Office Hours with Dr. Lacy

I help doctoral students learn and apply qualitative research so that they can finish their dissertation, graduate, and become DOCTOR!
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Office Hours with Dr. Lacy





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Aug 28, 2019

Hello, it's Marvette! I'm back again. So this week's episode comes from a question I received on Instagram from the impressive educator who said how to keep committee on schedule so I can finish. And this is a pretty common question that I receive from folks who in some form or fashion, they are having trouble with communication from their chair or their whole committee. They can't get everyone in the same room at the same time. They are trying to get feedback, but it has been like weeks and they haven't heard anything. And this can make for a very frustrating parts of the process. So what I'm going to share is some things that you can do at the start of your dissertation journey. When you have all your like committee members in place or even just if you're starting us off with your chair. I also believe that this would work even if you're in the middle of your process and you find yourself like, you know, things were cool in the beginning, but now they're not in, you're having trouble.

I would just say also adapt some of these strategies. To help make life a little bit more bearable when it comes to committees and whatnot. Again, the short answer I would say is people have whole lives. Your chair and your committee, they have whole lives. They have other folks that they are advising or serving on other committees. They have their own research projects in writings that they have to do. They have classes that they're teaching other service things, life, family, friends, right? Like their whole thing isn't about you pause, full stop. And so it is really up to you to do everything in your power to make this a very seamless process as possible, right? Because at the end of the day, it is your dissertation. It is your degree, it is your journey. And so the dissertation process is very much guided by you.

You're controlling it. And up to this point you have been used to people telling you, being very prescriptive with you and telling you exactly what it is that you need to do and where you need to show up, how you need to do those things. And you learn really quickly that the dissertation process is the opposite. It because it depends on you. Like if you don't show up and write and do what you need to do, they can't do what they need to do for you. So that's a little mini rant there. I just wanted to make that note of like, that's my short answer of like, you need to be the one that is driving this process as much as possible. Not that you're telling your chair or anybody when you're gonna like that, you will be defending and they have to, you know, agree to that.

That's a whole other thing. What I am saying is, as much as you can control, the communication part, and I'm using the word control, and maybe that's the wrong word, but as much as you can be organized in, get clear on expectations for the process, the more that like, the easier or simpler it will be for everyone involved is really where I'm going with that. Okay. So I wrote my notes on an old envelope, let's hope that, I can remember what order I want to go in. Yeah, I'm going to be better. I'm going to get a system that's better. But you know, again, if you know me and listened to last week's podcast, I'm over here about the B minus, C plus work. So yeah. Okay. So you get to the point where you are ready to do like the dissertation process. You're like, I'm good.

Let's go. The first thing you need to do is create or think about a plan for the dissertation process. And I would even say take it one section at a time. So section meaning dissertation proposal is one section, collecting data and analyzing data as a second section, and finishing writing, chapter four and five edits and all of that is a third section, right? So depending on what stage you're in, just choosing that one part, we don't need to have the whole answer yet. Just choosing the one partner that you're in. So for the sake of this conversation, let's just say you're working on your dissertation proposal, right? You're at the beginning of it. Hmm. Deciding when is your ideal end date? Like when would you like to defend your proposal? If you have a process in which you're defending it, but when would you like to defend it?

I suggest for people to at the least say four months out. Okay. But if it's even longer, six months to give yourself even more time, that works too. Because life will happen, other things will come up and it's a whole journey. So you want to give yourself as much time because even if you finish early, then that's fine. You can just move the date, but there's no point to stress yourself out trying to meet this very quick deadline and trying to do it in two weeks. And you'd stress yourself out and you don't meet that and then you're beating yourself up. And then it takes you even longer to finish your proposal because now you have to go through months and months of saying like, I'm a failure. I didn't do this. You know, the whole shame spiral that many of us go down. You have to go through that process and you have to pick yourself back up and then you have to start back all over again because you don't remember what you were writing before you went down a whole spiral.

And so you look up a whole year has passed and you still don't have a proposal. I don't want that for you. So I would say my suggestion would be four months from today or whenever you're planning is a good timeline to say, I will have this proposal done and be ready to defend it. Or at least I'll be submitting it to the committee for final review. Okay. So being clear about, okay, that's your overall goal, right? And then breaking that down into chunks and saying roughly how much time is it going to take you to do each portion of your proposal. So I say aim for four to six weeks for each chapter or section. Now some of you may have panicked a little bit but if you work with me or been around me on any length of time, then I believe in you writing very... I'm not going to curse on here, "workable" drafts. And then the editing is a whole different thing in with that system you, you are able to get chapters done in the four to six time period. Plus when you, wherever you start, which most people start with chapter two, I say that that whatever your starting point takes the longest. And once you get into a groove or writing the chapters that follow go much quicker cause you're already, you already have a system, right? So I say give yourself about four to six weeks for each section and I want you to write down those dates. So your first date is I will have my dissertation proposal done by x date. So four months out and then for each chapter, four to six weeks. These are the dates, right? So where we are in, I think this is September, we're in, I record these ahead of time. So I had to like do the math in my head. So like just say this is September 1st right at the time of recording.

