Dissertation Update: We Have a Draft!!!

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Hey folks--we...ok, I have a draft of my dissertation.  

No cheering yet!  It's a draft, it needs work--hell, it needs cleaned-up citations and some places to update, tighten, rearrange, and all the things. But, I have a draft, finally that includes all 5 chapters and that's a big milestone.  

When last I shared, I was working away at Chapter 4. It was going smoothly--as I said, it was one of the easiest chapters to write (not "easy" but easiest compared to the others).  Chapter 5, doubly so. In fact, it took me about a month to write a 8000+ word draft.  

So let's dig into these drafts a little bit.  
A whiteboard split into two sides: Chapter 4 and Chapter 5.  Each side has several columns (Date, Page amount, and word count).  Each row has a new date with increasing word counts.  Chapter 4 has dates from January to April (about 10-12 dates in today.  Chapter 5 has about 12-15 dates listed and spans from mid-April to mid-May.
I used this whiteboard to
capture daily tallies of writing

On Writing Chapter 4

In writing, Chapter 4 took about four months; in reality, the chapter took 10 months. Summer and fall of 2023, I worked on the analysis. I did a lot of deep diving into the data to create the categories of description and dimensions of variation (these are the means you organize and orient the data in relation to the phenomenon in phenomenography). This process took time and required a lot of re-angling. The metaphor that guided me was parallel a giant ass car in a tiny spot that just may fit. It required backing out and pulling in until the alignment was perfect.  

That work was not just necessary for the doctorate but it was a process that helped me get so deeply connected with the data that when it came time to write, it came quickly (enough).  

In fact, for Chapter 4 (and Chapter 5), I don't think I was ever at a loss of what to write. Just coming up with the words, quotes, and organization of the writing. That certainly wasn't true with the first three chapters. Those first three chapters were such a slow and process of trying to figure out not only what I was going to say, but how I was going to say it and in what order.

It was also hard for me to fully know when I was done with Chapter 4. I had to lean on my (amazing) methodologist to check my assumptions about this. In fact, when I thought I was half done with the process, she assured me that I was not only largely done but could have finished earlier but by going on the way I did, I had just made it more rigorous. I cried after that meeting thinking about the fact that she said I was pretty much done with the chapter and could move on. There's been a lot of times I've felt inadequate in this process, so to know I had gone beyond the essential was clearly something I needed to hear.

I wasn't entirely done chapter 4 at that point--I also had a section about other findings beyond the phenomenographic aspects of the study.  Still, I finished it within two weeks of talking with her.  

On Writing Chapter 5

If Chapter 4 was smooth, Chapter 5 was lightning. I wrote over 8000 words in a month and much of it came easy and clear. I would say that means I was doing it right as  whole; that if I was really deep into the conversation in the research and findings, then conclusions would flow smoothly from that.  

Like Chapter 4, I did use a prompt with ChatGPT to help me derive a structural outline of what Chapter 5 generally looks like for a phenomenogrpahic dissertation.  In particular, I used this prompt:

"You are an expert phenomenographic researcher who is working on chapter 5 of your dissertation. 

Write out a detailed outline of the key parts and sections of chapter 5 along with a description and recommended length of each (in word count) for each part or section. 

The dissertation is focused on phenomenography as its method and therefore recommendations for chapter 5 must keep that in mind."

ChatGPT 4 produced an outline that--just like Chapter 4--gave me a good sense of where to go and I inevitably drifted from where it made sense but was still useful as a starting point.  I have a future post on reflecting about the role fo AI and where I would and wouldn't have used it were it available when I was starting my dissertation.  But for now, here's the results from that prompt:

