The big day is here!

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That’s the what the little counter on the side of this blog says: The big day is here! The countdown to my dissertation defense is over. Yesterday, I officially became a Doctor!

The defense went well I thought. Everything is always bigger in my mind than it is in real life, and this was no exception. I prepared a 25 minute presentation about my study that I tried to cut down to 20-22 minutes each time I practiced it. Anne-Lise wanted me to keep it to 20, so I was trying to be brief and not go into too much detail. I wanted to leave something for them to ask me about. I practiced it a bunch out loud to myself, to my cat, to Mike.  My defense started at 2, and by 1:00 I was restless and ready. Mike & I had driven to campus and I tried to do normal things to keep my mind off it– ran errands around Erickson, checked my email while eating lunch in my office, etc.

In addition to my committee, some colleagues and friends of mine were also there– Gerardo, Yuhan, and Sally. Mike was obviously there too. There was a funny moment when the committee told Mike he could ask questions at the end. He replied, “I will be keeping quiet.”

I started in on my presentation and almost immediately Anne Lise motioned to me that I was talking very fast. At that point, I stopped caring about the 20-25 minute time limit and just talked. Then, it was question time… I didn’t get any questions that I wasn’t expecting, and sometimes the questions were mostly comments about things I could revise. Every person preceded their comments with kinds words about the work I did on the study, which made me feel good. Everyone took their roles:

Cheryl had comments for me that were about the One Hen unit and about what I could do to write about it. She kept referring to idea for future writing, not necessarily revisions. Like, “When you publish articles on this…” etc. Peter had sent me his questions that morning, which was so nice. I had worked on some possible answers on the car ride over. Sure enough, every time he went to ask me a question I knew exactly what I would say. Kyle commented on the things in my paper that I knew he would comment on. At one point, he talked for a long time about Chapter 5 and then said, “Would you like to comment on that?” I was ready for his criticism this time, but it was also very helpful to hear it. Anne-Lise helped me with answers when she felt I needed it. It was strange, but as we were all talking I got NEW ideas about different angles to examine this experience and ideas about different pieces I could write about these data. That’s how I knew it was going well. It felt inspiring to chat about the study with all of them. It felt like the beginning, not the end.

I could help but yell in excitement when Anne-Lise came out of their deliberations to tell me congratulations. After that, it was a whirlwind of hugs, signing forms, and Anne-Lise telling me we would talk later about revisions. After they all left, Mike & I just hugged each other, alone in room 116A. We were both a bit teary-eyed. I have had 4 defenses in that room over 5 years–practicum defense, dissertation proposal defense, ANOTHER dissertation proposal defense, and then this one. After each of the others, I left feeling the weight of all of the work I had left to do, and to be honest, feeling the weight that I still hadn’t quite gotten it right. This time, I felt light as a feather.

We had a mini-celebration with Danny, who defended his dissertation right before mine, up in his advisor’s office. It was nice to cram in there with my friends and toast to our success. Then, we all went to El Azteco and split a few pitchers of margaritas. A last hurrah with my MSU crew. I’m not sure when we’ll all be together on the same day again, sadly.

defense celebration


I am writing this blog post the day after the defense, and I have to admit it feels a bit weird to not have anything to have to do tonight. Or tomorrow. I can take some time, but then I need to contemplate my next move. The big day was here…and now it’s gone.

My Baby’s All Grownsed Up

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As of 7 am this morning, I sent my dissertation to my committee. These last 72 hours have been a flurry of revising, editing, and reading this thing over and over and over again. It’s ready, it’s time.

I feel a little bit like a mom sending her kid off to Kindergarten for the first time. The kid is ready, but I am contemplating my own journey of raising her, reminiscing about where the time went, and feeling very anxious that she’ll have a good day, that she’ll be liked by other people, that’ll she’ll make a positive impression… Hitting Send this morning was like watching your child get out of the car in front of the school. Time for little One Hen to make her own way now…

Now, on to preparing for the defense. Only 13 days to go, and there is no time to rest. I am heading to campus today to watch my friend Selena defend her dissertation since I’ve never seen one done.  Best of luck to her! I bet at the point of the defense, she feels like her dissertation project is like sending her kid off to college. You might be a little sad, but mostly you just want him out of the house so you can enjoy yourself.

And it begins…

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After all of the excitement of travelling to Europe and back, starting my first day of TE 401, MSU vs. Boise St. football, and a Labor Day wedding, the first day of school for K-12 public education in Michigan seemed to arrive with little fanfare. It wasn’t until I was getting ready in the morning on Tuesday that I realized that I was going to my dissertation school and meeting the students that I will be working with to collect my data. It seemed to be such an afterthought to my busy August that I got nervous that  I was under-prepared somehow.

Turns out, I had forgotten that not a lot of learning (other than socialization and classroom culture) happens on the first day of school. We played a name game so I can remember everyone’s names (and I have them down now–remembering names is my specialty), and I helped them fill out their agendas and learn the signing in for hot or cold lunch (and really, all but 1 took hot lunch because it’s “free and reduced”), and gave a lot of handshakes and hugs. I had also forgotten how crazy the first day of school is–it’s been 4 years since I had a K-12 teacher version. We had a kid in the wrong room, some leave, some enter, confusion about which special class they had…all typical but I was exhausted. Day 2 was much easier–I was even able to explain to them why I was there and what we would be working on together over the next few months. It is really real now.

