Monday, August 10, 2015

Academic struggles in the summer...

It's been yet again a long time since I posted.  A few of my in-laws were visiting for all of July; we spent a lot of time in the car going here, there, and everywhere.  Kids didn't go to day care.  We had a lot of fun; of course, it wasn't always easy having a full house, but great memories were made.   Now, here I am, two weeks after everyone has left, and I'm struggling.  I thought that I would be so motivated to get back in the swing of things last week.  Did that happen? Nope.  I've also been somewhat paralyzed by frustrations I've had with my dissertation.  I still need to get a few more interviews done, and no one is responding.  I'm not too surprised, after all, it's summer, and I know many of these people travel quite a bit anyways.  However, I've made embarrassingly little progress with transcribing, and very little progress with other aspects of the work.  I've also been distracted by other projects I took on for the summer--one for pay, although I haven't been able to do many hours for that, either, and one which was intended to help me produce a publishable paper.  But alas, these things have distracted me from my dissertation.  

I'm also struggling on this fine Monday with other things.  I feel a bit down because I miss my kids.  Not the traditional mom guilt, but I would rather be spending time with them. In summers past, they would just go to day care maybe 2 days per week, and I would plan fun activities for them the remaining days.  Although they didn't go to day care all of July, they've been going full time since everyone left.  I guess part of the issue is that we barely have the money to send them this month, and I feel partly guilty that I'm not making as much progress as I had hoped.  Nevertheless, I'm nostalgic about those 2 past summers, and the summer is almost over.  

I reckon that I'm not the only one out there who feels this way.  All this is compounded by the sinking feeling that I need to get all this stuff done so that I can finish this PhD, but I'm not too excited about what might lie ahead.  Ever have thoughts about jumping ship?  I would have to bet that I'm not the only one out there feeling this way.  Family members keep encouraging me to press on and I try to keep a positive outlook, but it's not always easy.

I don't know if anyone reads this, and I don't intend to be discouraging.  I guess this blog is also an outlet for me to be real, because so many people are afraid to be honest with themselves and others in the world of academe.  Someone asked me recently what my plan was to get back on track and finish.  I said that I was just taking things one day at a time, trying to do various tasks here and there, but I'd rather be at the playground or the museum with my kids (I didn't say that last part :)).  I guess I need to take things one day at a time, and also make the most out of the time that is left of the summer.  Because here in the North, as August becomes September, we know that we are in for those 2 nasty four letter words soon-- COLD and SNOW!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Confessions of reality

Forewarning:  this is probably not the most positive post....

In my former professional life, I had a client who used to say that everything was "useless."  I find myself feeling the same way lately.  Working on the dissertation can involve so  many mood swings-- great days when you feel productive; you have a number of interviews lined up in the coming weeks and/or you had great conversations with potential interviewees.  And, then there are times when you are going through a "Valley of Sh*t" (look on The Thesis Whisperer website for this article-- so true).  I have to admit that there have been more valleys than mountains lately for me.  Plus, it is the last week of the semester; the grading is piled high and I haven't even begun to tackle it yet.  Not to mention, I haven't been feeling well all week, so yeah, that puts a damper on things.  Also, if you've watched or read the news at all this week, you know that there have been many new tragedies on top of protracted ones (like the crisis in the Middle East).  These things just make me feel like I should have stuck with my "former" life so that I could have been fully involved in advocacy and service work. 

The other thing I must confess is that I've been grappling with that green eyed monster-- jealousy.  This is something that graduate students don't really talk about too openly.  However, I believe that the first step in trying to break free of an emotion that is paralyzing is to admit it.  I've known a number of people recently who obtained a decent amount of funding, both internal and external to my school, and all of them are around the same point as me in the program.  Truth be told, there isn't enough funding to go around (whether it be internal or external), and not everyone is eligible to apply for every grant.  Nevertheless, the constant stream of this news lately has just made me feel like everything I am doing is useless.

As a person of faith, I know deep down that is not true, and I know things could be worse.  Nevertheless, maybe the fact that I've been sick this week wasn't a coincidence, and I just needed somewhat of a break, despite the pile of work that encircles me.  Or, maybe it's just procrastination out of burn out, imposter syndrome, or something else. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The qualitative dissertation-issues that people don't talk about too much

I've been wanting to write this post for a while now, and like many things, it had to be put off.  However, I feel that I need to write this now, mostly to make myself feel a little bit better.

Everyone knows that qualitative research has its advantages and disadvantages.  However, in all my moments of discouragement and  fishing around for articles/blogs online, I rarely see frustrations with the data collection phase discussed.