So let's see that October, November, December right. So say by January 1st right, you're gonna have the whole proposal done, ready to send to your committee for final review, right? So then September could be by like October 1st I'm going to have chapter two. This will be the system I would use. October 1st I'll have chapter two November 1st I'll have chapter three. December 1st I would have had chapter one, I would spend all of December editing, make, polishing, APA, all those things so that I can then have a final draft to submit to my committee by January 1st. That's a very simple plan to follow. That's what I would do, okay. So first you need to figure that out because you need a plan. Have a very dear mentor who said that you got to show up with something where you're asking folks for help. So this is, you're showing up with something.

So having that plan going in, right? The second thing is having a topic, I would argue to say that you have your topic, you have, this is the problem I'm solving with this topic and having the why we need to solve this problem. For the topic. Those are the three main things I would say you need to know before you talk to anybody, chair, whatever. So you have your schedule of when you want things to get done and then you have your topic, the problem and the "so what". And really take time to work on the topic problem. And so what to get it down to. It should be three sentences at most 50 words at most. Nobody wants to hear you ramble on and on trying to explain. They just want to know what it is. You will notice that a lot of this of what I'm going to cover is you being concise and clear on what it is that you want to do.

Okay? And again, it doesn't have to be perfect. We just need a starting point. So once you have done your pre-work, then you want to send an email to your chair. Most people know who their chairs are before you necessarily know who your committee members cause that. I mean that's a whole process. Sometimes it takes a little bit, but I would encourage you to follow the same process for each committee member, if that makes sense. Okay. So then you have your pre-work later you're going to send them an email and you're going to be like, hey chair, it's me. I would like to schedule some time with you to talk about my dissertation process. I have taken some time to think about and outline like a rough schedule in the rough idea of what I'm going to do. And I will love to meet with you to discuss a few things.

I want to talk to you about my overall dissertation plan. I want to talk about communication styles. I want to talk about feedback, expectations. And, I want to talk about scheduling additional meetings. This meeting will only, take no more than 30 minutes because I want to be respectful of your time. Please see the following questions that I would like to discuss to give you some time to prepare answers. Here is some times that work for me. What works for you. Look forward to hearing from you. Have a great day. Your favorite doc student, that's what your email should say. You want to treat this relationship in this way to set up, especially in the beginning. It's just, it's helpful for everybody to know expectations and being clear about what's going on. Because when you start flying by the seat of your pants, is that the saying?

And even if you have a very close relationship with your chair, things can start to get really muddy. When you get deep into the dissertation zone and you are frustrated and you're over it, things can get muddy. And so it's best to set up clear things or to start this off this way. So you both know and, no matter how much you enjoy being with your chair, they enjoy being with you. No shade, nobody has the time to sit with you for hours and hours and hours. Okay. And if they are doing, if they're doing that, yeah, if they are doing that with you, they're doing it out of the very kindness of their heart. But they got shit to do. I said I wasn't gonna curse. It didn't last. They got, they got things to do. And that's only so long you're going to be able to do that with you.

Now this is like a summer or as a slow point then maybe they've got time to sit there, but more than likely they don't have time to sit there with you for hours and hours. And so that means you've got to come prepared and being very clear about what it is that you want to talk about. Here's a side rant, please stop scheduling meetings with anybody, whether it be your chair committee member or the faculty member telling them you just want to go in there and talk. Now it's different if both of you are on the same page and you know that y'all are scheduling meeting for the purpose of kiki-ing. That's different. However, if you're scheduling a meeting with the intention of you're supposed to do actual work and talk about your actual dissertation, then it is up to you as a doctoral student to come in there with a plan of what you want to talk about and what you want to accomplish, right.

To have a starting place. So everybody is clear on the focus of that meeting. Second of all, it is very important to before the meeting send an email to say, here are the things that I would like to talk about because you give the other person a chance to prepare for that and to prepare their thoughts. Especially my introverted friends, you give them time and they're not caught off guard and you're not using precious meeting minutes, minutes or time to for people to have to look up stuff and have to like figure out things they could've done before so that your meeting can be as productive and short as possible. Because again, nobody likes meetings, especially when you open up your calendar and that's all you see. Nobody likes it. And then you know, that meme that goes around us at this meeting could have been been an email.

