On Writing and Being a New Doctoral Student
Choose the best word to complete the sentence.
Writing is a __________ act. (challenging, frustrating, rewarding, freeing).
Starting this blog post with a trick question. Truth is that at any given time this year, any of the words in parentheses could have described how I felt about writing and why it matters in my life. And while this year I have written very little on this blog, the fact that I finally began my doctoral studies has led me to examine many of my insecurities about writing and learn a lot about myself. If I hadn’t cared about about having a list of present participle adjectives in my gap fill sentence at the beginning of this post (hint to mild ODC here!), I would have also added an option reflecting what perhaps many of you know already but is worth saying: writing and embracing learning is certainly all about self-discovery. And it can get ugly sometimes when our perfectionism and insecurities come pay a visit. I know it has for me, so here I am. Sharing as a form of curing and attending to those unwelcome visitors.
Being a new doctoral student feels like…
… I am welcomed to join a conversation that has been going on a while at a fancy party. I am attending the party in order to bring back ideas and contribute to day-to-day activities, and sometimes I do not know how formal or informal I should dress. Also, at this party, sometimes it is assumed that I would know what people who are not at the party have said, so I have to keep asking someone or finding out what was said before so I can stay in the loop. When I do join, I am not sure if what I am saying goes in line with the ongoing discourse, of I am allowed to make a new point. The best thing that has happened to me is meeting people who have been at the party a little longer and are willing to guide. Talking with other newcomers who are also at the party helps when we are trying to figure out what is happening around us.
Some questions I have had:
How does a theoretical framework become strong? What’s the difference between a theoretical framework and a model? And a construct? Oh, and it is very easy for me to get distracted by subtle differences between words. Part of this learning process involves paying even more attention to nuances between different words in order to make sure I am really saying what I mean.
But most importantly, I wonder, what can I do to make sure all this fancy talk at the party translates into the kind of daily chatter that influences how learning takes place at our schools?
Learning, writing, and accessibility
I wish that for every paper I write, I would also write a two-page summarized version that could be appealing to any teacher. I will never forget when, in a great course offered by iTDi, Stephen Krashen brought up the need to make research and academic work accessible to everyone. And expensive papers and journals plus lengthy papers are definitely not something we have the time or money to afford in our already busy teacher lives. In his class, anything we wrote could not be longer than two pages. While it would be really difficult to make this work in our academic world, I would like to try always writing a shorter and more accessible version of what I write in any of my classes.
Acknowledging tensions and bridging the gap between teaching and research is at the heart of it all, and this quote, taken from a book by two of those party-goers I got to (figuratively) meet earlier this year, paints a good picture of the gap.
“In any applied discipline there is an inbuilt tension between the needs of researchers, who are looking to develop robust, precise theory, and the demands of practitioners, who would like to keep that theory sufficiently imprecise to meet the requirements of actual practice in varied environments” (Dörnyei and Ryan, 2015, p.167).
I will continue because…
…by embracing this challenge I grow both personally and professionally.
…researching and writing implicitly addresses self-doubt and frees my ideas while giving them a place to exist.
…there are not enough women doing research, and I want that to change.
…I believe our daily teaching practices become richer if we connect them to a larger world of questioning, looking for evidence, and analyzing the answers to our questions.
So far this year, I have taken three nine-week courses, written six papers, and summarized many articles. If I stay on my current path, I have ten more courses to go before my dissertation work begins. But who’s counting, right? I will say that tracking my work does help me stay motivated when I feel like I am not capable of doing what it takes. I am learning to celebrate these small accomplishments and let them recharge my energy for the road ahead.
Dörnyei, Zoltán; Ryan, Stephen (2015-04-24). The Psychology of the Language Learner Revisited (Second Language Acquisition Research Series) (p. 167). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.