Designing a Research Project is Like Shopping–but worse.

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I’m approaching the last few hurdles of my PhD. Calling my secondary comp exam and the dissertation “hurdles,” however, is a pretty sad comparison. It’s like telling Aries Merritt “I’m sorry. We’ve switched out your 42-inch hurdles. You’ll now be jumping over the Empire State Building. Good luck.”

But I digress.

I’m scheduled to take my secondary comp exam at the beginning of April. My focus for the exam is on qualitative research methods (specifically workplace ethnography), which will help gear me up for my dissertation prospectus and eventually my dissertation work. (Yeah… that big nasty D-word.)

One of my comp questions will essentially give me a jump start on the methods section of my dissertation prospectus. Sounds simple, right? All I have to do is figure out what kind of research questions I want my dissertation work to answer, then go about telling my committee what methods I intend to use to answer them. Yeh…it’s only simple if you’ve never tried it.

Doing this kind of work makes me feel like I’m shopping for shoes–and I hate shopping. First, I try on a pair of black stilettos and after a few minutes of walking around in them, I realize they’re too high and a bit impractical. Then I try on a pair of sensible, leather flats, and they pinch my toes and rub my heels. Next I go for the UGG boots. They’re comfy but a bit cumbersome.

And the worst part of that analogy is that it just applies to one small section of what will eventually become a finished prospectus!  The prospectus as a whole is almost like trying to find an entire wardrobe… I keep trying on variations of clothes, shoes, accessories until I eventually hit an outfit that fits and looks the best.

At this point my “outfit” looks like something I would have worn to tacky day during Homecoming week of high school. It’s a mess. But eventually after trying on one shoe after another and deliberating over whether to go with the pencil skirt or the A-line, I’ll just have to send it all to someone (hello, Committee) and ask for some opinions.


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