Academic Diary 2021

Wednesday, December 29, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

I almost did not write about the first semester of the PhD program. It was not because nothing happened but because so many things happened that prevented me from writing here. I had three courses in the Fall semester. First, intellectual history of public administration (PUAD 932); second, research methods in public administration (PUAD 934); and third, data-driven decision making (PUAD 83). Besides, I worked with my advisor on a research project. And finally, I was a husband at home.

Before writing further about the courses and the research project, I would like to express how happy I am with my decision to join SPAA at KU. Not only do I love PA, but I love all the people in our school and my friends here. Everyone is so kind, empathetic, and friendly that made the first semester of PhD an enjoyable experience. Anyhow, doing a PhD has its own challenges.

All the courses that I took in the first semester had rather heavy workload. My initial challenge was to find balance in my workload. For 932, we almost read 2000 pages per week. 934 had a slightly lighter burden in reading materials but was heavy in terms of the research design project we had to develop. On the other hand, 836, unlike the other two, was a master's level course in statistical decision-making for public manager which was more fun and needed less effort. So, at the beginning of the semester I was mostly trying to learn how to skim books and articles. Otherwise, it was impossible to do the readings. It was difficult at first. One might feel guilty of not reading all the materials. But who can read eight books and a dozen articles only for one class? Gradually, I learned, as Rachel once said, "not to let perfect get into the way of the good."

Another challenge for me was to prioritize multiple tasks to get them done in which I was not quite successful. Most of the times I ended up doing the readings for 932 and postpone developing my research design in 934. When I finally got to seriously do the research design project, it was a little late, I had frustrations to face in being unable to settle on a single idea based on which to develop a design. The consequence was that I ended up submitting a final research design which was more like a first draft. There was too much room for improvement in it and it should have been more polished. However, on the positive side, I learned an important lesson. When I was badly stuck in how to design my research project, my colleagues literally saved me by suggesting to have a writing session together. It was there that I realized the significance of peer review and insights. So, the take away for me was first, try to understand final projects at the beginning of each semester and start preparing materials for them from the onset. Second, learn from colleagues as they are valuable resources.

One of the areas that I felt the most need for improvement was methods. I had very minimal knowledge of statistics and statistical methods. I think taking 836 and 934 was a good start but definitely not enough. I imagine I would be taking at least one methods course per semester for the rest of my presence at KU. Now that I know a little more about research design and statistics, reading academic articles make much more sense. Hopefully, I'll get better both at understanding and developing research projects.

One of the pleasant memories of mine in the Fall semester was that Heather always brought us snacks for classes. Also, she took us to restaurants for some sessions. Not that we needed food or snacks, but it was lovely that she cared about bonding with us and making us feel more comfortable in the class. I loved being at her class and learning from her. Besides, another valuable experience that she arranged in the Fall semester was inviting some guests to visit us online and share their research projects and well as academic success experiences. It was a rich experience.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

The last note got a little long, so, I decided to write about the project I work with Rachel in a separate one. Basically, this project is about the role of local governments, more specifically, the network of individuals at local governments, in preparing for environmental disasters that are posited to be the consequence of climate change. In this project, we are five people, Rachel and I from KU, Gwen and Ryan from UC Davis, and Le Anh from Twente. This is an NSF funded grant to which I joined in June 2021. When I started working with the group, we were at the phase of developing a survey instrument to be distributed to 1850 city governments across the US. There were lots of opportunities to learn in this project and lots of challenges as well.

When working with other people, particularly, when they are located in different time zones (Kansas, California, Netherlands) it becomes a big issue to find a time when everyone can join meetings. I would say this was the biggest challenge of ours. Another thing is how people collaborate together, how they manage their files, and how they have access to them. My takeaway from the six-month experience is that all the files should be shared and appropriately managed on a single cloud platform. Besides, when it comes to doing technical stuff, it is more efficient to let one person do the task and others provide feedback. For example, while we developed our survey instrument, I was in charge of modeling the survey on Qualtrics. I always shared the output, got feedback from the team and revised the model. I believe it was efficient.

