Eight Tasks of the PhD

As of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a PhD program constitutes, and how best to explain that to those outside of academia, but also to folks who are not sure if they should embark on a doctoral degree.

For the record, if you are planning on doing a PhD, somewhere between 25% and 50% of students do not complete their PhD in six years according to a study from a decade ago. A more recent study claims it takes an average of 5 years to complete a PhD in the sciences and engineering while the average is 6.25 years in arts-based disciplines. An important thing to also note is that the number of students enrolled in each program and the cost of tuition has been steadily increasing while available funding has been on the decline. In short, more students have to seek employment in order to pay for their degree, which increases the time to completion. A PhD also does not guarantee a job in academia or any other field. It’s also really, really hard work.

As much as bachelors and Masters degrees are stepping stones to the PhD, they aren’t really all that similar because the level of academic rigor and the resulting expectations that separate them require rather large leaps from program to program. To analogize, a bachelor’s degree is like walking a 5K, a Master’s degree is like finishing a mud run, and a PhD is like competing on American Ninja Warrior. The higher your climb on the academic mountain, the more difficult the elements you need to finish become.

My PhD program requires eight ‘tasks,’ some of which require more than one step. Not all PhD programs are set up in the same way, however; some Social Sciences/Humanities/Arts programs require comprehensive exams and a research proposal instead of a candidacy proposal. This is true of North American schools, at least: the UK is a whole different kind of animal.  To use another analogy (because hi, it’s me), you can think of the tasks needed to finish a PhD as similar to Scott Pilgrim needing to defeat Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes.

Task One: Course Work. My program required that I complete eight courses. Completion of each course meant finishing a number of other sub-sub tasks as per the syllabus (presentations, essays, etc).

Task Two: Candidacy Proposal. In my program, you write (and re-write and re-write some more) a 75-100 page paper that requires you to a) analyze and synthesize the work of other academics (a review of the literature), b) explain your theoretical approach (which academic theories will be used to explain your work), c) an explanation of your proposed research (what you want to examine and why). My proposal was longer than 100 pages. This should not be a surprise to anyone.

Task Three: Candidacy Defense. Once your candidacy proposal is to the standards of your committee (your supervisor and other academics whose work is in your field of study) you go through an oral exam process where you defend your choices of theory and methods to your committee. In essence, the committee is making sure you are ready to go do original research, meaning, you go out into the world rather than relying on work by other scholars.

Task Four: Ethics Approval. In my program, this was composed of two parts. In order to pass one of my courses I needed to complete a series of ethics modules created by the Tri-Councils Agencies (Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR], the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada [NSERC] and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC]). In the second part, a body of scholars not connected to your work assess your proposed research for possible ethical issues. Again, here you are explaining what you plan to do, and how you will keep those involved safe (emotionally, physically, socially etc). Depending on the nature of the research–especially if you are involving human subjects–this can be an extremely involved process.

Task Five: Data Collection. Here, you are collecting data that you will use to develop theories and ideas that you proposed in your candidacy proposal. I used a combination of survey data (to get a broad understanding of teachers in Alberta) and interviews (to get a more ‘in depth’ understanding). If you are conducting interviews, you often have to transcribe them and verify them with your participants (this is part of conducting ethical research).

Task Six: Data Analysis: Once you are finished collecting data, you have to analyze it. By this I mean you are looking for certain trends in your data. For example, if your study examines how teachers feel about changes to curriculum, you will want to see if newer teachers are more likely to be ‘for’ these changes while teachers who have been working for over 11 years are ‘not.’ You can do similar analyses with gender orientations, racial identifiers etc depending on the data you collect.

Task Seven: Dissertation Draft. Here you are building off of your candidacy proposal (provided your work hasn’t changed significantly!) and writing about what you did versus what you propose to do. After a significant amount of writing and re-writing, you will end up with a document that’s 250-300 pages or so.

Task Eight: Dissertation Defense. In the final task, you go through another oral exam from your committee (which has grown in size since your candidacy exam) who ask you to defend the conclusions you make from the research you conducted. So long as you pass, you will get the fancy shmancy piece of paper that allows you to be called a doctor (but not that kind of doctor [M.D.].

And there you have it: the eight tasks of a PhD . Or, at least, my PhD degree. With my committee’s approval I hope to be given the go-ahead to move on to the sixth task, as I have collected what I believe is a sufficient amount of data. I shall find out soon…

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Storify Post: Thoughts on the Government of Canada Accessibility Legislation Questionnaire

//storify.com/daniellelorenz/thoughts-on-the-government-of-canada-accessibility/embed?border=false[<a href=”//storify.com/daniellelorenz/thoughts-on-the-government-of-canada-accessibility” target=”_blank”>View the story “Thoughts on the Government of Canada Accessibility Legislation Questionnaire” on Storify</a>]
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Decolonization for the Masses? Seeking Survey Participants

Dr. Adam Gaudry (Assistant Professor of Native Studies and Political Science, University of Alberta) and Danielle Lorenz (PhD Candidate, Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta [AKA me]) are working on a project together that explores the structural, pedagogical, and ideological challenges of effective Indigenous course requirement implementation. If you are a faculty member, administrator, or instructor at a Canadian university or college that has experience teaching Indigenous content, we were hoping you could answer a short (10ish minutes) anonymous online survey which you can access here.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us at adam.gaudry@ualberta.ca and/or dlorenz@ualberta.ca

Moreover, if you could share the survey among your networks, that would be incredibly helpful as well.

