Saturday, April 19, 2008

Living and Working in the Moment

So for the greater part of today, I have been organizing transcripts and coding data. The best way for me to explain the process of coding data is to direct you to anyone's set of pictures up at Take mine for example, at (these are old photos...I don't really use Flickr anymore now that I use Picasa, but you get the idea). All of the pictures there have "tags" that describe what's in the shot. A user can add as many tags as he wants to each picture. I do the same thing with adding "labels" to my posts here in this blog. Scroll down to the "labels" area in the right-hand column to see the entire list. Then, if you click on a label, you'll see any post that I tagged with that label.

Coding data in qualitative research is very similar to tagging photos in Flickr or posts here in Blogger. It's a way of categorizing the words of my participants. Later on I'll refine the codes into short phrases that I can use across interviews. For now I'm working on "open coding" which is really a free-form analysis of text. I read and re-read the transcripts, and for each sentence, phrase, or sometimes paragraph, I create a code. Just a way to sort of categorize what the participant is saying. Yep, it's pretty tedious, but I'm finally making good progress today.

About an hour ago, I started freaking out a bit. I have FOURTEEN participants for this study. I've open-coded a few of them thus far, but geez. Each interview transcript ranges from 25-40 pages long (one was even 50, but that was my first interview and it was really really long). The task I have ahead of me is very daunting, and I keep thinking about how much more of my life this is going to take, will I really ever be able to wrap my brain around all the data? Will I ever get my life back? Will I ever get this parasite of a study off my back?

Do all doctoral students talk to themselves like this??

Calm the fuck down, Rob [still talking to myself...where's the bus to the looney bin??]. Finish the transcript you're on so you can make some progress. Take advantage of having the house to yourself this weekend to get this crap done.

Deep breath. OK. I'm drinking a beer now. A very nice Trader Joe's Hefe Weisen, I must add (gotta love city life and easy access to decent beer). I'm now living in the moment, dammit. When push comes to shove, I can get through a shorter transcript in just over an hour if I really focus. OK, it's really not that bad. I could finish most of the open coding this week if I really push it.

Living in the present moment is a good thing. So is drinking a beer during the data analysis process, at least once in a while. Especially a good beer.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dissertation Weekend

I'm back on the porch this afternoon. Yay! So glad that spring is here. I've been almost literally watching the back yard turn green today.

I don't think I've written yet that my transcriptionist finished transcribing what she could with my interviews. Yay again! One problem was that yet another tape broke. That makes three during the dissertation. Through a couple of connections, there's a person I know at LMUU who may be able to fix them at least enough for me to get the things transcribed. Keep your fingers crossed.

Moose and Wife are away this weekend, so I'm here holding down the fort with Chester and planning on cranking out multitudinous and prolific codes. No office cleaning allowed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Congrats to EA!

A quick shout-out to EA, who successfully defended her dissertation yesterday! Congratulations on finding a yourself a happy ending to a good, long journey.

Wife and EA have been friends since high school, and she was in our wedding 11 years ago. It's great to see her go so far. SO happy for you!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Celebrity Sighting

So last week I'm in the Atlanta airport, eating lunch before my flight home. I had just finished and was packing up my book to head over to my gate. A server in the restaurant came over to me and said, tentatively,
"Excuse me. Are actor?"
"No," I replied, "but do you think I look like Paul Giamatti?"
"YES! That's exactly what I thought!"
"Yeah, I get that a lot," I said. "But I'm not him."
"For real?" she said? She then turned over my credit card slip to check my name!
"Seriously, I'm not. But you have definitely made my morning!"

So then I went to another part of the airport's food court and ran into two colleagues who were finishing their lunch. It was crowded, so we were sharing a table with someone we didn't know. I told my friends the story. The other person at the table said,
"Yes! You really do look like him!"

It made me laugh. I happen to think he's a talented actor and a decent-looking guy, so that's pretty darn cool that strangers are saying this to me. Perhaps I'll become an impersonator as a second job? hahahaha

Monday, April 07, 2008

New Horizons

Been a while since I've posted here. Hi.

Many things have happened during the last few weeks...nothing Earth-shattering, but all good toward making some progress. Mostly intangible progress, but progress nonetheless.

First, we re-arranged furniture at my on-campus office. I switched to a different space WITH A WINDOW!, but it had older furniture not made for someone who does a ton of technical work on the computer. Now, I have my old computer-friendly furniture in my new space. This all may seem minor in the scheme of life, I know, but I finally feel settled in, physically, into my new office at work. It really makes a big difference on a lot of different levels.

Next, I attended my first ACPA conference (American College Personnel Association). I have an elected position with one of the leadership groups within the association, and I have come to learn this was a great way to get involved. I also felt rather "seasoned" (another word for "old," I suppose, but not at all negative!) at this conference. It hit me that I've been in the higher education field for about 14 years (started the master's degree in 1994). I could walk around huge all-conference receptions by myself and invariably run into someone I knew from one or more of the places I've worked. This was a first for me. Also, it was the first conference I've attended in YEARS where I came away feeling energized and had numerous ideas I could bring back to adapt to my work.

Third, Wife and I have finally started making friends here in LSC. We've found a falling-off-the-left-edge-of-liberal church that we like here in town, joined the choir, and even had a nice Easter dinner with Becky and David at Chesterley, along with my mom who came to town for a visit. Wife has a few of her own friends from a support group she's joined. Also, Jason and I got together for lunch last week, and it was good to hang out with someone else who 'gets it' about kids with special needs.

Finally, I completed yet another purge of the home office/prison. I know, I know, my cleaning obsession is getting ridiculous. Readers of this diary know I hate filing, so I avoid it. As a result, things I need to keep pile up, even though I admit I do have plenty of file spaces. In our last house, I had several piles still left un-filed when I was packing to move. On my last night in SCT, good friends Julie and Kim & Michael finally just said, "Rob, we're packing the piles. Find a couple of boxes." So we packed the un-filed piles and moved them to the new place here in LSC. They've been sitting in a closet acting as a burden on my back, just like the dissertation. More piles had formed, and it was about to get to critical mass. I needed to clear off that burden before I could undo the burden of the dissertation. Besides, I sort of need to start "liking" my home office/prison again. And behold: Last weekend I cleaned it all up. It took forever, and I didn't get nearly as much time outside to tend to the yard as I would have liked. It's not perfect, and I still have a way to go. However, it's complete and functional, and it's a good lesson learned.

I need to keep this same attitude and energy toward the dissertation, and, heck, also toward a lot of the research I will conduct in this career. The old mantra carries through to many other things: "A completed dissertation is better than a perfect dissertation." Similarly, a clean, functional office space is better than a perfect Architectural Digest office space. I think I've been avoiding making progress on the office cleaning because I knew it could never be perfect, or even completed, in one weekend. What a crock. And true to form, once I got into it, it wasn't that tough. It was actually sort of enjoyable. And MAN do I know where EVERYTHING is located now.

I may be doing the same avoidance thing with the dissertation, but to a lesser extent because I am definitely making progress. I just need to ramp up the progress and strive more for completion than for perfection. Sort of feels like it's spring for my dissertation season, in addition for the lawn that's greening up as I write this. It's an exciting new horizon on the dissertation front, I think. Yay.