One of the instructing experiences in this project for me was developing the survey instrument. We met once every week (on Zoom) for about five months to come up with questions that measured ideas that were already suggested in the grant proposal. It was interesting to me how everything was based on theory and literature. We used to come up with questions, question the questions, revise them, delete them, add more, revise more, delete more, basically, it was a back and forth process that took about five months. I never thought developing a survey instrument would take such a long time. I learned a lot from our meetings and the conversations that came up when developing questions.

I think this would be my last paragraph in 2021 diary. I kept this for last because I think it is quite important. What I want to write is that I feel so lucky to have been admitted to KU to work with Rachel. Not only is she such a knowledgeable scholar but also she is a wonderful mentor, a kind and empathetic human, and a great friend. Times and times I have told Golnaz how much I love PA and working with Rachel. Hopefully, I will grow wonderfully in the PhD program to build a bright future for me and Golnaz, to contribute to society and academia, and to deserve being Rachel's mentee.

Sunday, December 5, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

I am freaking out; there's too much on my plate to be manageable!

Sunday, October 3, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

It is Sunday and I am in the office sitting at my desk. I have not written anything here in more than a month. However, a lot has happened and I have more than a lot to write about. This is self-explanatory of how much consumed I am by the load of my coursework. Everything is good and I am enjoying my time here at SPAA. Stay tuned and I will write again soon.

For starters, I took my first nap in the office today. PhD is officially started now!

Also, look at my new plant on my desk in the office. I love it!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

I was officially introduced to the School of Public Affairs & Administration today. Another incoming PhD student and I were invited to the orientation session. She, I, the PhD director, the school's administrative officer, an assistant professor, and one of the current PhD students were present at the conference room. Two alums, who are faculty members now, joined us for a certain period via Zoom. Everyone was super friendly. Lots of topics were covered -- introducing ourselves, introducing the program and expectations, tips for success, services at school, etc. We also had lunch together and after the session, we were shown to the offices and our workstations. Some of the highlights of the tips we were given are:

  • Watch your work-life balance and have a life;

  • Do not overload yourself with extra work. Instead, improve your scheduling and management skills;

  • Don't be shy;

  • Do 30-min readings outside of your research and schoolwork to detach yourself from the tension of school;

  • Read broadly;

  • Do your courses in two years;

  • Solo teaching in courses is encouraged to prepare yourself for the job market;

  • Solo publication increases your chances in the job market;

  • A weak publication is detrimental to your career;

  • Learn how to skim. If something is important, it will come up again;

  • Writing is one of the most important skills you should gain mastery in;

  • Write every day;

  • Read not only for the content but also for framing of the content;

  • grow your network;

  • Manage the faculty members and advisors. They have busy schedules. You should be able to manage things in a way that you can best manage your time and receive advice when it's needed.

Monday, August 16, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

I am still in shock after two days that the news is out. Taliban took the power in Afghanistan in only a couple of days. President Ghani fled. Afghan people are back in the hands of radical Islamists again after twenty years of the presence of the US and other countries on their land. They lost all the hope they had for the future. Apparently, the Middle East is not supposed to face peace. Maybe, it is what West wants. Maybe, it is because people are not well educated and act upon their religious biases. Whatever it is, this should be a lesson for any nation not to expect other countries to build the nation for them, as President Biden said, in his speech today, they never Intended to build a nation. They had a mission and it's over!

Besides, My fellow Iranians are dying because of COVID-19 as the government refused to provide vaccination to them in a timely manner. I am heartbroken for Afghan and Iranian people who are struggling to have a peaceful life under the power of two radical Islamist groups.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

It's been a while since the last time I wrote here. A lot has happened since then. My wife was back from home after four months. We moved to our new place in Lawrence. We are still familiarizing ourselves with the city. Also, we are still figuring out how to make an effective work-life balance. This is one of the skills any grown up should grow in themselves, particularly, if they want to do a PhD. I haven't been much successful yet but I believe I'm making progress. One thing I would like to nag about is that I don't have a car yet. It is a must have thing in the US. We didn't have such a problem back in Iran as a third world country. However, things could take much longer when you want to use public transportation. For example, I wanted to stop by at KU's Health Center to pick up a form a few days ago. It would have taken only 15 minutes to do so if I had a car. It took me 3 hours though. Any other thing would take time on such a scale and it's driving me crazy.