Believe it or not, after my first day with them I wasn’t finished. I left at noon to head to East Lansing for another meeting about my proposal. I reviewed all of the changes I had made over the summer with The Committee and they were really positive about my work. Describing all that I did this summer out loud made me realize that I actually did get a lot accomplished, and seemingly with a clear focus. I felt the most proud of myself about this–in the past, working at NHA had caused my brain to be split-focused and although that is feasibly possible to get through that way, I am glad I chose not to continue on like that. It was good validation that, so far, it appears that I have made the right choice by leaving NHA. These kiddos will need my undivided attention and I want to do their work, thoughts, and opinions justice in my writing by doing the best that I can.

The classroom teacher I’m working with had this posted by her desk and it made me smile:

I am going to practice being awesome this semester for sure. And I’m beginning it with a positive attitude and a readiness to move forward…



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Fall is getting closer. The official date for the beginning of my 2012-2013 school year is Aug 20 when I have meetings to prepare for my classes for the upcoming year. The Lions had their first preseason game. In just a little under 3 weeks I’ll be sitting at MSU’s first football game of the season. This means summer is nearly over and it’s time for me to reflect on what I have accomplished after 10 weeks of working NHA-free.

I spent a good portion of the last couple of weeks working on human subjects research approval. Since I am conducting research on minors (fifth-graders) and in a “power position” as their teacher, I have to submit my study to a third party review board at MSU called “IRB.”  They decide whether I’ve taken the necessary procedures to protect my research subjects and I have to wait to do anything on my study until I have their approval. As much of a chore this is (it’s mostly wordsmithing), it’s definitely necessary. By accident at the same time I was reading a book for fun called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, about a woman who was used as a research subject for cancer research without her (or her family’s) consent. Since her cells ended up being very important in several medical research breakthroughs, she was famous and in a sense exploited, to the detriment of her family after her death. This book made me think harder about the importance of ethical research, and I’m hoping to count it as time spent toward my RCR requirements this year. Every grad student at MSU must spent 2-5 hours a year doing work to improve our knowledge of Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) and ethical research practices. Maybe Henrietta’s story will count.

I highly recommend anyone read it, not just researchers. I’m by no means doing medical research, but the children in my study have rights that need to be protected as well, so IRB approval is important. I think I am very close to official approval–I am waiting on the official documents which should be arriving today according to my case manager at IRB. My study was deemed “exempt”, which essentially means it’s not very intrusive into the lives of the children (the study is happening at school during their regular instruction–they don’t have to do anything too special other than what they would normally do at school). Not like collecting cells.

I also made a very-nearly-final revision of my dissertation proposal and then summarized my changes for my committee. I am hoping to meet with them in the next couple of weeks to explain all the work I have done this summer. It feels good to be very nearly done with the proposal. Come fall, I’ll be focusing on the “real thing” and I can put the proposal to bed officially.

With my IRB approval coming any minute, my dissertation proposal finished, and the new school year beginning in one week, I have one thing on my mind to finish the summer–grading. My online class ends this week and I have a ton of things to grade, so that is my singular focus until Aug 20 before my life gets insanely busy. Yes, fall is coming very soon. Even the rainy and cold weather is reminding me…


The Committee

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I started reading “Write Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day” by Joan Bolker in hopes that it would offer magical secrets about how I can get away with only doing 15 minutes of work a day. Not so much– turns out the title was only an attention-grabbing ploy to sell books! Who would have thought? Nonetheless, this book is pretty good, and I plan to read it in pieces as I move through the stages of writing as a form of “dissertation therapy”. There is a whole chapter about how to choose a good dissertation committee, which I believe I have already done, so I thought I’d write about them.


“The Committee” is made up of four faculty members at MSU. Their function is to guide me in “The Proposal” stage and then again at my “Defense” a year from now. I chose these four people myself because I have worked with them these past four years at MSU and they have similar research interests as I do and expertise in my topic.

Anne-Lise is my advisor and my Dissertation Director. She’s the lucky one that gets to read a million drafts of my work and be closer to my project than the other members of The Committee. Her expertise is elementary social studies, which is why she’s my advisor in the first place. Not to mention she’s very smart, ambitious, organized, and driven like I am. Well, she’s much more of all of these things than I am. 

Kyle is the member of my committee that pushes me to think about things in other ways, which is why I need his views on my committee. His expertise is secondary social studies and I have worked with him all year with field instructing interns. Peter has the expertise in qualitative methods– I took a great class with him my first year and learned a lot from him about the kind of research I want to do. Cheryl is the literacy professor I worked with teaching the ELA methods course. I only got to know her this year, but I have learned a lot from her already and she brings more expertise in elementary instruction in general.

I think my committee is a very supportive group, which Bolker says is necessary. She gives a lot of horror stories in one chapter about horrible advisers and committee members, and I was relieved to reflect on the fact that this is not the case for me. I like that 3 out of 4 committee members love college basketball and other sports as much as I do (and who knows, Cheryl might too– we’ve never talked about it!). I’ve worked closely with them, and they’ve worked closely with each other, so there’s a friendly, caring vibe to the group. This is good–I’ll definitely need it.

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