Dissertation Update: Getting Through Chapter 4

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

It's been a while--both since I posted (just under 2 months--yikes!) and since my last update on my dissertation progress (for newer readers, you can check out the full series on my PhD here).

In the six months since I last wrote about this, things continued to progress--though, of course, never at the speed I want them to.  But such is the case both because life happens and other decisions I make.  Still, I'm excited about where I am.
A pathway that goes up and likely toward a beach.  On both sides of the path is a wire fence and grass.  The sky is a bright and orange color that indicates sunrise or sunset.
Image Source: Karsten Würth

Let's recap 2023! The first half of 2023 was digging into the data, exploring it and getting the contours of the data after collecting the interviews and transcribing them in late 2022.  In my methodology, phenomenography, there is a bit of reading through the transcripts holistically to get a full sense of what's in the data and then moving into finding differences in the experiences of participants (relating to the research questions).  What I'm doing is building out what are called "categories of description"--the different ways that participants might experience or make sense of the phenomenon of study (in this case, how they understand their scholarly identity in relation to their use of academic pirate networks). 

Once (or at the same time, depending upon who you ask) I establish the categories of description, then I look to figure out what the dimensions of variation are.  In phenomenogrpahy, the categories of description operate as the different ways people experience a phenomenon and the dimensions of variation are distinct elements that those in each category are aware of that make it a different level of awareness and experience.  However, the dimensions of awareness help to create the categories of description into an inclusive hierarchy so that the category of description at the top of the hierarchy actually has its own distinct dimension of variation as well as the other dimensions from the lower categories.  That is, the methodology is ultimately showing how these categories are related and move from less sophisticated to more sophisticated in their awareness.  

Re-reading that I'm still laughing because while I understood that (mostly) going into this methodology and study, it has still been a trip to find the pathway through it.  

Hence for the better part of 2023, I've been working at building these categories and the accompanying dimensions.  The best analogy I can surface around it is parallel parking a giant vehicle in a tiny spot.  I'd start to build out the categories and it seemed right but then it didn't and I'd have to pull out and re-angle myself. Or I'd start to get into the spot and feel like half my car was sticking out into the street (i.e. the dimensions of variation didn't properly align).  

So that's been the process for a few months making my way through data analysis.  Challenging and sometimes frustrating but also about right for the process.  More important, I haven't felt as loss at this junction as I have in previous parts of the process.   Part of that reason is that I've been incredibly supported and guided by the methodogist on my committee, Gerlese Åkerlind.  She is a patient and thoughtful member on the committee able to help me better understand the methodology, deeply understand its philosophical underpinnings, and determine practical considerations as I work through the data. 

Over the Christmas break, I made a commitment to finish the data analysis--which I largely did and got the go-ahead to move into the process of starting to write chapter 4. This felt exciting and important becuase it is the home stretch.  

For point of reference, this is a 5 chapter dissertation that approaches the study in this way.  Chapter 1 identifies a problem to study.  Chapter 2 systemically explores all the literature relevant to the problem. Chapter 3 identifies a methodology and conceptual framework (in my case, my methodology comes with its own conceptual framework).  Chapter 4 is exploring results. Chapter 5 is discussion of those results in relation to current literature and future considerations.

If you've been reading along about my dissertation journey over the years, you know that Chapters 1-3 were quite hard to write.  To get to my Dissertation Proposal Defence two years ago--well, it took a lot. Developing the full landscape of the dissertation's focus I needed in order to propose how to study my research problem was a real intellectual challenge for me.  I wasn't entirely sure what I was doing and it wasn't until late in the game that I found a scholar who could help me around the content (my department and dissertation chair are incredibly helpful and also, they knew so very little about the problem I chose to study--that one's on me I suppose for choosing it).  

But now, I'm writing chapter 4.  And here's the thing about writing chapter 4--at least for me--is that it's the easiest chapter to write.  That's not me saying it's easy to write but it's the chapter that is coming the easiest to produce.  In January, I had a very deep and powerful realization: there is no one else on Earth who can write my chapter 4.  That is, I'm the most equipped and knowledgeable to write this chapter.

Now, I know on one level, it's like "well, duh!"--but in the moment of realizing and feeling this, it's incredibly awesome to feel and experience.  In many ways, that is the pay off of this whole process. I'm creating some level of knowledge that no one can or has done.  That despite all the problems with the process and structures that do or don't support it, I still have gotten to a point where I can see that I have something significant to contribute to this discourse that I've been involved in for nearly a decade.  

In sharing this with my partner, she made the astute observation, "It's in that moment that you earned your PhD.  Sure, you still gotta finish the dissertation and all that. But that's the moment internally that you completed this."

Since then, I've been making my way through Chapter 4. I don't know how long it will take but at this clip, I do think I might have something in place by early March.  Once I do, I can hand it off for feedback while starting to work on Chapter 5.  If I can get chapter 5 done by early April, we can start talking defense date.  So while I won't be able to walk this year, I still will likely be done by late spring and that is something to look forward to.  

All right...back to chapter 4 and thanks for reading.

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  1. Lance,
    I loved learning about your experience with Chapter 4. You are so right. Nobody else can experience it the way you do. It makes your project uniquely yours. I am so happy that you are making such great progress. The very best to you in the months to come.
    Rhonda Gabovitch


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