If you have, if you would've put down the things that you wanted to discuss and your questions ahead of time, most of them could have been, could be answered before you even step foot in the office with your chair. Or you can eliminate that time and get to work even quicker. But this is not this. No, this is not social time. Your chair doesn't need to be your best friend. It's good at it. You can have that relationship. However it is time for you to graduate, for you to finish a dissertation and not, we don't have time for you to keep scheduling meetings every week to go chitchat. Okay. I'm done with my rant. All right, so that first email, you're going to list some questions and I'm going to talk to you about what those questions and those topics are for the rest of this podcast episode.

Okay. So so the first thing is I highly encourage people to use some sort of scheduling software or a scheduling system. The most frustrating part is going back and forth with a person about what time do you have available, oh, is that day open? Well, this does this work for you. It takes too much time and it's too many emails speaks. Like from someone who hates checking email. I hate that even more that we got to go back and forth and figure it out a time. So I highly suggest that you find something like I use acuity scheduling A, C, U. I, T. Y, that's there's Calendly, C, A. L. E. N. D. L. Y. Um, I've seen folks use, she's like Google and sharing like a spreadsheet and having available times and slots. Now this is going to require you to be organized on your end to say, when am I available and when I'm going to, when am I going to do meetings every week?

Side note to the side note: I would even suggest that you have one or two days per week where you only do meetings with other folks no matter if you are a full time Grad student, you have, you work nine to five or whatever. Organizing your life in this way makes you so much more productive because you don't have a meeting over here, a meeting over there or I go do these things. Have one to two days, two days where you only do meetings right? Go set up a free account on one of these apps because they're free and you block off chunks of time. So say like you're going to do meetings Tuesday and Thursday from nine to 12. Great. You put that in the app and then when it comes down to scheduling meetings with people, you just send them the link.

And say find the best time for you. In admin world. People love to, especially in student affairs. That's why administrators love to use outlook. You know, people quick to put a meeting on your calendar. And so I would also suggest that you block off times that you are not available and only have those times free again, if you're going to do those two days, Tuesday and Thursday from nine to 12 at your nine to five, that you're only going to do meetings with folks outside of your office. Just make sure those, those are the only times available for people to make meetings. Okay? So yes, get your nap, organize your life. Have these set times so that when you write this email to your chair committee member, you have that link in there. Now they have their own process even better cause you can go ahead and just schedule the first meeting but a lot of people don't.

So you be proactive and you have your own link to say here's my link for scheduling or my availability. If it doesn't work for you, please let me know. Right. Cause we also want to be flexible that everybody's on your time. Okay. So the first thing is having the the app, the email scheduling app, right? The second thing then is you want to ask them what their preference for communication is. So you know, I want to make the most of our time. If I have a quick question, what would be the best way to communicate with you? If I have something where I want to talk things out, what would be the best way to communicate with you? And what what frequency of meetings do you feel works best for you when you're working with someone in their dissertation?

Right. So some preferences for communication could be people prefer email to communicate by email, especially if it's a quick question or something like that. People, some people prefer like face to face meeting meetings. Some people prefer you call them or text them, but you want to ask them how they prefer communication. Again, because we're setting up expectations. So it was very clear to say if it's a quick question, if it's something where you know, you need to talk things out or if you need to share progress, asking them their thoughts about that and then asking them how often, would they like to meet with you throughout the semester or throughout the dissertation process.

Okay. as far as the frequency of meetings, I would say to give more structure around that, tell them, you know, like as a starting point, I was thinking that if it's your chair, I would say scheduling at least three to four meetings per semester. If it's a committee member, I would just say two meetings a semester or in this four month period, whenever that is starting for you. And say, you know, I think two to four meetings a semester works well. Each meeting will be no more than 30 minutes. These meetings would be used to share with you my progress, what I've been working on. It will be used to tell you where I'm stuck or that I have questions that are not able to be answered by the quick question method that we have. And I'm going to tell you what I've done to work on the problem that I'm having and how I believe that you can help me. So I'm a side note again. So whenever you are asking someone for help and you are scheduling a meeting with your chair or these update meetings throughout the semester, you again, you always need to be doing your work before the meeting. You want to ask yourself before you step foot in our office, you want to write this down and be able to clearly articulate what have you been working on since the last meeting?

Where are you stuck? What haven't you been able to do? What questions are lingering? The third thing, what have you done to answer those questions? To get unstuck, to solve your own problem, what have you done already and then for how do you think your chair or committee member can help you get unstuck? Again, we're not going to meeting in nobody's office to just ramble. You are taking ownership of your process. You are taking ownership of what you can do and what you have control over and we are not expecting people to do the work for us. So if you don't have answers to those four questions before you walk into somebody's office, you can give me to cancel your appointment because no one is doing the work for you. This is your dissertation, it's your degree. This, I'm saying real harsh.

