Venture Bros Guild of Calamitous Intent Council of 13
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.

Y’all, I’m scholarlily-enamored of my committee. (Scholarlily is a new adverb. I give it to you.) Everyone on it is so cool and down-to-earth and does interesting work.

Want to know how to get an awesome committee like mine? Well, I can’t tell you, but I can tell you how to request that someone serve on your committee. After meeting to discuss my prospectus and where we thought my comps should go, my advisor and I planned for me to request that certain people serve on my committee, with her sort of taking over committee organization/management after they agreed to serve.

In my department, a dissertation committee consists of five people and at least one of them must be external to the department. We identified four people to be on my committee; the advisor is always the chair of my committee. We chose two professors from within the department, and two from outside the department. Here’s my prospectus in case you want to review it again. And here’s my committee:

Sandra Hughes-Hassell: My advisor. She’s on the committee of course because she’s my advisor, but also because of her interest in youth services.

Casey Rawson: A friend, colleague, and classmate from my MSLS days. She’s a professor of research methods, so she is my research methods expert. Youth services is also an area of research interest for her. In addition to her areas of research expertise, she has personal interests in fandom and crafting, both of which make my topic of interest to her.

Brian Sturm: A professor who taught me in my MSLS days. He studies immersion, and boy is cosplay about being immersed, right? Also helpful to have on the committee because of his expertise in youth services.

Heather Moorefield-Lang: My first external committee member. She’s got expertise in qualitative and has done a lot of research on makerspaces. Because I see making as a key element in cosplay, I wanted her on my committee. She also used to be a theater teacher and I am a lapsed theater person, so I expected there might be some good personality fit there. (I’m pretty sure I was right.) I didn’t know her, but I’d interacted with her some on Twitter and Sandra had met her at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians conference.

Crystle Martin: My second external committee member. If you’re basing your whole study on providing confirming evidence for/extending someone else’s study, it’s nice to have that person on your committee. She’s also a Connected Learning expert, and that’s a framework I definitely want to bring into my dissertation work, as it’s kind of my whole reason for getting a PhD. I also had expected a good personality fit here, as we share interests in fandom and gaming. (She once spoke on a panel called “What Buffy the Vampire Slayer Has to Teach Us about Games, Education, and Self-directed Learning,” soooo…) I had met her once about three and a half years ago, when she came to campus for a visit and I was working in the School of Education.


So Sandra and I settled on these four people to ask to serve, but then it was up to me to actually contact them. I looked around on the internet for examples of how to invite people to be on your dissertation committee and found a little advice but no clear templates. So, keeping in mind the advice from the blog post The Basics of Professional Communication, Part I, I set about constructing my own, which I will share with you in just a moment.

But first, a note: please remember that you are requesting a service, not conferring an honor. Serving on committees is part of professional service for faculty members. But also, if they accept, they are doing you a favor. So try to keep that in mind in your verbiage.

Now, three templates for asking someone to be on your committee! But be sure to read after the templates for one more note.

1. Someone you already know well (in my case, Brian and Casey)

Dear [Recipient Name]:

I hope this semester is treating you well. [Include some more conversational detail if you like.]

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely,
[Your name/email signature]

2. Someone you’ve met but don’t know well

Dear [Name]:

My name is [your name], and I am a [your year] doctoral student at [your institution and department] working with [your advisor]. For my dissertation, I am planning to research [your topic/research question]. [A one-sentence reminder of when and how you met.]

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely,
[Your name/email signature]

3. Someone you’ve never met

Dear [Name]:

My name is [your name], and I am a [your year] doctoral student at [your institution and department] working with [your advisor]. For my dissertation, I am planning to research [your topic/research question].

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely,
[Your name/email signature]

Some notes:

When selecting what to call the recipient in the greeting, here are my general guidelines:

  1. If it’s someone I know well, I use the name that I know they prefer. In my department, some professors prefer students use their first name, others prefer their title and last name, and others might prefer a title but last initial, so that their expertise is recognized but the relationship is still a little informal. Respect what this person wants to be called.
  2. If it’s someone I have only met once or don’t know at all, I use the title and last name. Once they’re on the committee and you’re actually having meetings, you may end up calling them by first name as I have in the blog post above. But always begin from the most formal position possible.

All of the people I requested to be on my committee accepted, and we had our first meeting last week, which is why next time on Dissertating in the Open, I’ll write about Your First Meeting with Your Committee!

Thanks to Jegged.com for the Final Fantasy VII Party Select Screen Image.

Open Book with Notebook in a Library
I think every doctoral program is different in what they expect from students for qualifying comprehensive examinations, but in my program, there are two components: a literature review of about 50-60 single-spaced pages that offers an overview of the student’s research interests and addresses theoretical, methodological, and topical literature related to the expected dissertation, and a brief prospectus for the dissertation.

I wrote the prospectus first. Honestly, I think everybody should. Then my advisor and I met and discussed what should be in the comprehensive literature review. We wanted to have five areas to propose to my committee, with the understanding that these might change after our first meeting with my committee. Based on the prospectus, we settled on the following five areas:

Information literacy. As my central research question is about information literacy practices, I need to have a thorough definition of information literacy as a concept and an understanding of the historical development of that concept.

Cosplay. Since the cosplay affinity space is the locus of my research, this was an obvious choice.

Theory. It’s expected that all comps packages in my department will have a theory section. I chose to focus on theories Martin (2012) used in her dissertation: earlier models of information literacy, Sonnenwald’s (2005) framework of human information behavior, James Paul Gee’s (2004) concept of affinity spaces, Levy’s (1997) concept of collective intelligence, and Jenkins’s (2009) concept of participatory culture. There are other theories that may come into play, but I haven’t identified them yet. Theories I’ve researched in the past include possible selves, situated learning and communities of practice, and cultural-historical activity theory (especially horizontal learning). None of these are necessarily going to show up in my comps, but each of them has the potential to be useful for my dissertation work, so depending on how thorough I end up being with the theories mentioned earlier, they may end up in there.

Methods and Data Analysis. This is another section that is expected by the department. My proposed methods are primarily qualitative, involving interviews and qualitative coding, so this section will focus on those. It does have one quantitative element, however: analytic description, “an analysis
method to illustrate transforming qualitative data into numbers and coupling that with qualitative description” (Martin, 2012, p. 78), so I included mixed methods in here as well.

Connected Learning. Finally, although it isn’t mentioned explicitly in my prospectus, my advisor and I decided to include Connected Learning in my comps package. Connected learning in libraries is my central research interest, and cosplay definitely has all of the characteristics of connected learning, so this is a good fit for my fifth area.

I hope this has been helpful as you think about your own qualifying exams and which areas you should be reviewing to prepare for your dissertation.

Next on Dissertating in the Open: Contacting Potential Committee Members!

References

Martin, C. A. (2012). Information literacy in interest-driven learning communities: Navigating the sea of information of an online affinity space. The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved from search.proquest.com/docview/1030437582?pq-origsite=summon

 

 

 

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!