Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Big Picture

I can't believe this book even exists...

And no, I'm not reading it.

For awhile now, I've been approaching the PhD as an incremental, step-by-step process. A 3rd year PhD friend of mine advised me to do that--"Just focus on one thing at a time. If you think about the big picture, it's too overwhelming and you won't get anything done." Great advice, and it definitely helped keep me plugging away for a few weeks.
But then I met with my supervisor, and he asked me to define my research question. Uh oh--that's the big picture! I wasn't ready for that...but of course I need to get it sorted now, because I have to get ready for the upgrade this summer. Actually, upgrade aside, I need to get it sorted now because doing research without the big picture in mind is a waste of time. The big picture (and a good research question) will help me decide what to read/write, which sidetracks are worth pursuing and which are just distractions, etc.

So this week, I've been writing up an outline for the dissertation, with a paragraph for each chapter explaining what its contents will be. Writing about the lit review is the hardest part, because there's a lot to cover and so many ways to organise it (chronologically, thematically). It doesn't help that my project is a bit interdisciplinary, so the primary areas of literature each have their own little subtopics.

Overall, though, I think looking at the big picture this week has been helpful. I'm fairly happy with my revised research question.

Before: "In this empirical study of American students in Britain, I will assess the extent to which foreign students fulfil public diplomacy aims during their academic sojourns." (from my original PhD proposal)

Now: "What is the role of American Fulbright Program participants in the contemporary conduct of U.S. public diplomacy?"

This is more focused on the public diplomacy side, rather than the student experience side. The PD lit was more interesting to me, and looking over the study abroad lit, this new question is more original. I remember Phil Taylor telling me, when I first suggested the topic, that I'd get "points for originality, no matter how it turns out." I'd like to think he'd approve of the new question, too.

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