The Qualifying Paper: Learning By Doing

Since hindsight is 20/20, I figured I'd lay out some advice on things to think about as you're rounding you're going into your third year and starting the qualifying paper process.  Things that I wish I realized and leaned more on or used to better effect when I was going through the qualifying paper process.

CN Cabin D in Toronto, ON in September 1979

Figure out your approach

The first is just recognizing and learning about myself that I am definitely Camp Accordion.  What is  Camp Accordion, you ask?  Why, yes I'm happy to explain!  A cohort member invoked a quote (she didn't recall it exactly but I was familiar with it) to which the basic premise is that the shorter something needs to be, the longer amount of time I need.  The full concept of the quote is explained here.  This is especially true for my writing.  I can write, sure, but it takes time to write concisely and the Qualifying Paper needs to be concise.  With this in mind, I realized that I need to say ALL THE THINGS before I can really figure out what I am going to say (or write).  Thus, while the QP should be 30-40 pages, I'm landing somewhere in the 70-page area on my first run.  And while many of us are in the "more is good", the reality is less is better (assuming it is reduced to the essentials as opposed to not building enough).  The problem is that I've only recently realized that this is my approach and was not able to take that into consideration with the development of my QP.  But if you find yourself in Camp Accordion, what does that mean for producing the Qualifying Paper or any paper for that matter.  It means you need a serious rough draft weeks in advance (I got it done days in advance).  

Get knowledgeable advisors--more than one

I happened to be in the circumstance wherein the instructor of the course was also my advisor.  Thus, while many others got feedback from the instructor and their advisor, I only got one set of feedback.  I realized this late in the game--with just two weeks to spare and asked a faculty member who I talk with a lot to see if he was agreeable to giving feedback.  I should have been doing this earlier and encourage you to see about getting an additional person for feedback (Besides your advisor and instructor).  This allows you to learn to triangulate feedback, which is exactly what you will need to do with QPP and the QP.  

Start writing as early as possible

As you're making way through the mountains of research, begin collecting statements and phrases that you feel can help you make your case.  By the time you're in the QP phase, you know the direction you are in.  Take advantage of that and as you get the gist of an article, think already about how you can jam it into the QP.  "They Say / I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Graff & Berkenstein provide you with a lot of the short-hand phrasing and you just want to grab it and throw it into a working document (with citation--save yourself time later on!).  Every two-three weeks, go into this document and start clumping together the different snippets.  You want to figure out which ideas go together and start building the flow of your paper.

Organize your research

Speaking of building the flow of your paper, something that I spent a good deal of time on (too much in fact, but that's another story) is organizing my research.  I used Mendeley to hold all my PDFs and citations because it had a folder system and a tag system so that I could break up the files accordingly.  Also, I could put a document in more than one folder and when I selected the file, it showed me the different folders it belonged to.  Therefore, I could put folders into content folders according to my areas of the literature review but I could also group articles according to the type of article (descriptive, empirical, theoretical, etc).  This helped significantly in making sense of what content fit whereas I tried to move through the research.   

Sifting Through the Bargain Bin

There are two types of people when it comes to bargain bins (there's not but for the purpose of this tip, just go with me).  Those who just grab a ton of stuff and figure they'll use it or know someone who can use and take it all home or those who meticulously sift through the content and select exactly what is needed.  Me?  When it came to research, I grabbed anything that I thought could be relevant and piled it all up.  In total, it was well over 1,000 articles.  While that gave me plenty to work with, I had to then also go through and figure out how and why each article was relevant to my discussion.    Again, as you start the process, it can help to figure out what is your style as it might help you determine your timeline.  

Save It All

Whatever you don't use.  Save it. Obviously in a different folder or space, but digital space is cheap and holding onto that research might be useful later on.  Your research direction may change and having that on hand is less time you have to go and fetch it again.  While I like the fact that Google Docs has an infinite history of any document I work on (or maybe I don't like it if I think too long about it), I'd still rather have that content that I've written somewhere else, rather than remembering when I deleted it in the document history.  Same with the academic articles and materials you find.  Hold onto it.  

Those are the big ones that come to mind at this time, but I'm sure I'll have more later on. 

Want to keep up with my PhD adventures?  Check out any of the links below:

  1. Acceptance...and acceptance
  2. Orientation
  3. Day 1
  4. Week 1
  5. First 2 Courses Completed
  6. First 2 Courses Finished
  7. Semester 2, Here We Go
  8. The Existential Crisis of the Week
  9. The Balancing Act
  10. Negotiating Privilege in Higher Education
  11. Zeroing in on Research
  12. Completing the Second Semester
  13. My Educational Autobiography
  14. So Starts the Third Semester
  15. My Educational Philosophy...for now
  16. PhD'ese
  17. And Sometimes, You Feel It
  18. Semester's Endgame
  19. Year 1, Officially Done
  20. Year 2, Week 1, Day 1
  21. Year 2, Week 1 Done! 
  22. 1/3 Complete!?!?
  23. Click...
  24. Day 1; Semester 5
  25. Share and Share Alike
  26. Mindful and Mind-Filled
  27. 5th Semester Down
  28. Day 1, Semester 9
  29. The Two Demons of My Doctorate
  30. When Senioritis Kicks In
  31. The Final Friday
Sub-series specifically about the dissertation:
  1. Dissertation Journal #1
  2. Dissertation Journal #2
  3. Dissertation Journal #3
  4. Dissertation Journal #4
  5. Dissertation Journal #5
  6. Dissertation Journal #6
  7. Dissertation Journal: QP Revised Edition

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