It is what it is, but I'm willing to bet that the reason why most of you are having trouble with your committee or with your chair or keeping them on track is because you didn't do what you was supposed to do. You're not like, and you're not doing what you need to do to organize yourself and you're not putting in the work to solve your own problems. But instead you think everybody else needs to solve your problems and you're probably saying, oh, it's unfair and that nobody wants to help me, but you're not doing what you're supposed to do. So if you can't answer what you've been doing, what your progress is, if you can't identify for yourself where you're stuck and what you've done to get unstuck or what questions you have, and if you can't clearly articulate to the person and you're asking for help, how they should help you, then you need to cancel that meeting.

Okay? Sure. Sometimes you can't all the way, like figure out what it is and you, you can't know what you don't know. However, you can sit there and try. You can try to write some things. I have some sort of starting point. So putting in some effort because why should someone put more effort into solving your problems than you are? Okay. End rant. Y'all, I'm getting hot. I'm getting hot. Okay, so we have, you did your pre-work, you're going to write an initial email to your committee or chair member. You're going to email them this outline that we're going over right now.

You know, I'm also going, I'm gonna make this like, I'm going to put this on the website, like the transcript of the podcast is already on the website, but I'm going to make this something that you can download so that you can have it for your reference when you are setting up this process. Okay? So you're gonna send the email, you're going to set up your own scheduling app, right? You're going to ask them about their preference of communication. Whether that's a quick question, whether that's something more that you all have to talk out. You're going to ask them about their, their preference for frequency of meeting and how they want to do that, right? For every meeting, it's gonna be no more than 30 minutes unless you all decide that it's going to be something different. But are we're going to try our best to be respectful of folks' time.

So no more than 30 minutes and you're going to come into that meeting saying what you've worked on, where you're stuck, what you've done to get unstuck, and how you think they can help you, and you're going to send that email like you're going to send it and answers to those four questions ahead of every meeting. So every meeting needs to have an email of an agenda or things that you want to talk about to give folks time to prepare for you. And then whether they do or they don't has nothing to do with you. It's not your business if they prepared or not. It is your business to know that you did everything that you could do to make that meeting as efficient as possible.

Okay. For that first meeting, you're also in, periodically you're going to ask them about their schedule. Right? So you knowing your pre-work that you have planned to finish your proposal in the next four months. Right? Asking them, do you have any significant days that I should be aware of for the next four months? Are there going to be times where you're not going to be available or you're going to be off contract, you're going to be on vacation, you want to be on sabbatical. What is that like so that you can prepare that during these times they're not going to probably going to be responsive and so you can plan accordingly. Okay. You want to ask them that because most people know that ahead of time. The final thing that you want to ask about is feedback, you want to ask them about their philosophy as it relates to feedback.

What type of feedback do they provide? Are they like Oh it's good if they read your whole 30 page thing, I'm gonna come back to that too in a minute, but, or are they someone who get very light? It gives very detailed feedback. Like are you going to open up the document and want to close it back because you see all these bubbles and marks and things of whatnot. Asking them how they give feedback. If you don't know that already, ask them about how long they need to to review a document and to give you feedback in like when you should expect it. So if you turn it in on Monday, when should you expect it back? Do they need like 72 hours a week, two weeks? How long do they need? So again, that you can plan accordingly. And then do they prefer that the thing that they are giving you feedback, does it have to be absolutely Polish and perfect or would they like to see more consistent drabs even if they are not as perfect as you go along?

Asking them and asking them what they care most about. So some people really care that they don't care about your content because they know that you can edit, but they really, they're a stickler for APA. Or maybe they're like, APA can come later, but I really care about if you're using citations or I really care about that, this is a readable paper and it's structured properly. Again, asking them these questions and being very detailed about that again, will help set the expectations for you. So you know you can prepare yourself. This may seem like a lot in one meeting, but again, this is why we're going to put it all in one email because you need to know what you're doing and what you, how you should be working for the next four months because these, this is the person or these are the people who decide whether or not you move on or not and you want to make sure you know who they are, their expectations, what you're getting yourself into. Right. And then you may also want to ask them, do they have any other suggestions for you as a student who is completing our dissertation? Any like things that worked really well with other advisors that they have things that they've done in their own process that they think would work well for you at any piff pitfalls to avoid.

Doing all of this and getting all of this out of the way will help tremendously. It will help you avoid feeling as frustrated and annoyed. Right? Because again, we don't have control over what other people do or don't do. But you do have control over what you do. And so if you again, can make sure that you do these things ahead of time as much as possible. And again, go ahead and download the pdf and use that. I don't care if you use my words verbatim, I just care about that you are getting what you need.

Okay, so that is all, I hope that is helpful. I would love if you came over to Instagram at @MarvetteLacy, and tell me anything that you are taking away from today's episode in Aha moments. Let's just continue the conversation there. Also, you can come over to the Facebook group, Qual Scholars. We are there talking to them about today's episode too, and it's just a community of awesome doctoral students supporting, helping one another. So that is it for this week's episode. I hope you have a great week and until next time, do something to show yourself some love. Bye for now.

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