Ask for Advice, Then Take It! with Dr. Jamie Ball

Dr. Jamie Ball [00:21:24] I am now part of a dissertation quality control at work. And my standard is, can I recreate what you’re doing? Yeah. If it’s missing information and I couldn’t go out and copy what you’re doing. So typically that’s the kind of quality I’m looking for. Periodically I’ll discover that there’s something wrong with the way the student was going to analyze that data. You catch that kind of thing that I don’t like to say. Chair.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:21:56] Yeah, no, I think that’s about what’s missing now, the idea of making sure that you actually have a definitive plan in there is really important. I know too many committees will let students get through the process without that. And then the poor student is like, OK, what do I do? Like, I don’t have a plan in place with this. And so it’s good to make sure that that gets caught. It’s unfortunate when that gets through a proposal like that gets through a committee and the extra bit of are you doing this right? I think it is important. You know, if I’m asking if the sky is blue and I’m looking at the ground, it’s a little hard to determine. So look up. So I think that’s important. But then just to to to ask the question, well, should we care if the sky is blue or any of those sorts of things? The committee that was the committee’s job to to put that together. And I think that’s a good balance to strike.


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:22:49] Yes, yes.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:22:53] Well, so when when you go through and you’re checking on these. To make sure that you could replicate the study, how do you determine whether they have enough information?


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:23:06] Literally the standard is, could I go out and repeat what they’re doing? Have they presented enough detail to me that I could literally go out and recreate their study if I’m missing key pieces of information like how big their sample sizes or are expected to be or I don’t know how they’re gathering informed consent or they didn’t identify their variables and explain them so that I could recreate the statistical test or even determine they selected the correct statistical test. Those are the kinds of things I’m not I don’t very often feel the need to change somebody’s response. Right. Periodically, you’ll get one where clearly they’re asking same predictive question, but they’re looking at group differences. I might say you need to change the first few words. Right. But just that kind of thing.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:24:02] One of the things I tell our students all the time is that. If I was going to go bake a cake, I could go ask a baker how to do that and they would give me a card and it would say, here’s what you need, here’s what to do with the stuff, and here’s when you’ll have a cake. And we call it a recipe. And we want you to have a recipe for your dissertation. And a good way to start is a research plan needs to answer three questions. It sounds like elementary school. Who are you going to talk to? What are you going to ask them? And what are you going to do with their answers? Now, those are kind of basic questions, but they are each one of those who are going to talk to well, who exactly what the population wants to sample, how are you going to get from one to the other? How are you going to recruit them out? You know, how are you going to determine of all the people in the world whether they belong in your group or not in your group? So there’s there’s some involvement to that. But it’s an easy concept to understand. And then what are you going to ask them? What is the instrumentation look like? Is it an interview? Is it a survey? Is it a measurement? You know, you could. Blow up tires until they explode, that could be what you’re going to ask them is that what pressure do you fail and then do an analysis on that. So that’s where we ask students to start. The process, in fact, is let’s get together. That what I call an instant roadmap for your dissertation. Just know where you’re going before you even start. And once you can do that, a lot of these other pieces just kind of start to make sense because it’s it’s obvious you’re going to that project of I’m going to you know, these are the people I want to recruit these this is how and interact with them. And this is what I’m going to do once I collect that data. When you know where you’re going, it’s a lot easier to get there is what we found. And that’s contrary to what a lot of universities did where they just tell you kind of go out wandering the woods until until you hit a dissertation or a dissertation hits you.


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:25:59] Yeah, we see that a lot.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:26:01] I call that the bloodhound approach to the dissertation process? Because it’s that’s what students seem like. They’re just taking the next step. They kind of sniff over here and sniff over there like, OK, I think I need to go this way and you take a step or two. You’re like, now let me sniff again and see which way I need to go. And you never know where you’re going, but you think you might be able to figure out a path if you just keep taking one step at a time. But that’s just such a slow process. And bloodhounds lose the scent all the time. And it’s not pretty when they do, particularly their doctoral students.


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:26:30] That’s for sure.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:26:33] So what are some interesting things that you have seen since you moved from the student side to the the advisory side to the chair side of the equation? What are some interesting things that you’ve seen students do that some of our students might identify with and might feel a little better knowing, hey, I’m not the only one?


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:26:54] Well, the first thing is that how alone I feel, especially if they’re doing an online program.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:27:02] You guys, I told you.


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:27:05] They feel very alone. I felt very alone. And I found that I would be for my own students. It’s like, look at Facebook groups for people who are just writing among your alumni from here, you know, all kinds of things go seek out a few of those. And that way you have somebody to sort of commiserate with.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:27:27] As I told them you wanted to celebrate with and someone to commiserate with, because both of those things are going to happen.


