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The Twelve Days of Dissertation

The last few weeks I took on a self-created projected called “The Twleve Days of Dissertation.”  Inspired by the holiday season The Twelve Days of Christmas, I set time aside to seek out and connect with at least 12 people who I believed could help fuel my quest and exploration surrounding my dissertation.
As a general topic, I am looking at social media in higher education.  More specifically is college student usage as it relates to decision-making, identity development and leadership skills.  Drilling down further, is my belief that I do not believe higher education is purposefully or consistently providing support to students on how to become a digital leader, let alone how to use social media to be a positive and productive user (coming down from my soap box now…).
Going into this project, I learned a bit more about The Twelve Days of Christmas, known to most in song version,
“On the First Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, A partridge in a pear tree.”
The song goes on to list the gifts of:

  • Two turtledoves
  • Three French hens
  • Four collie birds (blackbirds; often mispronounced as “calling birds”)
  • Five golden rings
  • Six geese a-laying
  • Seven swans a-swimming
  • Eight maids a-milking
  • Nine ladies dancing
  • Ten lords a-leaping
  • Eleven pipers piping
  • Twelve drummers drumming

The Twelve Days of Christmas is actually rooted in liturgical church traditions, not actually starting before Christmas, but beginning on December 25th to January 5th.
Now that I have blown your mind in Christmas education, I circle back to my project.  Many would see this activity as networking or information meetings.  I took the idea of both, but applied it further to my major task at hand in my doctoral program and that is called my dissertation.  This research project is at the core of my program, where I will carry out a study to a population and produce a works with five chapters, potentially totaling 200+ pages long.
My goals for the project were:

  1. Work out my ideas for my dissertation, such as overall topic, research questions and methodologies.
  2. Build relationships, network and offer collaborations/future communication.  Get to know the person more and how our interests align.
  3. Advice on different topics, including faculty, consulting, publishing, presenting, etc.
  4. Seek out more ideas for resources, including contacts, conferences, journals, etc. as it relates to my topic and career path.

I began brainstorming my ‘Christmas’ wish list, seeking out prominent researchers, pumping out publications within higher education and technology.  I wanted fellow and previous doctoral students, who could relate to the dissertation process and provided lessons learned or current challenges.  Higher education faculty, as well as seasoned student affairs administrators was a must.  I also hoped to include professionals in K-12, current student leaders, as well as social media content managers outside of education.  Depending on whom I was chatting with, I would alter the questions/conversation based upon their experience.  For example, a conversation with a faculty or researcher would go more toward methodology, where chatting with a student or administrator was more personal experienced based.
I will share 12 lessons I learned through this process, then will reveal the amazing individuals who gave at least an hour of their time, many times more.  Like any personal challenge, I felt highs and lows, as I took in, digested and made meaning of each conversation.  I will also mention that for half of the project I was finishing my coursework for the semester, one projected turned out to be almost 70 pages!

  1. Willingness to Help: Nearly every person I contacted responded within a couple of days.  I was especially surprised with their willingness and response rate, since I was contacting them during the holiday season.  Because 99% of them were on twitter, I direct messaged those whom I did not have emails for.  Even the contacts I had never met were more than willing to connect.  Even in our conversations, whether I had a previous relationship with them or not, they offered continuous support, resources and communication.
  2. Appropriate Challenge: Another common element was providing me fair amounts of challenge.  I especially felt this when bringing up methodology selection (Qualitative vs. Quantitative), the outcomes of my research and overall guidance in the dissertation process.
  3. Mission Dissertation: This was a big one.  Make the dissertation doable and get it done.  Being one that tends to take on too much or even want too much, this was an important message to hear.
  4. The State of Students on Social Media: Conversations were very easy with my those I interviewed.  I especially enjoyed the moments when we got to ‘nerd out’ on technology related topics, bouncing off ideas of effective practices, observations and hunches.  Overall my assumptions were confirmed, that all of education needs to make a priority of formally and informally guiding both students and professionals on leadership online.  
  5. Higher Ed/Ed Tech is a ‘small world’: Something I asked everyone were suggestions for others I should be connecting with.  More than half of the time, a name would be brought up more than once, or one of the interviewees would suggest someone I knew or had on my list.  It is a small world after all. 
  6. Social Media Observations: I threw out many questions about student use and meaning making of social media, one in particular was to get a sense of whether students are being purposefully developed/informed on social media etiquette.  Or in what K-12 calls ‘Digital Citizenship,’ basically how to be a good person online and off.  Overwhelming I heard of minimal research or practice at the college level.   
  7. Google + Hangouts: Most of my conversations occurred on a platform called Google+, which allows for free video conferencing.  This allowed me to engage in deeper in conversation as body language was present.  At the same time, I found it took a bit more courage and preparation, as with a phone call more can be improvised.  This was a great challenge for me and I know how to use this platform much more.
  8. Learning About Myself:  This exercise challenged me.  From reaching out to those I professionally respect but did not yet know, to reconnecting with past colleagues.  Also the act of vulnerability, stating my research ideas, observations and requests for help.  I took note during the past month finding: I am brave, being okay being vulnerable.  I want quality.  I will always have a practitioner lens, pursuing a researchers path.  I have a long way to go, but I will get it done.
  9. The Cycle of Decision Making: As I mentioned at the start of this blog, this project took me on highs and lows.  I had many moments feeling overwhelmed, processing feedback, ideas and especially challenges.  I attempted to push out self-doubt and replaced it with positive reflection, affirmation and discovery.  Now I am in a place of decision-making, taking pieces of information from each conversation to aid me.  But I know this process is a cycle, I will again go into times of low and frustration but will come out even stronger with clarity and action.
  10. The Pitch: About half way through the project I took an interesting turn, finding I was able to more clearly articulate my ideas, research agenda, etc.  This was a great exercise, preparing me for what is called a dissertation proposal, which I will go through in April.  This is a formal presentation to my committee, which by the end I need to be given approval from to move forward.
  11. Social Capital: A project such as this is priceless.  In the research, a concept called social capital is crucial in building social networks both face to face and online, that has numerous benefits such as self-confidence, absence of loneliness and overall relationship abilities.  This exercise strengthened my social capital significantly.
  12. Quotables and Notabales:  Without calling out one person over the other, there were many nuggets and new information that stuck out to me.  Statements like “Don’t solve the worlds’ problem, solve your problem,” “You have to go through the scars of rejection in the publication process” and “My virtual door is always open.”  I also came to note terminology such as digital tattoo, connected educator and SEO.

Below I include my 12 Days of Dissertation Team, which have really turned out to be a solid lucky 13.  Each of them are beyond inspiring and fun to follow on Twitter, so I offer their information below.
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Shannon Faris https://misanthropichostess.com/

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Thank you so much to my dissertation team that made up this 12 Days of Dissertation project!  Your generosity of time, insight, expertise and advice were priceless for me through this process.  Next big step is proposing by April!

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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