ADVISOR, WTF R U DOIN

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A member of my family graduated from high school last Monday, and so I trekked home to see her graduate.  I met with my advisor the Wednesday before the trek.  Our goal was to distribute my dissertation by last Friday, because I have to defend by a certain date and distributing then would’ve enabled me to have a lot of flexibility in that date.  My advisor said that he would send me the feedback he had on my dissertation that Friday – I think it was 5/14 – and that I would get my edits back to him by the beginning of the following week so that I could distribute 5/23.  This would’ve been totally doable.

Instead, an entire two weeks went by in which not only did I not get any feedback from my advisor, I also heard absolutely zero from him despite trying to contact him at least twice during the time I was gone.  I had tons of downtime to do what I needed to do on this dissertation in the time.

I didn’t hear from him until this morning – ironically, the day I came back, the day I was planning to show up at his office and be like “Yo Sponsor, wtf are you doin?!”  He apologized for the delay.  STILL NO EDITS.  I meet with him tomorrow morning to get his feedback.  He says he thinks I can have it done in two days and distribute but that has made me late, so I have to hope to god that 1) my committee is very available and open and/or 2) that the DGS of my department will allow flexibility of a few days (here at My U you have to distribute a certain number of days before your defense, which means they won’t schedule a defense before distribution + X days.  It’s really an excessive amount of time and not all departments follow the rules, but ours does).

OH MY GOD, a full draft.

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AWOL again, and for a whole month!  I know, I know.  I keep thinking about this blog, but every time I think about updating I keep thinking, well, I could be spending the time updating on working on my dissertation!

I made a serious breakthrough, both in a conventional sense and in a mental space-sense.  The conventional one is that I have a complete manuscript of all 5 chapters of my dissertation.  YES.  It’s in pieces – in 5 separate Word documents, for right now, imported from Scrivener (opens in a new tab/window).  But it’s still complete.  There’s only one connective piece I need to put in, which is that I have to insert my hypotheses and the conceptual model for them somewhere, and I am not quite sure where to do that.  (It’s either at the end of the literature review, or the beginning of the methods.  I’m leaning towards beginning of the methods section).  My task right now is editing it and compiling into a Word document.

This is more time-consuming and difficult than it might sound.  The reason is because I want my Word document to be useful, if that makes sense.  I’ve gotten Word document copies of friends’ dissertations to use as a reference, and they are behemoths.  My dissertation is, at present, about 110 pages; when I add the section on hypotheses & conceptual model and format it with all of the front matter, it’ll probably be closer to 120.  And that’s not including the references and appendices.  Nobody wants to scrollscrollscroll through all that.  I know that my examiners/committee will want hard copies (UGH) but I am also taking it upon myself to try to make the Word document more easily navigable, for editing purposes as well.  So, for example, I am inserting bookmarks at the beginning of every section.  I am also formatting the headings so that I can auto-generate a table of contents when I’m ready (more about that in a separate post on tools).  I’m planning to link to each bookmark from the table of contents.  That way you don’t have to scroll if you want to read one section!

I’m also editing it, which you could understand why that might take a while.  My advice for writing is totally different than what I might have said 6 years ago.  I was the ever-careful writer, editing as I went along, stopping myself ever so often to insert a better worded sentence.  Not so anymore!  Now, I just write.  That is my philosophy.  In fact, I wrote it on a white board behind my monitor until I got the hang of it.  Writing is at least 50% rewriting/editing/revising; you can find a better way to say it later, but it’s best to just get it on the damn paper.  That said, I have many more typos, spelling errors, and structural errors than I would’ve had in a first draft from 6 years ago.

(Well, perhaps it evened out – I am also a much better writer than I was 6 years ago.  So there would be fewer of those errors overall, but I’m more likely to let them slip in the first draft.)

The second breakthrough that happened is that I started to like the process of writing my dissertation and thinking about research.