Some points, framed a bit like giving advice [but also in a way to communicate some of my experiences]:

If a substantial amount of your data is going to come from interviews, even if you have strong contacts with your target population, the recruitment process can be slow. People are busy.  If you teach or work another job, your work schedule might conflict with the time(s) that people are available to schedule the interview(s).  Some people will prefer an in-person interview; they might live far enough away to make you have to put off the interview indefinitely until you have a big enough window in your work schedule.  You might have to send several follow up e-mails before a potential interviewee responds; they might be traveling or might have just missed your e-mail because they get so many others (like so many of us these days!).  As previously mentioned, even if you have connections with your target population, you might need to meet a number of people in person and conduct those interviews before people are comfortable enough to help you in the process of "snowball sampling."  This whole initial "start up" process can take months, especially, as mentioned above, if your population is scattered geographically.

You will have ups and downs.  You might have several people express interest in a short amount of time.  You might think, "Yes! I am going to have at least a half dozen interviews within the next few weeks."  Well, half of the people who agreed to be interviewed might not get back to repeated follow up e-mails or even phone messages (again, see above comment about people being busy).  Your project is definitely not high on everyone's list of priorities.  You might even schedule an interview with someone and they will be  a "no show" and not respond to follow up contacts.  It happens, and you need to move on (ok, I am really speaking to myself here, but I am *hoping* others can relate).  On the other hand, you will definitely be inspired by your interviewees as they share their viewpoints and experiences, especially if your project has more of a phenomenological focus.

You might either be encouraged or frustrated if you speak with other dissertating individuals who have done this type of research.  Some might tell you that they reached the magic number of 40 interviews within two semesters.  You might fret because it might just take you two full semesters and a summer or more to get that far.  No two projects are the same; you have to consider some of the issues mentioned above as well as the topic of your dissertation.  Some topics are more sensitive than others and thus require the building of more trust with key members of the community.

To those of you who read this blog (first, thanks so much for reading!)- if you have done qualitative, interview-based research in the past, have you faced similar issues with the recruitment process?  I ask this as I continue to send out letters.  Also, have you tried doing follow-up phone calls if  you had a phone number for the person/organization?  I have tried to avoid this unless the person gave me their number directly or told me to call, but I am thinking that I will have to do this more in the future.

Thank you!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Wow.  It's been a while since I've posted.  Holidays and a trip to visit family happened.  Tons of snow days and vacations days passed, oh yeah, and some sick days too (ugh).  I knew that things would be generally slow for my dissertation due to the holidays and the crazy weather, but of course, things have been going a bit slower than I had hoped.  Recruiting for qualitative research is definitely a process, and that process isn't always as streamlined as originally planned.

I have to say that despite trying to keep a positive attitude since the onset of this semester, I've been feeling a bit melancholy.  I guess reading articles and message boards about the bleak academic job market hasn't helped.  Yes, that along with the slow pace of research and constant set backs from sicknesses, the weather, and regularly scheduled school vacations and professional development days.  Of course, I am also teaching this semester, and at times I've had to really psych myself up more than usual.  I think my students are feeling it too-- it's just been a tough winter (of course, this isn't an excuse for some of the seemingly minute yet still obvious disrespect in the classroom-- eyerolling, lack of participation, packing up 10 minutes before the end of class, etc., but that is a rant for another time).  I'm having to remind myself that I really have to take things one day at a time and make my work a priority, although many days lately, I'm dragging.

That being said, I am actually grateful for last week's school vacation, when we were able to do some fun activities as a family and my husband and I were each able to have some fun one-on-one time with my son.  I heard that song "Beautiful Boy" by John Lennon later last week; I've been thinking of all these things and getting emotional.  There are days when I wish I could just focus my attention 100% on my kids without all this other stuff hanging over my head (i.e., all those papers I wish that I had finished grading already).   I often have such a hard time being fully "present" even when I am with them.  As Lent began last week, I really wish I had the strength to say, "I'm not going to check my phone repeatedly in the evenings, especially since I refuse to respond to student emails after a certain time anyways and especially since the lives of my Facebook friends are nowhere near as important as this time I get with my kids".  Maybe despite this addictive habit, I need to just make a conscious decision not to do it.  

I find that lately, as is the case for many of us in this information age, I feel overloaded by often unnecessary information rather than focusing on what matters.  Sometimes I think that getting  iphones was one of the worst things that happened in our household.  Yes, it has been helpful on many occasions, but we have succumbed to this norm of always having to have a device in hand, "checking" things.  I sometimes try to rationalize and say that I will try to look up articles for my dissertation on my phone, but I always meander to Facebook, Twitter, or some mindless game. 
As I write this stream of consciousnesses, maybe instead of flip flopping about a change I would like to make for Lent, I should just DECIDE to take a sabbatical from Facebook, or from using my phone at a certain time of day.  Yes, I have been having an issue with other things lately that I would like to change, such as eating too much chocolate.  However, trying to make a change for the better isn't always about making a change that is easy. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

That moment when...

