Monday, July 12, 2010

Bolker? I barely know her!

So I enrolled in a "Dissertation Boot Camp" (really, just a writer's group), and Joan Bolker's How To Write Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day was the required reading.

I first picked up this page-turner when I enrolled last summer in the prospectus boot camp, but I only skimmed it at the time.  About a month ago I visited NY and saw that my friend Jo (herself earning an Ed. doctorate from Columbia) had the book too, so apparently it's pretty standard-issue.  Plus, I wanted to rally and really put in the effort for this boot camp.

The Cliff's Notes version (which I would title "How to Read Joan Bolker in Fifteen Minutes") wouldn't capture all of the advice (most of which, actually pretty useful) but here are my highlights:

- p. 8: What happens when you get stuck writing? How did it happen, when did it start? ... "maybe after a disappointing meeting with your advisor, or after you drank too much" (emphasis added).  First off, Joan Bolker, thank you for relating substance use to productivity and therefore drifting into my wheelhouse.  You just made the lit review!  Second, that can happen, and that will happen. And that's just real talk.  So I like that she's a realist.  Bolker, what!?!

- p. 47: "Don't waste words, write everything down ... even a glimmer of an idea, write it down." See this blog?  Check.  This is totally true though, because we all tend to forget things.  This happened in Mad Men to Paul once in a pretty good episode.

* As an aside, I love Mad Men and will probably make references/ongoing commentary in future blog-posts.  It'll be a little bit Simmons-style, but I hope we're okay with that.  Between Mad Men, Jersey Shore, and Starcraft 2 I'm a little bit worried about August.

... but back to Mad Men.  I'm not sure if that's the same episode where Paul and Peggy smoke weed, but I'm all about integrating substance abuse clips from popular shows into presentations (probably not papers—peer reviewed publications tend to hate on that, which is one way academia blows).  If Betty Draper picks up a benzedrine habit this season though, Mad Men is making my bibliography without hesitation.

- p. 84: [About writing]: "cultivate ruthlessness." Oh Bolker, you naughty ...

- p. 85: "Now is the time for saying no, guiltlessly ..."  Here that, homies?  In just Palo Alto bars, I can see myself pulling that card 327 times over the course of the year.

- p. 96:  Good quote.  "Be a blatant behaviorist and bribe yourself shamelessly."  This came up in boot camp too.  Incentives work for people.  Not me, I'm a hedonist—I indulge and then get to task.  Maybe that's a problem.

Working on: Could use about 10 more students (data collection).  Organizing files.  Avoiding jury duty.  Boot Camp assigned 20 pages of raw-writing.  Also going to San Diego for a bachelor party, let the Ron Burgundy references fly.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The first rule of my dissertation blog ...

... should probably be that there is no rules.  However, I've done this before and know better.  But welcome anyway, my name is Ross, I'm a Ph.D. student at UCLA and I'm about to embark on a year-long quest to complete my dissertation on collegiate substance abuse (tentative title: "Academic Performance Enhancement in Higher Education").  This is the beginning of me chronicling this process.

But you're probably not interested in mundane academic details, terminal degree hurdles, and other process-related bullshit that I will no doubt want to vent about publicly.

So why am I doing this blog?
Because writing is an iterative and reflective process, blah, blah, blah ... really, I'm probably not a big fan of writing in the traditional dissertation style endemic of empirical social science research.  Here I can curse, hyperlink to youtube clips of prank-fails and intense-looking-squirrels.  I just watched an episode of It's Always Sunny ... where they go to a frat and steal "Riterall" a hilarious fictional recombination of Ritalin and Adderall.  It likely won't make by bibliography, but it's going up here.  Plus I can curse.

What's your dissertation about?
Mostly use of prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall in higher education.  I interview dozens of college students about their licit and illicit use of any drug that they claim helps them with school, and look for ways that impacts their development or problematizes prior research on collegiate substance use.  ...  Sorry, that was the stodgy academic-speak.  Don't know what came over me.  I snapped into a trance, like Frank the Tank at the debate competition in Old School.  To blog-up the lingo, I study, like OMG, drugs and stuff.  LMFAO! ;)

Text speak? Emoticons? That's fucking corny, dude.
Too far.  Won't happen again.

What are the rules?
In a perfect world, there shouldn't be rules for blogging, but I need to focus this into something useful:

1. Everything on this blog must be related to the process of getting my dissy done.  This is very inclusive though.  That episode of Always Sunny?  Related.  The intro to "False Media" off The Roots' "Game Theory" album?  Related ("11,000,000 children all on Ritalin ...").  I predict my mom (who I will be living with in the interim) will be a frequent source of high-comedy.  She once wrote a dissertation, so she's on limits.  Anything about drugs—the drugs I'm studying, the drugs I'm not studying, it's related.  I like coffee.  I like beer.  Medications are everywhere.  Marijuana is "medical" ... all these things are fair game.

2. No parents, no advisor.  In terms of discovering this blog, I don't know which is worse.  I did a blog when I was teaching in Japan in 2003-04, and once my parents got divine wind of it, I wanted to commit hara-kiri.  This cannot happen again, I'm 29 years old.  Sure, this is a public blog, I'm sure my brothers will find out.  Let's just keep it on the QT from the 'rents and my advisor.

3. What you won't see: any identifying data about the subjects whom I interview.  Or anything else that violates IRB protocol.  IRB is the institutional review board that let's me conduct sensitive human subject research.  My study is approved, but I can't divulge some things about who these participants are.  You'll still see a lot, I assign pseudonyms and I'll be talking a lot about my data (very juicy! drug use!) in a few months.

Are you afraid that you daft wit and candor could inhibit your prospects as a faculty member or university administrator?
What are you, a lawyer?  Psshh, no.  I'm too old for sexting and too young to fear career suicide.  I've learned from past online snafus.  (Apologies again, Blair from high school—I'm sorry, but you shouldn't have let your ex-boyfriend scan those beach photos in the first place; also Occidental College—I'm sorry but that guy was acting like a douchebag, and I can't see how suspending student government was my fault if I had already graduated).

I know how to censor myself.  Besides, that's what Facebook is for.

What do you have so far, when will you finish?
I'm very stoked to have a manuscript in press (Journal of College Student Development, holla!), it's about 25 pages.  My dissertation proposal rounded out at around 80 pages.  This behemoth document will probably be around 300-400 pages.  I'm also fortunate enough to have received a fellowship that mandates I finish this academic year.  So I should be done by April/May.

... That's probably good enough for an opener.  I just wanted to establish the purpose of this and set a few ground rules.  That could change at anytime.