My doctoral program occurred kind of like a dip, or a parabolic curve.  Years 1 and 2 were pretty good.  During years 3 and 4, I entered a progressively worse depression and frustrating period.  I began to emerge out of that in year 5, and year 6 has overall been pretty good.  During years 3 and 4, I lost a lot of love for – well, a lot of things, but research and writing being two of them.  I began to wonder why anyone would want to do this for the rest of their lives, and formulated an exit plan from academia and perhaps research in general.  It was hard to remember why I had entered a PhD program.

Year 5 helped me emerge from the depression in a more personal way.  I got married, and I reconnected to my friends.  I started exercising and eating more healthily and overall just spending more time on my personal development.  I think I had hit the pavement a bit too hard in my first two years, and got burned out quickly.  Year 6 was spent reconnecting to myself as a scholar, and I rediscovered my love for research and writing.  I actually really mostly enjoyed writing my dissertation – even the data analysis and the literature review.  Yes, it was an intensely independent act of scholarship, but that was the best part of it.  I love working with other people, but this is a project that is largely my own.  I was able to dig into some topics I really love and read widely about the background of them.  I taught myself some important skills and concepts – all the way from theoretical foundations of the early part of my field to new statistical techniques to how to create a freaking table of contents in Word the right way.

So one of the most useful things about this project is that it taught me how to love research and writing again, and to look forward to a career as an academic and/or researcher.  A lot of people say that their dissertation years were some of the darkest, but I have to come out and say that they can be some of the most enjoyable depending on your outlook.

Sometimes this is actually kind of cool. Sometimes.

 

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If nothing else, my dissertation research experience has helped me explore new avenues of research and gotten me interested in a lot of different areas and research agendas.  I have questions that could last an entire career.

I’m in the process of writing my literature review right now – a long, tedious process that’s also pretty enjoyable when it’s not excruciating.  It’s kind of like studying for quals on steroids.  I get to read all of these really interesting books, chapters, and articles that are directly connected to my research and think about the ways in which researchers before me conceptualized of my problem.  I get to also see what kinds of research they deemed necessary for stepping forward, and see how my research and my future ideas fit into that niche.

It’s really kind of a cool process, when it’s not horribly frustrating and slow and recursive.  I really thought that writing this was going to be a somewhat linear process.  Four sections, bang ’em out, boom.  HA!  It’s not.

Oh Model. Why won’t you work.

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So…my models aren’t working out the way that I want them to.  I proposed a statistical mediation model and my X isn’t even preducting my Y, much less being related through an M between the two of them.

 I know this doesn’t mean I won’t graduate (lol) but I am a bit bummed because it’ll be harder to get any publishable articles out of this.  I also need to explore some alternate stuff.  I started exploring the relationship between the M and the Y and there’s none of that, either.  I still haven’t looked at a fourth variable I’m interested in – there may be some stuff there, and I plan to explore it a little tomorrow morning and Friday – but jeez, it’s a bit depressing.

I’m also sick now, so of course I didn’t feel like doing anything today besides listlessly clicking through websites and shit.

WTF

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Question 1: Can I still graduate if I don’t have significant results?!

Question 2: WTF is this nonsense?  I have a statistical program that can do what I need to do but it’s brand new to me, and so I wanted to cross-check my work with a program I already know how to use (and for which my advisor provided syntax).  When I go to try to run it I realize that I need an advanced models add-on.  The add-on is $600!  On a program that by itself costs $200 for the student version and close to $1000 for the corporate/university version.

The geekery surrounding Stata continues.

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Today I’m teaching myself to use Stata 13 SEM commands.  Generally in Stata I use the command syntax, because it’s faster and easier and I understand it.  They’re also very very simple (compared to SAS’s wtf command lines, which don’t make sense to me).

I started out learning how to do a simple mediation with the sem command and then a multilevel mediation with the gsem command.  Easy!

