Once upon a time, I promised I'd work on my dissertation in as ridiculously transparent a manner as possible. And so I am a bit sheepish it's taken me this long to post one of the Big Stages towards a dissertation, a Preliminary Proposal (aka "prelim"). It's where you say what you will do for your dissertation, a sort of contract that you make with your committee: "if I do X, then that means I'm done." Of course, this means your committee needs to approve your prelim first. Which means you need to write it first, which means you produce all sorts of crazy halfway-scribbles on the way to that, which means...

...this document is not my prelim. Rather, it's the first version of a document towards a prelim that I sent to my committee... oh, about a month ago. ("Here's what I propose proposing!") Research involves plenty of fumbling around, half-baked ideas, placeholders, dead ends, and (in my case) cartoons. This document has -- unashamedly -- gigantic bugs. Some I knew about, and some I missed entirely (but my committee caught).

Now, I don't need feedback on this version of the document -- I already have the next iteration which takes my committee's first-round feedback into account (mostly). But if you're practicing being a researcher and want to compare your comments with "the expert answers," they're below the document.

Mel's Prelim v.0 by Mel Chua

Committee Feedback:

  1. Everyone: This is a really good starting point, and you're headed in the right direction. All you have to do is flesh it out; the stuff that needs to go into the document is already in your head. (Me: *starts breathing again*)
  2. Matt Jadud: If you cut research question (RQ) #2, your dissertation project's scope dramatically improves. (Me: You're right!)
  3. Robin Adams: You're proposing a faculty development initiative. What's state-of-the-art in faculty development these days, and where does your project fit into it? (Me: Good question. I'll get on that.)
  4. Everyone: You're saying that you're doing both narrative analysis and grounded theory. We call bullshit on the grounded theory. You're really only doing narrative analysis; it's just extremely structured and transparent narrative analysis. (Me: ...oh. So, wait... just because the theory emerges from the data, it's not grounded theory? Ohhhhhh. Yes. You're right.)
  5. Ruth Streveler: What's storytelling? What's the relationship between storytelling, story-hearing, and personal identity... and why do we care about that in the context of faculty development? (Me: I have to explain that? I can't just take it for granted? Darn!)
  6. Robin Adams and Alice Pawley: What is the difference between storytelling and narrative analysis? Why narratives? Why public performance? Why are these things important? (Me: I... but they're... mnergh, fine, I will justify all my design decisions. Mumblegrumble. But I know you're right.)
  7. Robin Adams: What's your epistemology and your ontology? (Me: Epistemology is that knowledge is social and negotiated, ontology is that being is performed identity, and... oh, right, okay, then narrative as a methodology makes perfect sense. Yes. Thank you. I should write that down.)
  8. Everyone: What is your positionality with relation to your subjects? How does your poststructural viewpoint inspire you? (Me: Um... Transparency? Calling participants "storytellers" rather than "subjects"? Data display and final writeup format? Rejection of metanarratives? Yeah, let me write this down.)
  9. Alice Pawley: Your examples of data and first-pass analysis are excellent. Now show me how that first-pass analysis starts answering your research question. (Me: Oh! Sure! No problem!)

Someday, when I have graduate students of my own, I will point them here when it comes time for their prelim, and then we will all laugh at younger-me together, all earnest and confused and wrapped in a pink sweater right before my dance rehearsal. Future Doctor Mel: remember how intimidating and unfamiliar this dissertation process once was, and be compassionate. Maybe with chocolate. Grad Student Mel appreciates good chocolate.