William Thomas contributed a series of posts to MethodSpace this spring. Sociocultural Frameworks as a Humanizing Research Tool in contextualizing Black Male Teacher Retention, Sociocultural Frameworks as a Humanizing Research Tool, and Using Theoretical Frameworks to arm your Conceptual Framework.
When I heard that he received double distinction from University of Pennsylvania for his dissertation, I asked him to share his experiences with MethodSpace readers. I had a few questions for him, and hope that his suggestions will be helpful if you are trying to complete a dissertation, thesis, or other large writing project.
As I completed my final defense, I wondered if I was now entering the Ivory Tower or exiting the Ivory Tower. The structure of my program at the University of Pennsylvania exposed me to both the dirty laundry, the detergent and the machine that was expected to clean the educational mess of the United States of America. Whether it was organizational exposure of various political power dynamics, or frameworks for activating personal narratives in classroom settings or understanding the complexity of applying knowledge: knowledge for practice and knowledge in practice. My courses in this program grounded me for my transformational research study that explored the intersectional power variables that influence Black Men’s decision to remain a teacher. With a spectacular chair to guide me, supportive classmates to assist me with interviews and coding and a very patient family, I was able to not only feel comfortable answering my research question, but I was able to develop a culturally relevant, humanizing methodology for data collection and analysis for my study and future studies. “Sankofian research” as I call it, revalues the memories of the participants who act as the unit of care that allows the researcher to gather insight on deep personal human experiences. Sankofa… revaluing the lessons learned from the past, in order to apply them to the present in order to project into the future. It’s amazing what happens when you do this. I came into this program motivated by the increased value of my human capital once I finished. I even used the human capital theory along with the self-determination theory to help me make sense of my own journey in my dissertation. As I conclude this portion of my narrative, I realized that my soul’s compass was not actually directed by the drive for increasing my human capital value. It was the impact of my human experiences and the appreciation of those human experiences once the global pandemic made itself known that transcended me into a place where I believed I was a scholar.
JS: Congratulations William! It is an amazing accomplishment. What strengths, skills, attitudes, and/or habits helped you to complete your dissertation so successfully?
WT: Thank you so much! It was a transformational experience. I noticed during the research process that I was applying the same skills, attitudes and habits for lesson planning that helped me as a K-12 public-school teacher in the development of my methodology. Being a visual learner and teacher, I would often apply culturally relevant data visualization displays for me and the students in the classroom and I found myself doing the same with the data I was gathering for my study. This allowed me to rigorously analyze trends and measure the various influences of the research theories being integrated. In addition, I was able leverage my ability as a culturally responsive teacher, particularly honoring the personal literacies of students, by creating humanizing research protocols anchored in the idea of narrative history and relational inquiry.
JS: What part of the research process – design, conduct, analysis – was most challenging? How did you move through the challenges?
WT: Time-management within a concurrent model was difficult. It logically made sense to collect quantitative data through a short survey while taking advantage of when various public school educators might be available during a global pandemic, however, it did not allow me to utilize the survey as a sampling tool as I had also intended. By the time I finished gathering the survey data, I had nearly completed all of my interviews. After analyzing my survey data next to my interview data, I realized that there were some participant categories that showed outliers that I could have put more energy into securing an interview with, in order to have a stronger and more inclusive qualitative sample.
JS: My favorite part of doctoral study was collecting the data, and exchanging ideas with peers. What was your favorite part of the experience?
WT: I would have to agree and say collecting the data was my favorite part of the experience. The opportunity to hear intimate stories of success, inequity, childhood memories and even deep unimaginable trauma humbled me as a researcher and a human being. In addition to the deep stories I was able to learn from my interviews, the suspense and unfolding of the survey data was also enjoyable as I would eagerly anticipate the data changing, whether it was the “likes” or comments on social media or the range of participants who would complete the survey, there was a sort of a rush experiencing this research animal come to life!
JS: What is your advice to doctoral students who are feeling discouraged or unmotivated, or are having a hard time balancing life and doctoral study?
WT: As it relates to discouragement or lack of motivation, I would recommend they choose a visual image that represents their genuine reason for doing the research and have that image present at different places in their life: on their desk, cell phone wallpaper, etc; you could go as far as putting positive affirmations as alarms on your phone to remind you of how special your study is to the field.
As it relates to life balance, it is crucial that a plan for radical self-care is implemented along with a mind-set of radical compassion toward your family. Some of the cell phone strategies could be a start, but also creating clear lines between when you work and when you address your wellness. I did not balance my sleep or healthy eating habits toward the end of the process and that can impact people differently especially in the backdrop of global health crisis. But also, don’t forget about having compassion for your family who may also feel a certain sense of isolation, animosity and resentment toward the time that is being put to get a doctoral degree. I was told that it was “lonely on the mountain” by a mentor of mine who made reference to how disconnected someone can be while they are doing research. It is important you know that many will not understand the world you are temporarily living in and you have to be sure that you are showing grace toward their potential frustration and grace toward your potential discouragement.