Saturday, July 3, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

I never really paid attention to physical activities in my whole life. Now, at the age of 30, I am experiencing the consequences. To be honest, it's been a few years that I've started feeling them. So, my first advice to anyone who intends to remain in academia is to insert a workout routine into your daily schedule as soon as possible. Otherwise, physical problems could reduce your performance to almost zero.

Friday, July 2, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

These days, I try to meet as many people as possible in my program. People are so nice and helpful. I am very happy to have joined SPAA so far. One of the questions that I ask everyone is how they read! In my master's program, I realized I was making the mistake of reading all the resources word-by-word. It was too consuming. I was putting a lot of effort into it and I was always lagging. Yesterday, one of the knowledgeable, senior PhD students in the school introduced me to a couple of documents that provide guidance on how to read books and articles. They were useful to me. So, I share. them here for everyone to enjoy.

According to her, "a good rule of thumb [for books] is read the first and the last chapters carefully, and then, skim the middle based on what interests you about the book's argument."

Guideline for Analyzing Journal Articles 8.16.20.pdf

Guideline for analyzing journal articles

How to Read a Book.pdf

How to read books

Friday, June 25, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

I had a meeting with a couple of senior PhD students in the program today. I asked them to share their wisdom with me and to let me know of any kind of advice they had for a fresh PhD student. Some of their recommendations were:

  • Relax! This is hard to do but, quite important for your own success. Assume that the faculty have determined you are capable of doing the program and trust their judgment. Now, try to savor the intellectual pleasure of this experience.

  • Doing more of MPA courses early in the program would give you a sense of whether you wan to do a PhD in PA or you want to follow another path.

  • Entering academia for your career (becoming a university professor), requires you to know that it is going to be a professional area of work. It is not like you get to do this job for the sake of science itself and to teach your passionate students. It is a professional environment where you need to equip yourself with necessary skills, such as networking, publishing, etc. so you can maintain your position.

Lawrence Public Library | I wrote today's diary here.

  • Following your passion is one thing, being marketable is another one. If you want to pursue a career in academia you need to have in mind that you must achieve things that make you marketable to the committee that will be making the decision to hire you or not.

  • You may have lots of passions in your life to pursue, however, if you are going to pursue a career in academia, you need to focus on things that make you marketable, i.e. publications, attending conferences, making networks, etc. Any other thing should not be the center of your focus.

  • Be proactive in making relationships with faculty members. See yourself as a colleague (a junior colleague) to faculty members. Reach out to them. Talk with them. Share your ideas. Disagree with them. You are not just a student anymore. It is on you to shape how they think of you.

  • Make a constructive relationship with your advisor. Be his/her colleague. Grow with their guidance. But remember that you are not supposed to stick to the same person if, at any point, you felt your relationship is not the right thing for you. You can always choose to decide who you want to work with.

  • Never work more than your assigned hours for a project. Be confident to say no if your tasks are beyond your contract.

  • You want to get through not to get an A. Decide what you want to learn from the courses. Do it. And focus on your long-term goals. Work on your publications. No one will hire you because of your As, but they will hire you (in academia) for your publications.

  • Priority in PhD program if you want to pursue a career in academia: Publications + Networking

Tuesday, June 22, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

Although it is so exciting to start a new era in life, it could be confusing at the same time. With my 30 years of experience, I don't want to be the best anymore. However, I would expect myself to act wisely. That being said, aside from the fact that public administration is a whole new field to me, the more I read and the more I learn, the more I understand how much I don't know. Every new task that I take on introduces me to a whole new world. I am thrilled to have all these new things to learn. However, life is limited and it is impossible to know everything. So, one of the things that I do these days is asking people with more experience in similar life tracks to mine to share their wisdom with me so I could make wiser decisions in the years to come.

