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.