But Stata also has a graphical SEM builder.  Their documentation is SO handy, it tells you how to use it step by step.  Not only did I get the same results, but I also get a nifty diagram with the coefficients on it:

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Which is fucking amazing.  I wonder if I can get it to flag my significant paths?  All of the paths in this diagram are significant, so maybe they just don’t show nonsignificant ones.

(This isn’t my dissertation data, btw; Stata has freely available datasets on their website that you can use to learn the techniques.  The best thing is that Stata can automatically download these datasets, so you don’t have to poke around looking for them.  You just type “use [url here]” and it GETS it for you.)

As for the lesson in this, I realized today that what takes a dissertation so fucking long isn’t the actual process of data analysis and writing.  That part is relatively easy.  It’s the learning.  I’m going to write a full post on this later, but the dissertation process is simply an alternative way of learning something – different from taking a class, kind of akin to taking comprehensive exams.  It’s struggling through the shit you don’t know that takes the longest amount of time.)

Grrr (recoding and cleaning)

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For those of you who may be humanities scholars and/or don’t deal with datasets often, “data cleaning” is really just the weird misnomer quant scientists use for prepping the data.  Sometimes we have data that needs to be coded into groups, so we use statistical software to do that; sometimes we need to clean up the way the data is already coded, which was what my problem was today.  Data cleaning is the most tedious and usually the longest process when preparing to analyze data; I’d wager that as far as analyses go, quant grad students spend about 2/3 of their analysis time cleaning data and about 1/3 doing actual analyses.  (Of course, this varies depending on how complex your data is.

One of the things I hate is when I sit down to do some data work after I thought I cleaned my data and realize that there’s still a lot of cleaning and recoding to do.  It’s inevitable, of course; you always find that there’s something wrong or something you forgot to do once you begin to actually manipulate the data.  My goal today was just to explore my main variables, look at distributions and bivariate relationships (relationships between two variables, like race and age or race and scores on some measure) before moving on to constructing my model.  Of course, I found issues before I could do that.

First, I hate when scales are scored in nonsensical ways.  Let’s say that I have a score called “Skill at Underwater Basketweaving.”  I want higher scores on that scale to reflect more skill in underwater basketweaving.  I don’t want higher scores to be LESS skill, because that’s confusing.  Unfortunately I found out that three of my scales were scored that way (WTF?  In my defense, I did not score them myself).  I found out when I went to run bivariate correlations and found weird negative correlations I didn’t expect.  I don’t know if they were intended to be that way or if they were entered wrong in the survey, but I reverse scored them so that higher scores meant higher amounts of the thing the score measures.

Luckily I was using Stata (a statistical software package) which I have to say is awesome.  I just started using it – in the past I did all my data management in SPSS and then most of my analyses with SAS (both also statistical software packages), but Stata has an SEM package (the kind of analysis I am using in my dissertation) included in it now and so I was able to get my hands on it.  I imported the data into Stata – mostly clean data already – and when I found issues, it was so much faster to fix them in Stata.  Even just moving variables around was faster, although that’s likely because in Stata I am far more likely to look up the syntax to do something (and then fuck it up 4 times in a row, burning into my mind how to do it correctly*).

Then I started playing around with demographics to see if there are important differences between groups. I don’t want there to be differences between my groups because I am doing within-person analyses for my dissertation – I want to see if people change within themselves over time, and I’m not yet really interested in the differences between groups of people.  I am especially not interested – yet – in differences based on demographics, so thankfully I found on important indicators there don’t seem to be differences in the variables I am interested in.  I forgot to look at two particularly important variables, though, so I will save those for tomorrow.

So I did get something done today.  Yay!

WordPress.com has been really slow lately.  I’ll type something and it takes several seconds to show up.  It’s annoying!

*As a side note, this is the way I learn statistics and/or a new software program, and in my opinion the best way.  You sit down with a dataset, and you do stuff to it.  You fuck up multiple times, and then you learn not to do that dumb shit again.  I recall syntax so much better when I’ve typed it slightly wrong 5 times in a row before getting it right (fucking capitals, how do they work) than I do when I just copy and alter it.