Monday, November 12, 2007

This Is Not Helping

This book, Proposals That Work: A Guide for Planning Dissertations and Grant Proposals, is very expensive and (for a short paperback!) moderately useful. It was recommended by my Research Methods instructor, Awesome Prof.

She is awesome because since the first day, she's been trying to educate us in Bourdieu-esque academic doxa and tells us that the worst enemy is our own insecurity and paralysis/writer's block. Word.

It is frighteningly easy to just sit there for two hours, doing nothing really, but feel anxious.

To that end, she's supplied us with lots of readings to help us navigate the research and writing process. Believe it or not, reading articles and books on how to write research questions, figure out what your variables are, how to do a literature review, and how to figure out your sampling frame is very helpful. If only other aspiring law professors took research methods courses. Perhaps you profs find it easy to crank out doctrinal articles, but us social scientists in training (or rather, sociolegal scholars) need a little help.

However, this is not helpful. This only makes me feel more anxious. Why do I go back and read prefaces?:

Individuals who have acquired considerable information about the mysteries of research methods and data analysis do not necessarily know how to undertake the task of planning and effectively proposing their own investigations...[F]ew graduate students initially recognize that preparation of the proposal willl represent a major hurdle in gaining approval for their thesis or dissertation. In the context of graduate education, however, the research proposal plays a central role--and one that reaches beyond its simple significance as a plan of action. In most instances, the decision to permit the student to embark on a study is made soleley on the basis of that first formal document. The quality of the proposal is likely to be used by advisors as a basis for judginge clarity of thought that has preceded the document, the degree of facility with which the study will be implemented if approved, and the adequacy of expository skills the student will bring to reporting the results. In sum, hte proposal is the instrument which the faculty must judge whether there is reasonable hope that the student can conduct research.

Ouch. "Reasonable hope" that the student can conduct research? Ouch.

The term grows busier and it is hard to make time for this, but when we meet, my Dissertation Support Group is most helpful in allaying the paralyzing fears and crippling inertia that can stop research in its tracks. It is daunting enough to look at a pile of books and a blank Word document and try to write an article. It is even more daunting to think of the world out there and figure out how to observe adn analyze it into meaningful data, hypotheses, and conclusions.

Books like this help, but statements like that don't. They're probably right and rightfully harsh, but dude, I do not need to hear this. What I do need to hear from my fellow dissertators and Awesome Prof is that despite the fact that every one of us seems to be competing for Worst Grad Student Ever, we have the potential. We can do this. It can be done. We will do this. We will advance, file, and become working academics, even if for now we are academics-in-training.


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