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:27:36] And it’s also nice to be able to get advice from somebody who might be a step ahead or might might be finished.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:27:43] And what changed is even helping someone who might be a step behind is very good, too, because it helps you to internalize and and to feel better about the things that you’ve already accomplished. So I think these groups, they don’t have to be uniform in any way in terms of where you are in the process of getting people that are ahead of you to help you. Helping people that are behind you both are very valuable for you, not to mention for the other people in the community.


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:28:07] Yes, I strongly recommend that. I even encourage my students to form study groups. They’ll say, hey, would you pass along? I sure will write it off for you. So finding somebody because, you know, when you talk about it at home and you’re sharing with your spouse or your children or your best friend, you know, about your dissertation or your research, watch your eyes glaze over.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:28:38] So I had a student contact me for the first call we ever had. She tells me, I’m going, I need help. I’m like, sounds great. I like to give help. Let’s go. And what she needed help with was the fact that last night she told her husband to shut the hell up. He didn’t know what he was talking about. I was like, whoa. I’m not going to help that kind of doctor, and she says, no, no, no, no, you need to hear what he said. Still not that kind of doctor. OK, go ahead. And she said what he told her. He said they get along great and they’ll never argue and hardly ever fuss, you know, decades of marriage. And what he told her was, honey, I know you’re smart enough. You can do this. And that’s what she told that what you’re talking about, and she was right, he didn’t know what he was talking about, he was trying to be supportive in the best way that he could be supportive. But when you’re feeling like you’re failing, whether it’s true or not, when you’re feeling that way, then that kind of support seems like someone’s placating you or almost taunting you. Yes. There’s someone else who’s been through it before. It can feel uplifting and empowering. And to test that hypothesis, I actually, by the end of our phone call, first time I talked to her, I used the same words and told her, listen, I know you’re smart enough, you can do this. And she told me, thank you. Her husband, she jumped down his throat. Yes, but it was because, again, you do need people who can. Who’ve been there before, who’ve been around the block and who can say, I know what I’m talking about and you can do this go, so sometimes you need people who say, I know what I’m talking about. This is what you need to do. This is how to do it. You need both operational and emotional support to get through this process.


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:30:26] Well, that’s the other interesting thing. That kind of shocked now that I’m on the other side of all is that I will have students come to me or they will approach me at work and say, this quantitative student is having difficulties and we all meet and. I’m always shocked when a student comes to me and says, I don’t know what’s going on, and I make a recommendation and then they go, you don’t know what you’re talking about. We get that periodically as well. You know, not so often, but I would never. Well, I was going through that this process said to anybody who had their doctorate and conducted research say, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I might say I’m not a good idea to explain more. Right. But we we periodically. We’ll get that or the other thing that I’ll see is I may have a coworker who absolutely doesn’t need my help and explain it and go through it and the students like now and then I added to to assume, call and tell them the exact same thing. And after hearing it from your professors, they’re like, oh, OK. But on the other side, that’s the shocking thing. Yeah. You know, they don’t what when they ask for help and then don’t want it.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:31:53] So sometimes there is you. You relate to somehow better to one person than the other, and so when when the first person tells you something, you literally you just don’t get it. And then when the second person tells you, it makes sense. So I’ve definitely seen that happen. And that’s perfectly normal. That’s fine.


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:32:14] I always describe that phenomenon. It’s funny you mention that because I really work very hard to talk at a very basic level and communicate with and sometimes honestly the struggle. And they’ll be like, oh, you’re so much easier to understand. Well, don’t you hate it when you talk to a person who is talking at such an advanced high level that you don’t feel quite sure you’re about what they mean?


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:32:46] There are people who I think they feel like they do that to make themselves feel better. Yes. And that’s so I would address both sides of that coin in terms of if you are asking for help, don’t tell someone they don’t know what they’re talking about. Be humble and try to accept that help as it was intended and ask questions if you need to. Most people that are trying to help you, if they’re trying to help you, they will be all too happy to answer follow up questions because you’re respecting the advice that they gave you if you’re trying to understand it. And if you get to the other side of that coin and your first name is now doctor, don’t try to make someone feel bad because their first name isn’t doctor. I mean, you know, be humble then as well. I don’t know what else to go.


