lit review has a section on each of the main key words in the title
Delimitations are the scope of the study
Limitations are the things that you couldn’t control in the study
Operational definitions of the terms are explained in chapter 3

After this, Dr. Newman worked with three of us just by asking us questions about our title, our purpose, and our problem. It was a lively discussion as it flip flopped between role playing (actual learning for us guinea pigs) and the audience commenting and asking questions on the process and on our titles/purposes/problems. My brain is spinning from the discussion on mine and I need to write and think more to be able to share. But this was the gist of the 1st section of this weekend workshop.

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