Dissertating in the Open: Your First Meeting with Your Committee

It’s been more than 3 months since I had my first committee meeting, but I still want to write a little about the process.

If you’ll recall, my advisor, Sandra Hughes-Hassell, and I put together an awesome committee. She handled the scheduling of our first meeting, which we did using Zoom as I have two out-of-town committee members.

Before the meeting, I shared two things with my committee: a dissertation prospectus and a preliminary bibliography.

The main agenda item for the meeting was reviewing that preliminary bibliography and settling on the areas for my comprehensive examination package. One of my committee members couldn’t make it; there were 5 of us on the call. I had my prospectus and bibliography in front of me and my bullet journal at hand for taking notes. (My method is really a hybrid of Ryder Carroll’s bullet journal method and Raul Pacheco-Vega’s Everything Notebook, with some modifications of my own thrown in, but that’s a different blog post for a different day.)

I can’t tell you how this will go for you, but it had a couple of really positive outcomes for me.

First, with respect to information literacy: There is a whole world out there of information literacy standards, guidelines, and models, and quite frankly, by the time you’ve been working in this field for 10 years the basics start to get a little stale. I had them all on my preliminary bibliography and Casey Rawson suggested that, since we all know those models and nobody really wants to read about them again, I could focus on newer models. She specifically mentioned embodied information practices (especially as conceived by Annemaree Lloyd), as my research focuses on the information practices of cosplayers and cosplay is an embodied fan practice.

I mentioned to the committee that I was going to start with a focus on information literacy in affinity spaces and work my way out from there, and Heather Moorefield-Lang suggested that I consider subcultures as well as affinity spaces, specifically suggesting the work of Vanessa Lynn Kitzie, who has done a lot of work on the information practices of LGBTQ+ individuals.

Taking these two suggestions together led me to a complete reframing of my conceptualization of information practice and information literacy, moving me from thinking of it as an individual, knowledge-based process to a sociocultural set of practices. More on that another time, but this was a huge and immensely valuable shift.

Second, with respect to methods: Casey pointed out that the “mixed methods” piece of my study (counting qualitative codes for frequency) wasn’t really enough to qualify it as a true mixed methods study, and so it might be better for me to just focus my methods chapter on qualitative methods. This was great because it always helps me to narrow my scope; I tend to want to be far more thorough than is necessary or appropriate when I write a literature review.

After the meeting ended, I felt great. I was really excited about my work and excited about my committee, and those feelings have carried me through the last three months of slowly chipping away at the first two chapters of my comps package.

Featured image is the Chamber of the Council of 13 of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, from Venture Bros, provided by reddit user Empyrealist.