Sunday, May 19, 2013

Curiosity Killed the Dissertation

By the time you get to the dissertation stage of a doctoral program it’s probably safe to say that you love research and discovering new knowledge.  You develop a wonderful curiosity that causes you to want to know more about the details and intricacies of a particular subject matter.  It’s a beautiful thing that gets you through your doctoral program, but….that same curiosity is what can kill the dissertation.  

This is what it looks like: in good faith you sit down to read one of your landmark articles that seems to specifically address the big issues of your topic.  While you’re reading, the author references another author who brought up an even more interesting point.  Now you can’t let that resource get away!  So what do you do?  You open up your web browser on your computer and go to your library page to find that article so that you can “save it for later.”  

But no.  That is not to be. 

You get away from your original article and move to the next one that looks so much more intriguing.  Then while you read that one, the author references yet another thought-provoking, and of course, relevant article referenced (oh no!) who has an even more compelling point to share about your topic. 

Sigh…2 hours later…you just added another 10 articles to your reference list and never got through the first article that you sat down to read.  That’s a shame because guess what?  Your time’s up and you are now disappointed with yourself  because you know you have to get to your nephew’s 2 hour music recital where you better not even think about pulling out your laptop or iPad to try to read that article.   You can’t do that because you would imagine my mother saying "no sea mal educada" - translation, "don't be rude."

So you realize what you did – or didn’t do. You did not get to jot down those quotable notes you were hoping to incorporate into your dissertation.  And the cycle of self-loathing and frustration starts creeping up.  But how do you stop it? Is there a way?  I say yes!

Okay.  This is what I had to do to stop my curiosity from spiraling out of control.  I went to old fashioned pen and paper and SHUT DOWN THE COMPUTER!!!  It had to be done.  My curious nature cannot be trusted and I knew she would sabotage my tidy plan to read and analyze just that one or two articles that I projected would take 1 to 2 hours.   

Sometimes extreme measures need to be taken and you need discipline – not the fun kind like in 50 Shades of Grey, but the kind that needs to be self-inflicted to save that reading (and writing) time. The key is to find ways to stay focused even if you feel like a child being self-disciplined. Hey, you have to do whatever gets you PHINISHED!

Please feel free to comment and share any other ideas you have for developing good dissertation reading and writing discipline. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Galeria de Doctoras Latinas

We can never underestimate the power of mentorship and guidance from those who accomplish the goals to which we aspire. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I would like to feature some inspiring Latinas who have completed their doctorates, either recently or some time ago. They are proof that it is possible and that hard work and perseverance goes a long way. So please join me in congratulating Dr. Delmy Lendof, a very good friend and colleague who just completed her doctorate at Teachers College, Columbia University. Felicidades Doctora Lendof!!! Happy Mothers Day to all moms who want to be their best selves for their children. Yes, we can have it all!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Where Does Dissertation Motivation Come From?

Motivation to do anything can come from many sources.  To simplify, psychologists have come up with two kinds that I believe speak to what I have been thinking about in terms of where dissertation writing motivation is coming from for me: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation.  Ryan and Deci (2000) define intrinsic motivation as "the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfactions rather than for some separable consequence." They say that an intrinsically motivated person "is moved to act for the fun or challenge entailed rather than because of external prods, pressures, or rewards." Yeah right!  I wish I naturally enjoyed tedious hours of reading and analyzing scholarly articles.  Okay, maybe I do a little once I get started...but getting started is the problem.

Ryan and Deci (2000) then define extrinsic motivation as "a construct that pertains whenever an activity is done in order to attain some separable outcome." I think this one sounds more like me. Here is a link to the article by Ryan and Deci that provides further discussion on the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

To try to sort this out for myself and find out which one pulls at me more, I came up with a list of some of the reasons I want to finish this dissertation to earn the elusive doctorate (these are not in any particular order):
  • I want to finish this goal I set for myself
  • I want my family to be proud
  • I want my name to have the credentials attached
  • I want to position myself to advance in my career
  • I want to get the respect that having a doctorate gets you, especially with faculty and other academics
  • I want to add to the statistics of Latinas with doctoral degrees
  • I want to have a voice for all Latinas
What I discovered when reading this list was that a great deal of my own motivation seems to be mostly extrinsic. This means that I need outside motivators to not only keep me focused, but to give me the continual momentum to prioritize sitting down and doing the work even when other demands pull at me.   
After I made the list I realized that I should have added these to this list of reasons, which would tip my motivation to be more intrinsic:
  • I want to increase my knowledge about the topic I have selected
  • I want my research findings to contribute to the body of knowledge
  • I want to feel accomplished that I can conduct sound research 
Adding these and several others with more intrinsic motivational value might propel my actions.  Oh, if only that were true.  Another thing I learned about myself while making these lists and discovering that most of my motivation seems to be extrinsic - outside of myself - is that I need to use this to my advantage.

So what am I doing?  I am feeding my need for extrinsic motivation by creating things around me that constantly remind me about what I need to do.  I made little signs to post around my desk that post my name with the "Ph.D." at the end with 2 questions meant to be asked in the morning when I get up and at night before I go to sleep:  

AM - What am I going to do TODAY to make this happen? 
PM - What did I do TODAY to make this happen?

I always thought posting these kinds of printed affirmations were somewhat corny, but I can't tell you enough how much this visual reminder focuses me and gets me thinking and obsessing about my dissertation (in a good way of course).
Another thing I did was start this blog.  Since I first contemplated and wrote the words in my first post, which actually came some time before I officially posted, I have really stayed focused and have made some great strides.  I suddenly put out into the universe publicly that I was on this journey and I invited others to join me.  That meant that I had a responsibility to report back my progress and stay on track.

So here is what I did since I wrote my first post:
  1. I rewrote my introduction to be as clear as possible on what my topic is about.
  2. I categorized and organized the articles and books for my literature review into themes.
  3. I entered tons of references into my RefWorks online bibliography database.
  4. I updated my completion timeline to reflect the pace at which I plan on working in order to defend in the spring of 2014 and attend graduation in May 2014 (now the pressure is on!!!)   
I am proud of my progress and will continue to find ways to stay focused and keep my eyes on the "extrinsic" prize.  :)  One great way I want to stay motivated and share the inspiration is to invite some amazing Latinas who have recently (or not so recently) completed doctoral degrees to share their stories.  I will call this the "Galeria de Doctoras Latinas."  That section will be coming soon!

Now feel free to share with us what have you been doing to work on your doctorate and if already finished, please message me on LinkedIn if you want to be featured in the "Galeria."