That moment when you feel blanketed by imposter syndrome as you read about another Ph.D. candidate you know who published yet another paper; you know that you have at least two papers you could revise and submit to journals, but you can never seem to find the time for various and often obvious reasons...

That moment when you decide to look up job openings; you find a listing for a position at a nearby school.  They are looking for someone who specializes in the areas that YOU actually specialize in (both in terms of experience with classes you've taught, and the subfields integrated within your dissertation).  Big downer-- you would have to have Ph.D. in hand by Fall 2015.  Oh well.

That moment when you have a mixture of emotions about all these things, because you have an incomplete paper draft hanging over your head; a dozen papers and presentations that need to be graded before Christmas; you just want to take a break and enjoy your family.  Oh wait, you actually DID end up taking the last couple of days to run a ton of errands, but you still need to clean the insane mess of your house before family comes over next week.

That moment when you finally just say--  I need to take it one day at a time, and just try to set these goals-- for after the first of the year.  I'm just going to do what needs to be done and enjoy this Christmas and New Year!  I'm going to enjoy making new memories with my family, because that is important.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Reflections on the balancing act this past semester

Well, the semester isn't quite over yet, and it won't be fully over until I submit grades for my weekend class sometime in the first week of January.  Nevertheless, some reflections on the balancing act that I had to manage over the past 3 months or so:

--Teaching an 8 a.m. class definitely has its own set of challenges.

-- I enjoyed teaching on Saturday much more than I thought I would; I enjoy teaching "non-traditional" students; in some ways, more so than teaching "traditional" students.  However, I missed having full weekends throughout this semester.  I feel like I'm always working or my mind is always going, and I've often had a difficult time being intentional when I am with my kids.  Also, I haven't  liked the fact that my husband will often just sit the kids in front of the TV for the majority of the time that I am gone on Saturdays.  I know that he's had his own kind of balancing act with teaching, yard work, etc., but I often wish that he would be more intentional of taking the kids out or doing something active, even if it was just for 1 or 2 Saturdays.  I have sometimes thought, what would he have thought if I had barely taken the kids out all summer?  Anyways...

-- I have realized that for the past few semesters, I have had a teaching load that is the equivalent of a full time load at many universities.  Of course, as an adjunct, I don't get the same compensation as a full time instructor.  In addition to this full time load, I have had to balance  work on my dissertation and a separate research project, for which I am now drafting an article with my adviser.  I know that the latter two have suffered at the expense of my teaching load.  Not to mention, I ended up getting very sick within the last month, and that further slowed me down.  Clearly, my weakened immune system is probably the result of the intersection of all these factors.

-- As I've mentioned before, I have been continually frustrated by this imbalance.  I have made some progress on my dissertation, but I can't help but wonder how much more I would have done if I had a lesser teaching load, or if I could get some fancy funding to just focus on my research.  I haven't yet been able to find the latter.  Also, I have to admit that sometimes I have been jealous of those who are able to make more progress for any number of factors:  the ability to work on campus and get tuition remission; lower child care expenses due to the proximity of family; etc. 

-- Overall, I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had this semester, because I have learned more about myself and I have gained new skills.  I don't know if we would have been able to swing it financially if I didn't acquire those classes.  Nevertheless, regardless of what happens next semester, I need to find a way to make it work so that I can focus on my dissertation.

-- Despite all this, I still sometimes wonder if this is all worth it.  I do have a case of imposter syndrome, and I scoff at those who feel they aren't good enough when they either done or mostly done with their dissertation and they have a decent list of publications to go along with it.  Then, I have to remember that I can't always compare myself with others, even those who have kids.  I just have to take things one day at a time, and try to nip the procrastination bug in the bud (not so easy today on Cyber Monday! Not to mention...writing this is a bit of an outgrowth of procrastination.)

To be continued (hopefully the next few weeks won't be too bad; I'll get my paper draft done; I'll get in touch with a couple more people for interviews; I'll be able to enjoy the many Christmas festivities ahead.)...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Semester and seasons (of the year, and of life in general)

Last week, I posted about one of the most obvious and often problematic issues that all of us deal with-- time management.  Undoubtedly, I have a ton of tasks to complete today, especially since it is the day after a long weekend.  However, I wanted to take some time to reflect a little more on this issue, since I often find this reflection time to be therapeutic in that it helps me to place this whole issue, which often seems overbearing, into perspective.