I had my first official GRA meeting today, on Zoom. Almost everyone on the Grant Project that we are working on was present. They all were friendly and I felt so much comfortable. We are going to have weekly meetings. I'm not sure how much about these meetings I can write here as other people would be involved and they might not like it. So, I try to keep it personal and only write about my feelings and challenges.

Sunday, June 20, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

Last week, we had a group simulation in which there were a few different roles such as State Government, County Administrator, a Farmer, Army Corps of Engineers, and Local University. I was a Conservationist/NGO. It was a fun situation where each of us had their own interests and issues in purchasing a piece of land from a farmer. My mission was to prevent development and to conserve a piece of marsh land. The night before that I could not sleep thinking about what I wanted to do to conserve the land. It was five in the morning that I decided to make some protest signs and to ask students draw flowers, butterflies, and birds on my signs. Also, I took my three-years-old Orchid to class. My intention was to remind the farmer of her sentimental attachment to her land which was a unique natural habitat. I'm not sure how much helpful my signs were. As. the NGO, I had no enough money to purchase the land, neither did the State. So, I offered to lend money to them so they could conserve the land. It worked. We did not let the developer win. It was uch a memorable educational experience.

The Last day of PUAD 841 (The Context, Ethics, and Law of Public Administration in American Society), 3041 Capitol Federal Hall, University of Kansas, Friday, June 18, 2021

It was such a pleasure to start my PhD studies with these beautiful souls. It is one of the greatest honors of my whole life to have been in Professor O’Leary’s class. Such a lovely teacher. She is beyond what words can express.

Saturday, June 19, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

It was the last session of PUAD 841 with Professor O'Leary yesterday. What a fantastic and lovely teacher she was. I took Dunkin coffee for everyone to the class. I wanted it to be a memorable day. I very much liked my MPA classmates. Actually, Professor O'Leary had created an environment where we all became friends. I feel like I've known all of my classmates for, at least, six months. This is one of the miracles that only a seasoned and passionate instructor can do. I am very delighted that Professor Rache Krause, my advisor, suggested I take this course. I should write about the first time I met Rachel some other time. The only remaining part of the PUAD class is the Final, take-home Exam that we need to submit by next Thursday. To be honest, I was not happy to be done with this class yesterday. Anyhow, I've found new friends and life still has lots of amazing things to offer.

One of the most beautiful things about Professor O'Leary was how she tried to find the good in students to encourage them to grow around it. Everyone felt worthy and special in her class and it was very beautiful. Just take a look at how she's written about my work.

Thursday, June 10, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

Not only are we attending in-person classes, but also we just removed our masks today blowing party horns at class. I'm so glad to see smiling faces again.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

I attended the second session of the PUAD 841 course today. Professor O'Leary is a fantastic teacher. Although many things are new to me in this class from people to content, it feels natural to me. I love what we read, what we talk about, and how we discuss it. The class is heavily participatory. We are mostly doing simulations and group works based on the readings that we have gone through at home. Professor O'Leary has created an atmosphere to which everyone feels belonged. It is like I have known my classmates, at least, for a semester. The only thing that I am struggling with is the heavy load of readings that I should do at home. This is a compact course that only lasts two weeks. We have a daily 4-hour class from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Considering that I have chronic neck pain that causes severe headaches, doing around 200 pages of reading every day in a second language is too much of a burden on me. Anyhow, I missed being at school. It's been a year I was away. Glad to be back home.

Sunday, June 6, 2021 – Lawrence, KS

Today, I finished reading my first Public Administration book (The Ethics of Dissent: Managing Guerrilla Government by Professor Rosemary O'Leary) before my official education in the PA PhD program starts tomorrow. What an interesting book it was. What an amazing program I have joined.

Fun Fact: I read most of the parts of the book having coffee at Panera Bread.