Thanks kindly!

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Disability and Tenureship

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now, and perhaps it is time to put it out into the world. What happens with those of us in grad school–the #PhDisabled community–want to pursue a tenure-track position?

Ostensibly, we are expected to do what all other folks who want a tenure track position do: apply for all the jobs in your field, hope you’re short-listed and interviewed, and if the gods are in your favour, you’ll get a position. The hiring rate for PhD graduates in the arts/humanities/social sciences is low, so not everyone who applies will get a position. This is a systemic issue and one, but one that still favours white cishetero men.  You know this (or you should) if academia the career path you want for yourself.

That path is all well and good, I suppose, so long as you’re capable to work the  hours required. But what if you can’t? In order to secure tenure, you’re expected to be able to teach two (or more) courses per term, write and publish articles/books/book chapters, and take on a few administrative or community appointments. It’s a difficult job that requires a lot of hours, much of which beyond the 9-5. But the challenges of the job assume that you’re physically capable to do the job in the first place.

Employment rates for people with disabilities are significantly lower than able-bodied folks. I am positive that when other intersections are considered–such as race for example–the statistics would be even more appalling. It seems as though the world wants to push people with disabilities aside, or even kill us. So how are we supposed to find work, let alone work in academia?

Looking to myself for example, there are days when I am in so much pain I require narcotic pain killers. Sometimes I can predict these days depending on the weather forecast (or I think I can, anyway), but other times it feels like the pain comes out of nowhere. At times these are short episodes of a few hours, while it can also be for months at a time. On those days, it is very difficult for me to do basic things like showering, dressing myself, and preparing meals. In short, it is impossible to ‘be productive’ when my body is in that much pain. Once the episode is over I am also fatigued and exhausted, since pain makes you tired. This ‘pain hangover’ also makes it really hard to do work.  Seeing these difficulties, how can I become a professor if there are times I physically cannot do the work expected?

Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms indicates that it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of a disability. Does that mean the requirements of my (hypothetical/desired) tenure-track appointment would be less than my able-bodied counterparts? Would I have a lighter teaching load? Would I not be expected to publish as much/as frequently? Would I be able to have fewer administrative/community appointments?

Furthermore, how would this work for things like salary and benefits? Since I’m doing ‘less work’ would I be paid half or a third as much as my peers? Would my health, dental, and vision coverage be the same? Would I be eligible for a pension (that is, if those are even offered by the time I finish)?

I don’t know how to answer my questions since I am at a loss of where to look to find the answers. That is, assuming there are even answers out there to be found. Are there places I can look? Do you know, reader?

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Alberta Teachers’ Association Member Thoughts on Aboriginal Content in BEd Programs and K-12 Classrooms

Hello peoples of the internet!

I realize it has been some time since I’ve posted anything. There are some things swirling around in my head, but alas, they are not coherent enough yet for a ‘real’ post. But perhaps they will materialize soon. We can only hope.

Anyway, the point of this particular post is that I have entered the data collection/field work stage of my dissertation (FINALLY).

As such, I need help: I am trying to get at least 435 (or 10%) members of the Alberta Teachers’ Association to take a survey I have written. ATA members, according to the ATA’s definition of such, can be classified into four categories:*

  • Active: teachers employed by an Alberta school board;
  • Associate: superintendents, faculty of education members, teachers at charter schools;
  • Life: retired teachers who were members of the ATA for at least 20 years; or
  • Student: those enrolled in full-time undergraduate Bachelor of Education programs in Alberta.

My research is extremely timely given Alberta Education’s recent announcements that it will a) be providing Professional Development training for teachers “to ensure that all students learn about First Nations, Métis and Inuit history, perspectives and contributions“; and b) engaging in a six-year process to update its Arts, Language Arts (English, French, Français), Mathematics, Social Studies, Sciences, and Wellness subject areas.

Three of the main areas of interest my survey is targeting are as follows: a) Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) member and BEd student experiences with Aboriginal content in Bachelor of Education degrees, b) how/if Aboriginal content is already being taught in K-12 classrooms, and c) how curriculum and policies (for example, upcoming the Teacher Quality Standard and the School Leadership Standard) are developed.

The survey should take 15-25 minutes, and there is an option to enter a prize draw to win one of two e-copies of Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel.

In short, I am hoping you, amazing person on the internets, will help me out by either a) sending folks that meet the above criteria my way, or b) send them the link to my Survey Participant Information Letter. Any movement I can get would be helpful: that includes liking and reblogging this post on WordPress, reblogging the Tumblr post, posting either link on your facebook page, tweeting either link, or emailing folks you know that might meet the criteria. If you’re interested in the latter, I can provide you a PDF copy of my Survey Participant Information Letter.

If you have any questions or concerns, or if you would like more information, you can email me at dlorenz[at]ualberta[dot]ca.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, you are awesome!

* The ATA also has an honorary membership category, but there are so few given that title per year (105 total from 1949-2015) that I have excluded it as a category.

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The Line

Where exactly is the line between being an egomaniacal asshat and having humility when it comes to your accomplishments (in academia or otherwise)?

How many folks in academia downplay what they’ve done while others think They Are Brilliant And Everyone Should Know About It?

Is the way we speak about ourselves gendered? Racialized? Queered? Dis/abled?

In what ways can we talk about what we’ve accomplished publicly without sounding like a braggart?

Things to ponder on a Tuesday morning…

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Twitter essay: On Doing Unethical Research

Oh hey I wrote a thing on Storify you can read here.

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