Many moms in particular might be familiar with the site "Hands Free Mama."  I love her posts, and I am often moved by her writing.  I read over the following post today:

I am often guilty of always feeling like I have to multi-task as stated in this post.  I often find it hard, even on this past long weekend, to be fully present when my kids are talking to me or when they want me to play with them.  I don't have to be glancing at my phone to not be fully present-- so much is always swirling in my head about the different tasks that I have to accomplish over the next week or even just what I have to get done next.  To be honest, I don't like it when I cannot be fully present in the moment.  I got thinking on this train of thought late last night, and I randomly remembered (might I add this is not the first time I've thought about this) that I had barely  (and I mean, *really* barely) written anything in my son's baby book.  My mom had bought this for me as a shower gift with good intentions, but I just never got around to entering stuff even though I had every intention of doing so.  Could I blame grad school?  Maybe, but of course, life just got in the way and I never made the time to do it.  My son is now in preschool, and I still think of all the things that I could have, should have written down.  I googled "never filled out baby book" and encountered many other guilty moms with similar sentiments. 

Even after mulling over this for the umpteenth time, I think about the motto communicated in the Hands Free Mama post-- keep it simple.  In this day and age, we are privileged with technology to help us remember those key moments-- smartphones, video cameras, social media sites, etc, have helped us to chronicle our children's lives in a way that our parents couldn't.  Why sweat it?  Just try to be present in the moment right now with our children.  We could spend hours filling out a baby book but not enough time being fully present.  I also read an article on Babycenter about writing a letter to your child every year on their birthday to reflect on the previous year.  Honestly, this is a great practice that I would love to take up from hear on out, but I'm going to try not to stress if I don't follow through in the way that I had originally hoped. 

As I try to keep following this stream of consciousness as I write this post, I want to connect the motto of the Hands Free Mama post to the title of this post-- "Semester and Seasons."  Inevitably, as a grad student and/or one who teaches at any level, the seasons of the year are often marked by semesters (or quarters, depending on the system your school uses).  In the northern U.S., "Fall" semester is marked by the changing leaves in all their colorful grandeur, and the gradual cooling temperatures (unless, of course, you live in New England, which likes to constantly go back and forth....grr.).  The start of the Fall semester often indicates an end to summer, even though the official calendar and the overall weather often doesn't line up with this.  The end of the Fall signifies holiday break; unfortunately, Spring does not begin with the onset of the Spring semester (unless you live in parts of the South/Southwest, your weather might be more like the Spring of the North).  Yes, we all know this stuff, but what I'm trying set the stage for is that the changes across and within semesters along with the changes across and within seasons can often color our lives in general-- not only as students and instructors, but also our overall lives.  Our moods might be impacted as the semesters and the seasons ebb and flow.  Already this semester, I have often reflected on how I miss the summer; I've communicated this to my kids.  Although I couldn't get much work done in the summer and was sometimes frustrated by this, I miss those key moments with my kids.  Yes, I would sometimes get frustrated with them, and I was often tired, but those memories are golden.  I  can still make those times with my kids.  I don't have to reserve those times for periods when I just can't get child care, I'm not teaching as much, etc.  I ended up putting a stop button on work this weekend so that we could make some Fall memories.  I need to put a stop button on multi-tasking sometimes without feeling guilty-- after all, we are not robots (I've probably said that before). 

I also reflect on the need for more boundaries as an instructor.  I had a student e-mail me the same note twice this weekend.  I didn't respond for a few reasons.  I had previously communicated to students to give me at least 48 hours to respond to e-mails.  I've reflected on articles and blog posts by other professors who have set limits on student e-mails, precisely to keep a work-life balance.  When I was an undergrad, this would have never been an issue, because e-mail wasn't as prevalent then.  If we had a question, especially about an assignment, we had to plan ahead and speak with the instructor in person.  We need time to enjoy the seasons, too, and we shouldn't have to feel guilty about it.  We have responsibilities outside of school too, just like the large majority of our students do.  Of course, I am often put off by students' persistence despite some of the boundaries that I've tried to set, but I need to try to not let that influence how I experience the connected moments which translate into the seasons of life with my family.

I guess this post was a bit of a ramble as I was trying to connect various thoughts that I've had in the past few days.  Now that I tried to get all of that out in a semi-organized fashion, I need to concentrate on the tasks at hand.  I am going to try to  have a positive perspective on the rest of the semester and the changing seasons ahead; in the process, I want to be more purposeful in being focused on my kids when I am with them to make memories for each season.  Also, I want to have a better outlook so that I can make a positive impact on my students as well; so I am not as frustrated because I don't have an adequate work-life balance.  In addition, I want to approach my dissertation research and writing with optimism; as I mentioned in my last post, I want to continue to give it first place in my work life, regardless of the shifts in the semesters and seasons.  Everything has its place and time, but each aspect of our lives needs to have its rightful place; we are the only ones who can honestly determine if every aspects of our lives is receiving its rightful place.