ChatGPT 4 Created Outline

Chapter 5: Discussion, Conclusions, and Recommendations
  • 1. Introduction to Chapter 5
    • Description: This section provides an overview of what Chapter 5 will cover, summarizing the key points of the dissertation and how they lead to the discussion, conclusions, and recommendations.
    • Recommended Length: 300-500 words
  • 2. Summary of Findings
    • Description: A concise recapitulation of the critical findings from the research, focusing on the variation in experiences or understandings revealed through the phenomenographic analysis.
    • Recommended Length: 600-800 words
  • 3. Discussion of Findings
    • Description: This core section interprets the findings in the context of existing literature. It discusses the outcome spaces and categories of description identified in the phenomenographic analysis, comparing and contrasting these with previous studies. This section also explores the implications of these findings for theory, practice, and future research.
    • Recommended Length: 2000-3000 words
      • 3.1 Interpretation of Findings
        • Subsection Description: Detailed examination of the meanings and implications of the findings, linking back to the research questions and objectives.
        • Recommended Length: 1000-1500 words
      • 3.2 Comparison with Existing Literature
        • Subsection Description: Critical analysis of how the findings align or diverge from existing research, discussing possible reasons for these patterns.
        • Recommended Length: 800-1000 words
      • 3.3 Theoretical Implications
        • Subsection Description: Examination of the findings' implications for theoretical frameworks and constructs within the field.
        • Recommended Length: 500-700 words
      • 3.4 Practical Implications
        • Subsection Description: Discussion on how the findings can be applied in practice, especially in educational, organizational, or other relevant contexts.
        • Recommended Length: 500-700 words
  • 4. Limitations of the Study
    • Description: An honest appraisal of the limitations encountered during the research process, including methodological constraints, sample size, and the scope of the study.
    • Recommended Length: 500-700 words
  • 5. Recommendations for Future Research
    • Description: Suggestions for future studies based on the findings and limitations of the current research, proposing new research questions or methods.
    • Recommended Length: 600-800 words
  • 6. Conclusions
    • Description: This section synthesizes the entire research project, emphasizing the contribution to knowledge made by the findings. It should reconnect with the study's objectives, asserting how they have been addressed.
    • Recommended Length: 800-1000 words
  • 7. Personal Reflections (Optional)
    • Description: A reflective section where the researcher shares their personal journey, insights gained, and the research's impact on their understanding or perspective. This is more common in qualitative research like phenomenography.
    • Recommended Length: 300-500 words
  • 8. Closing Remarks
    • Description: Final thoughts and closure for the dissertation, providing a succinct ending that reinforces the study's significance and contributions.
    • Recommended Length: 200-300 words
  • References
    • Description: A comprehensive list of all scholarly works cited in the chapter, formatted according to the chosen citation style.
  • Appendices (If applicable)
    • Description: Additional material supporting the chapter's content, such as extended data tables, interview guides, or additional analyses.
This outline ensures a thorough and structured presentation of the dissertation's final chapter, emphasizing the synthesis and implications of the phenomenographic research conducted.

By contrast, here is the outline as it (currently) appears in Chapter 5:

Final Outline Through Writing

  1. Introduction 
    1. Discussion of Findings 
    2. Current Research and This Study
    3. Further Discussion of This Study
      1. The Outcome Space
      2. The Structural Map of Academic Piracy
      3. Invisible Academic Labor
  2. Implications 
    1. Graduate Students 
    2. Scholars 
    3. Librarians 
    4. Scholarly Societies 
    5. Publishers 
    6. Higher Education Administrators 
  3. Limitations of the Study 
  4. Recommendations for Future Research 
    1. Considerations for the Study of APNs 
    2. Considerations for the Study of Scholarly Practice 
    3. Considerations for Higher Education as Discipline 
  5. Conclusion

As you can see, there is definitely some overlap here but there was also clear discernment in what was kept and wasn't. It was helpful to give me a sense of the chapter's arc but I also felt comfortable straying from it as needed. I'll also be curious what the final draft of Chapter 5 will look like when all is said and done.

I was shocked and surprised that everything came out so quickly. There were a few places where I slowed down and needed to deliberate more. Yet most of the time (as seen in the chart above), I grew by 300-500 word leaps each time I documented my progress.

Again, I know that this will need revision and clarity, but I know that it's really close and I feel grounded in what I'm saying. It makes sense, I've been working deeply on this the last 4 years, particularly since I defended my dissertation proposal in February 2022. Still, it feels good to be able to make such strong progress and see the end in sight.

What's Next?

Currently, I'm waiting on feedback from Chapter 4 from my chair.  I will then give him Chapter 5 while I work on revisions from Chapter 4.  I'll also work to revise and update chapters 1-3.  

I had strong hopes of a defense before the end of June but the stars aren't going to align so I will have to wait until early September.  Given that, I want to get my draft into really good shape before the end of June and then step away from it for the entirety of July.  In August, I would return to it, review it once more and start working on my dissertation defense, which I'm hoping to in mid-September.  

In the meantime, I'm just celebrating that I have a draft after all these years and feel good about it.


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