Friday, January 30, 2009

The Dissertation Starts

I have (finally) officially passed comps. My advisor added her third and final signature to the comps form in our meeting this afternoon, and I have sent it off to the administrators. I've just realized that I forgot to make a copy before doing this, but I haven't had any paperwork problems before, so I refuse to be paranoid about it.

I also have a dissertation topic. This came down to deciding between my comps paper and my published paper. With the comps topic, I have extensive theoretical background but not so much as a single experiment design. With the published topic, I have 2 experiments with significant results, but only the barest awareness of the theoretical background. With either topic, I have a piece of my dissertation completed; the difference is which piece, introduction or "meat". Given that I am nearing the end of my fourth year, with department expectations about graduating in 5 and graduate school rules about graduating in 6, my advisor and I agreed that the safer option is to have some "meat" ready. It's easy enough to conduct lit searches and write an introduction on a deadline, and it's ridiculously optimistic to try to collect data and find significant results on a deadline.

Now we move into the last stage of graduate school: Dissertation. I have the rest of the semester to get up to speed on the theoretical background of my topic and design a plausible series of experiments that can continue to test these issues. And to find at least one person outside my department I can ask to be on my committee; that may be the worst chore of the next few months.

I think the hardest part of the proposal will not be convincing my committee it's meaningful and possible, but convincing myself that my one successful line of research won't turn out to be a complete dud once I start trying to get results. These two studies were just additions to my "real" research, because they could be done easily enough. Will they still be successful once I'm actually depending on getting meaningful results?

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