Can your friends be on your dissertation committee?

accept your nature

When I enrolled in my doctoral program in 2005 I had the idea that I would bring in a team of my friends to work with me as co-researchers and also to join my dissertation committee.  

I envisioned having two committees-one that was the traditional setup of chair, research chair, third chair and then external reader. I then planned to have about four of my friends be advisors on my committee as well.Balloons for you test

From my first course in my doctoral program, I began writing up research projects where I could include my friends as co-investigators. This involved having to draft IRB applications way before the start of my actual dissertation research.

I was researching a new model for how adults perceive learning and for how peers learn together. I felt that each course in my doctoral program could be shaped to inform my dissertation and to actively experiment together with my friends.

I had been involving friends in my school research way before I began my doctoral program. Above is a picture of a research project I did while completing a  post-baccalaureate degree in User Design at a Midwestern art school. You can see a few friends here who were a part of the project as coordinators.

scalpel drawing test

What I noticed was that the further I went along into my graduate studies the more that bringing friends (or family) to work with you in the classroom was a “no-no”. brick wall testThe wall between what you knew in your everyday life and observed with peers suddenly needed to become a surgical act that demanded scalpel-like precision.

I have heard professors describe interviewing friends for data collection as tainted data or even ‘dangerous’ in that I could hurt the research subject if I didn’t adhere to the most sterile research approach. Friends and family often seemed pushed to the back corner while the graduate student struggled to learn more ‘informed’ knowledge about the real world.

Often the biggest role for friends and family was to drive you to class or to bring balloons to your graduation ceremony. How limiting!





Moving back (to) South(fork)

dallas tvwheel chairs and elderly test

In 2008, my mom’s health was failing and my folks had asked if my sister and her family would move closer to them in our hometown in NC to help out.  At the time I was living in Philadelphia trying to finish my dissertation. My sister lived in the next town over and so they were open to moving closer by to my parents.

Once my sister and her family moved to our home town she began to suggest that I come live with her and her family, help out with our mom and also have the opportunity to save money and complete my dissertation. I was doing everything but finishing it. Anyone who likes Philadelphia knows there are 100 ways to distract yourself in the music, art and theater scene there.

What was supposed to be 6 months of wrapping up my dissertation turned into 3 years. We all felt a bit like Dallas with grown siblings living under one roof. Jock and Miss Ellie, however, were about a 20 minute drive away in a retirement community. Continue reading “Moving back (to) South(fork)”