“Tips” for Ph.D. Students (Or Higher Education 2.0?)

I’ve gotten a lot of email (and even a few comments) as a result of the things I’ve shared about Walden University on this blog… early on I was primarily sharing posts from my online classes that I repurposed here on the blog… then it become my KAMs (papers due before our dissertation), letters to prospective students, and answers to people’s questions. Now, Walden students in the dissertation stage who have the same faculty mentor are given an online “class” of their own in which to discuss issues related to our research, and more importantly, find a measure of camaraderie or fellowship. So, once again I can actually share posts from our discussion forums.

These might be most helpful for other doctoral students, but they may be interested to others of you because my experience might indicate some of the ways new technologies are effecting (or could effect) higher education. I’m including two recent posts including “tips” (if I’m in any position to offer tips) for my fellow students.

This first post is about the prospectus that precedes the dissertation, and really doesn’t concern technology at all:

Prospectus “Tips”I’m not sure this will be all that helpful to you [fellow student], but the most important thing is to have a clear idea what you want to study. Everything else flows quite easily from that. The particular method is the only really big decision left, and even that may be obvious once you’ve settled on a problem or research question to explore.

The other important thing to remember is that the prospectus is only a form to fill out at the very beginning of your research. It is not a matter of writing anything down in stone. Your final study and dissertation may wind up looking significantly different. The prospectus just gets you pointed in the right direction – and serves as a tool for recruiting your committee… as I understand it. ;)

For me, the prospectus was a relatively minor task. I had more or less been focused on a particular topic (video games in education) and research question (what are the potential uses of MMORPGs as constructivist learning environments?) for two years by the time I wrote the prospectus. (I settled on the topic by the end of my first year.) By the time I wrote the prospectus I had “nearly 80 theorists and more than 100 sources” identified as relevant to my study (and it’s much more than that now). I suspect this is excessive, but my point is that whatever has interested you so far can be a guide… and serve as the foundation of the prospectus – and the dissertation.

Good luck in any case!

-Mark

This next one focuses on “tips” for conducting efficient research, and I was (strangely) surprised by what I found myself writing… it is all very different than spending a lot of time “in the stacks.” Is this higher education 2.0?

Research “Tips”Again, I’m not sure just how helpful this will all be, but here are a few of the things I have found valuable in my research…

1. I do as much research as possible online and in electronic format. For this reason I’m more than happy to pay $119/yr for a memebership to Questia.com, an online library. You can search issues related to your topic prior to purchasing a membership, so there’s little risk of wasting your money. [This is in addition to the online databases Walden University pays for.]

2. I use an outliner. (In my case, I use OmniOutliner for Mac OS X.) One of the advantages of having digital resources is that I can cut and paste. So, I’ve been saving quotes right into the appropriate section of my outliner. Then, writing is just a matter of re-organizing these, weeding them down to the few I really need to make my points, and then “connecting the dots” with my writing. Supporting my points has not been a problem for me… though my writing has been a bit dry and “quote heavy” the last year or so.

3. I use RSS feeds. I subscribe to relevant blogs and news feeds, and I create RSS feeds from MSN, Google, and Technorati searches so that my computer is essentially researching for me 24-7 and the updates come to me in my aggregator. If you are researching something contemporary and/or cutting edge, which I suspect you all are in Ed Tech, well managed RSS feeds can be a valuable resource.

4. I write about my research on my own blog. I can’t believe I haven’t said this here before, but you could all benefit from this. I’ve been connected with more practitioners and experts in my field by blogging my research than I could ever hope by simply emailing it off to Jock [our advisor]. I actually know and correspond with many of the most influential authors I’ve been studying. More resources come to me because of what I share online than I can possibly tell you about here. I would not have had the same experience in this phd program without my blog. (Even without a blog, I would highly recommend making an effort to correspond with key authors and researchers… you are, after all, becoming an expert in your field, and there is a good chance they will be willing to help… and even a good chance you will earn their respect.)

Again, I don’t know how useful this “advice” will be for anyone else, but I hope it helps.

-Mark

Any other graduate students out there have anything to add to this list of suggestions? Or any responses to them?

PS. I guess it’s high time I start a “higher education” category here. Done.

4 Responses to ““Tips” for Ph.D. Students (Or Higher Education 2.0?)”

  1. Fritz Nordengren Says:

    Hi Mark — this is helpful. Can I offer a suggestion about Zotero — a Firefox extension that is a cross between Google Notebook and a bibliography management package. it lets you capture as much of the bibliographic info from a web page, can capture passages and a cache image of the page for future work. It’s showing promise so far (it’s still Beta) but I find I’m using Google Notebook, Zotero and Ref Works hand – in -hand.

  2. Mark Wagner Says:

    Thanks for the tip, Fritz. It’s a bit late for my dissertation process, personally, but I’ll have to check it out, and I’m glad you shared it here.

  3. CATHERINE Says:

    I AM HAVE SOME MAJOR PROBLEMS WITH WALDEN. I AM IN THE FINAL TWO CHAPTERS OF MY DISSERTION …. I HAD TO TAKE A LEAVE AND WHEN I RETURNED I HAVE BEEN DENIED ASSESS.

  4. Mark Wagner Says:

    I’m sorry to hear this, Catherine. But, I’m also surprised that you didn’t leave a way to get in touch with you. (And the netiquette teacher inside of me is a bit shocked by your all caps.) In any case, I hope you get your problem sorted out and are able to complete your program if that is your goal.