Dissertating in the Open: Identifying a Research Question & Writing a Prospectus

First, huge thanks to Dr. Laura Gogia for the descriptive phrase “Dissertating in the Open.”

Early on in my PhD program, I decided that I wanted to be as transparent about my dissertation process as is ethically possible. Since I’m focused on studying Connected Learning, and openly-networked products are a key part of that framework, I wanted to share my own process. This blog post is the first step in that direction.

When I came into this program, several of my cohort-mates already had clear ideas not just about their area of research interest, but about their specific dissertation projects. Others took a hard turn and completely shifted their research interests. I’ve followed a middle route; while I wasn’t zeroed in enough to turn every assignment into a chapter in my dissertation (or even my literature review), everything I did was somehow focused on interest-driven learning. But I was never clear on how it all would come together in a culminating research project.

Over the past three and a half years, I’ve probably floated almost 10 different dissertation topics or themes past my very understanding advisor, but none of them quite coalesced into a question. I should have known that the question would come out of the literature. My best research always comes from someone else’s “Possibilities for future research” section.

A few weeks ago, I was reading Dr. Crystle Martin‘s (2012) dissertation. She investigated the information literacy practices of players in the World of Warcraft affinity space and, based on previous prescriptive models of information literacy and her own results, generated a new, descriptive model of information literacy for digital youth.

And then in her conclusion, she said:

“The more affinity spaces which are studied, the more stable the model will become, until eventually it will be a powerful predictive model that can approximate outcomes when parameters are changed” (p. 108).

I physically actually got chills. But I wasn’t sure how I would tie this into my own work.

Then I went to the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy concert and saw the cosplayers.

Then I re-read Dr. Martin’s dissertation.

Then I realized cosplay is an affinity space.

Then I sat down and over the course of a few hours banged out a dissertation prospectus to send to my advisor. It’s just a first draft. But I wanted to share it for those of you who are inexperienced in writing them. I’m lucky that my professor Dr. Barbara Wildemuth really walked my cohort through this process. Comments are open, so feel free to annotate it up and ask questions.

Next time, on Dissertating in the Open: building a comps package based on your prospectus!

16 responses on “Dissertating in the Open: Identifying a Research Question & Writing a Prospectus”

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