[Itech] Fwd: Tomorrow's Professor eNewsletter: 1282. Focusing Your Research at a Cocktail Party

Teresa Franklin franklit at ohio.edu
Tue Oct 22 02:43:12 EDT 2013

Doctoral Graduates,

This is a MUST READ for all of you!

Best wishes,
Dr. Franklin

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Rick Reis <reis at stanford.edu>
Date: Tue, Oct 22, 2013 at 1:15 AM
Subject: Tomorrow's Professor eNewsletter: 1282. Focusing Your Research at
a Cocktail Party
To: tomorrows-professor at lists.stanford.edu

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Tomorrow's Professor eNewsletter, Sponsored by Stanford Center for Teaching
and Learning]
*If you can't convince someone at a cocktail party about the value of your
research project, you certainly aren't going to convince your dissertation
committee.  *

1282. Focusing Your Research at a Cocktail Party


[image: Rick Reis]The short posting below looks at the task of explaining
your research in a few brief sentences to people outside your field of
study. It is from Chapter 3 Focusing Your Research, in the book, The
Education Dissertation: A Guide for Practitioner Scholars, by Dan W.
Butin. Copyright © 2010 by Corwin, a SAGE Company. 2455 Teller Road,
Thousand Oaks, California 91320 [www.corwinpress.com]. Reprinted with


Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu
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----------- 549 words ------------

Focusing Your Research at a Cocktail Party

The next two chapters focus on clarifying your theoretical framework,
conducting multiple literature reviews, and developing and choosing your
particular research design and methodology. The key for now, though, is
that you are able to focus and phrase your research as clearly and tightly
as possible such that your research questions and purpose stand at the
center of your thinking.  You do not yet have to think through every
permutation of your research or the literature or the variables involved.
 You just, for now, have to be focused enough in your research idea to be
able to talk about it.  This chapter thus concludes by describing an
activity I conduct with my doctoral students. The “dissertation cocktail
party” is a way to test the ability to articulate a research topic and move
to the next stage in the process.

Here’s the scenario and activity: you’re at an elegant cocktail party and
someone hands you a drink and says, “So, tell me about your dissertation….”
 You should be able, on the spot, to clearly articulate your dissertation
theme and focus.  Your articulation should have nothing about methodology,
theory, educational research, or any other so-called jargon. It should be
about the big picture.  Elegant people at fancy cocktail parties, I tell my
students, don’t really care about such minutia.  If you can clearly and
concisely answer this basic question, the inquirer then asks, “Fascinating…
so what exactly will you be studying?” You should then be able to explain
your research question in a few, clear sentences.

I go around the room and engage in exactly this kind of role play with each
of my doctoral students about halfway through my Introduction to the
Dissertation class. It takes a few attempts, but all of the students
quickly understand how to reframe and rephrase their detailed ideas into
such a conversational style.  This is not just a fun classroom-based
exercise; it is important to learn how to talk about your multifaceted and
detailed ideas with others who may not be familiar with your research
interests  Moreover, talking about it with others helps you clarify both
the big-picture points and the exact terminology of why you are doing what
you are doing.  If you can’t convince someone at a cocktail party about the
value of your research project, you certainly aren’t going to convince your
dissertation committee.

My students get it.  You can’t just go deep into the literature and into
the data and into your own writing.  Your dissertation proposal has to be
able to both go deeply into the specifics as well as “rise above the fray”
in order to position the value and relevance of such work.  They then ask
the next logical question, “If indeed we were at a cocktail party talking
about our dissertation, and the listener was truly interested, wouldn’t
another whole set of questions immediately arise?  For example, wouldn’t
the listener ask us about whether this was ever done before or how we
actually were going to do this study?”  Yes, these are exactly the right
questions…for the next chapter. Because, I explain, if the listener could
ask such precise questions, then you have done an excellent job of
precisely stating your dissertation idea.  We can thus now move from
focusing our research to actually structuring it.
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*Dr. Teresa Franklin
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