Friday, 21 March 2008

Feeling Pissy & PhD News

So I'm sitting here at work on Good Friday wishing I was still at home sleeping. Normally I take the statutory holidays off, after all, graduate students are people too, but the mice have ordered my presence today and tomorrow. Perhaps even Easter Sunday but we are still in negotiations about that. Over the past month I've been meaning to post but couldn't think of something to say. My life is pretty monotonous and boring so I can't type more than a few sentences about that (unlike Amy Lane who seems to have quite an eventful life). I go to school, do research, go to classes and go home. At home I normally sleep, eat, knit (a little), watch TV, and look at things on the internet. I would be happy with this if the knitting were more frequent and the research was on a different topic. In books the heros always want exciting but not me, I am happy with not much interesting going on. To me interesting often ends up meaning stressful. And I am good with the current stress level (or lower not higher please). 

But I scanned through the blog and realized that I didn't share something very important... I have a PhD placement at the University of Calgary in the fall. In the fall I will be working with Dr. Penny Pexman. I think that I will study figurative language acquisition in children (aka sarcasm acquisition). I find this interesting because I don't get sarcasm in my everyday life. I have to think about it more than other people. I am very excited about my next thesis, a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. 

But I still have a ways to go on the current project and a lot of things to do that I detest doing. When I think about my current project I get a lump in my throat (you know, like when you are about to cry but are trying not to) and feel sad/depressed. I won't quit and I won't do a half-assed job but damn it there are days I want to. There are days that I want to quit grad school and be a bum. Or play computer games all day. Or... sleep. But as a student in my lab tells me, this too will pass. 

I guess I'm feeling pissy today because it is the weekend and I am at work - I live for weekends. I know grad students who work on the weekends but I just tell myself to work hard during the week and take some time off. And I tell myself that by taking time off on the weekends I am more productive. 


Boyd said...

Catie you knit very, very well.


The most rigorous part of the dissertation includes the

Methods Section
Study Design
Research questions and hypothesis formulation
Development of instrumentation
Describing the independent and dependent variables
Writing the data analysis plan
Performing a Power Analysis to justify the sample size and writing about it

Results Section
Performing the Data Analysis
Understanding the analysis results
Reporting the results.
When you enter this phase of the program, you are nearing the end of the journey. Given the difficulty of this phase, one often wishes they had previewed what was to come.
Many Ph.D candidates seem to hit a brick wall and feel disarmed when called upon to work on the methods and results section of their dissertation.
This is the point where many students diligently search for help calling on their advisor, peers, university assistance and even Google.
This is also the time when the student asks themselves the question" HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH".
Surely no one will deny that having your dissertation written for you is very wrong.

On the other hand, it is not unusual for doctoral students to get help on specific aspects of their dissertation.(e.g. APA formatting and editing) It also is not unusual for advisors to encourage students to seek outside help.

If you are a distance learning student it is almost essential you seek outside assistance for the methods and results section of your dissertation. The very nature of distance learning suggest the need for not only outside help but help from someone gifted in explaining highly technical concepts in understandable language by telephone and e-mail.

Distance learning, and the availability of programs, has increased exponentially over the last few years with some of the most respected institutions (Columbia University, Engineering; Boston University and others) offering a Ph.D in a variety of fields. If you are enrolled in a distance learning program, or considering one, you will be interested in reviewing the reference sites listed at the bottom of this page.

As stated above, many students hit their dissertation "brick wall" when they encounter the statistics section. Frequently, a student will struggle for months with that section before they seek a consultant to help them. This often leads to additional tuition costs and missed graduation dates.

If I were to name a single reason why a PhD candidate gets off track in their program it is the statistics and their fear of statistics.

So, the question is whether or not it is ethical to get help at all. If so, how much help is too much.

I don't know if there has ever been a survey of dissertation committee members who were asked this question, however, I know many advisors take the following position when they suggest or approve outside help:

To a large extent the process is self controlling. If the student relies too much on a consultant, the product may look good, however, the student will be unable to defend his/her dissertation.

It takes a committed effort on the part of the student and the consultant (resulting in a collaborative/teaching exchange) to have the student responsible for the data and thoroughly understand the statistics. The day the student walks in front of the committee to defend, there should be no question as to his/her understanding of statistics.

When their defense is successful, the question of "was the help too much" is answered.

If you are a Ph.D candidate and would like additional information, you may email me at:


Reference sites:

Amy Lane said...

My life is so not exciting--I'm just a total drama queen.

But...I'd be VERY CURIOUS about sarcasm son--the one with the communication handicap is finally getting ham-handed sarcasm--but irony TOTALLY escapes him. Seriously--I offer him up as a test subject. Send him a questionaire, set up an e-interview (I've got the little photo thing on my computer...) I mean, he'd be PERFECT!!!