Friday, February 3, 2012

Obstacles and Opportunities

The past month has been an exciting roller coaster ride of emotions.  This week I almost felt like I was going to fall off or out, but isn't that part of the thrill?  I half-heartedly jest.  Let me first describe the aggravating part of the ride, and then finish with the invigorating part.

In the middle of January, right before my last full semester of classes was about to begin, I started receiving hints that my best plan for data collection was not going to happen.  This set off my mind to turn on the back burners of alternative plans for data collection.  (I already had plans B through E written out with my wife's help.)  Because the time of data collection for plan A was soon approaching, we were both getting excited to see my research finally getting done physically, out in the field, rather than mentally and on paper.  But then, I got that warning sign.  Two weeks went by when I would switch between optimism and pessimism.  I wasn't too worried because all my eggs were not in this basket.

Earlier this week, I got confirmation that plan A was not going to happen from two different sources.  The first was from an important contact overseas where I had planned (and still may plan) to collect data.  The second was from my department.  I somewhat agree with those in my department that I may be rushing things too hastily.  The rush is partly due to seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with full support of my wife.  The other rush is financial, meaning if I could get done faster my family and I can improve our current standard of living.  Being the spouse of a PhD student is more punishing than being the actual PhD student during these times because, where I feel somewhat powerless, my wife feels even more powerless in the progress of our lifestyle.  Any bad news I receive about the delay or hiccups in my plan to obtain the PhD degree impacts my wife twice as badly.

In the past few days, I have been dealing with the fact that plan A will not happen.  And so I was ready to look over plans B through E.  When I started organizing my thoughts on paper, I realized that I had nearly twice as many back-up plans, B through I.  None of them, however, were as glorious as plan A to me and my wife.  When I started analyzing each back-up plan, it seemed that the major concerns for each plan had to do with money, time, rigor, and modifications of the research questions.  The most efficient plan in terms of time, rigor, and modifications was actually the most expensive plan and nearly impossible for this year.  The most rigorous plan would take the most time, but it didn't necessarily require more money or modifications.

At this moment, I have taken into consideration that time is the least in my favor now, and this acts like a dagger stabbing my wife in the heart.  If we can survive this wounding, I have at least 2 very good alternative plans, new B and new C, and I can foresee at least 3 more other options that are less favorable.  And this time, I will have to sit on these plans until the semester is over.

OK, that's the nearly end of the aggravating part of the ride.  On the same tracks of this roller coaster metaphor were some very exhilirating climbs.  Firstly, I have completed the second drafts of all of my comprehensive exam papers.  With the due date postponed 5 weeks, I have the chance to improve as many of those drafts as I want.  Because I had completed the bulk of that task, a window of opportunity to read literature I had earlier collected opened up.  From these few articles and books, I found stronger footing in my research proposal and even more literature to collect.  This all happened days before the semester started.

The biggest treasure trove opened up after the first day in a course I felt was least relevant to my research this semester.  It turns out that the readings and my ideas for the seminar paper for that course may actually amplify the impact of the first two chapters of my dissertation.  In my first step into searching for literature for the seminar paper, I stumbled upon nearly the same amount of literature that I had previously collected, therefore almost doubling my literature of primary resources.  I wrote about this a little in the last posting.

What inspired me to write this posting was Twitter, which I only use for professional purposes.  I noticed that I haven't been paying too much attention to my small group of followers, and today I looked at the very few who were following me that I wasn't following.  Two of them were actually publishers in my area of research interest.  It was then I really felt the impact of this aggregate technology.  If publishers can find researchers before the researchers find them, that can really speed up the process.  I'm not talking about sketchy publishers who will print anything.  One of them actually has a good reputation in my field, and I'm surprised that I have overlooked several of their books.

So although this past month has shown to be punishing in terms of plans for data collection, it has actually been the most rewarding month for building a strong case for my research, which in turn will enhance my data collection methods when the time comes.  Although I feel much better now, the wounds haven't completely healed yet, and I must remember that my wife's wounds are deeper.

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