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:33:38] Absolutely, yeah, good.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:33:43] But I agree with you, I mean, when you talk about trying to say things simply, you know, hey, what was I just telling you? Research plans, who are you going to talk to? What are you going to ask them? What are you gonna do with their answers? I mean, if you can’t understand that. That’s why I’m not sure how much more I can help. Like I said, we have to dive into that and get and make more sense of it, because you can’t just know. I don’t want the third rail to answer those questions. I want the post doctoral work answer to those questions. But still, for you to understand what we’re getting at, what the important pieces are should make a lot of sense to you. I think we’ve had this conversation before. We’ve talked I, I will explain someone’s doctoral dissertation, quantitative analysis to them. And we won’t use any words that sound like math. We don’t use numbers except for the except for five percent which those of you know anything about statistics. No, but that’s just a community standard we agreed on. It’s like a magic number that we just decided was important. But it doesn’t matter what the number is. What matters is, are we get bigger or smaller than that number. We just draw a line in the sand and we talk about it in those terms. A lot of times drawing a line in the sand because that’s what the community did. They said this is where we’re putting it. And other than that, we don’t say anything that sounds like math hardly. And they understand things and they go in. And I’ve had students before who said that they came out of their defense and someone on their committee said, I never really understood that until you explained it to me because they weren’t trying to talk math where they didn’t understand it either. They were saying, well, this is all the test is doing. You know, if you want me to get a doctoral degree in statistics and derive the test for you and calculate all the moments and do all the integral calculus and all that kind of stuff. Well, sorry, I’m not doing that. I get my degree in education or in business or something. But if you want me to tell you which test I need to run and why and what it says, then yeah, this is how it works.


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:35:41] Right. Should be that easy, right?


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:35:44] I agree. What other insights do you think you would you’d be able to share from your side of the fence with with folks that are struggling to to through the dissertation process right now?


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:36:00] See, one of the things it is really important that I find people don’t focus on is they need to consider what access they have to gaining information, for their although just insulting them, set it up and go, well, I’ll just go to my school district and I’ll ask for this information in the school district as well. Once you have IRB approval, you can ask for it again. And I tell the students, no, you need to check and make sure you can get it and get some sort of preliminary approval in writing it. Once you’re approved by IAB will provide this for you and something else. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I’ve seen this repeatedly. If you want to do a quantitative study of something that can be measured quantitatively along with a numerical value, and I, I, I don’t when he wants to do quantitative studies so bad but that they can get their hands on isn’t quantifiable and they’ll get very upset when you say, well, this would be a qualitative study, but you don’t have anything here that’s quantifiable that I can yeah, I can…


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:37:25] See there, the person just needs to think a little bit more about it, because a lot of quantitative studies have been done in a lot of instruments have been created. And so there’s probably something if it’s not exactly what you’re looking for, there’s probably something close. We always talk about how are you going to operationalize your variable. And all that means is how are you going to measure it, all that means is, is there an instrument that is dealing with a concept that is essentially the same as what I’m talking about? You know, just as a case in point, a lot of times folks will talk about academic success as being a variable. I have a student I’m working with right now. That’s one of those variables, academic success. How do we measure academic success in this case, the student’s GPA? Done. That’s it, they don’t have to answer a bunch of questions or anything. What is your GPA? Done. And is that a fair way of measuring academic success? Reasonably, it could be some other test result or something like that. But a GPA is pretty much your university’s appraisal as to how successful you’ve been academically. So so that’s the thing. And most things you get won’t be that easy. There will be an instrument somewhere that you’ll have to to to utilize and you’ll have to make sure you have permission to use it and all that. But kind of like, you know, back in the day when the iPhone first came out, it was kind of useless. And then they created the App Store and they had this thing. There’s an app for that. There’s an instrument for the.


Dr. Jamie Ball [00:38:54] Yes, am I? I lost my train of thought. The other thing that I encountered that students are struggling with is managing their time, and I often point out to the students, especially when you hit the dissertation level, you know, if your school is shoving you in a lot of classes, which are forcing them to say, no, you’re paying for it. I mean, you can check and see what that does to your financial aid if you’re getting that. But if you’re coming up on something that, you know is going to be difficult, for example, a lot of people will struggle with writing Chapter two. Well, maybe it’s not a good idea to take three other classes or two other classes.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:39:41] Yeah. And for me, it seems like time management, the issue of time management for folks is not about managing their time, it’s about knowing what the heck they’re doing because you struggle and you’re not efficient and things don’t get done when you don’t know what to do and how to do it. And so don’t be ashamed or embarrassed or too prideful to admit to someone, hey, I don’t know what I’m doing. Can you help me? Because, you know, reasonable definition of a student is I don’t know what I’m doing yet. And as long as we have that yet, we’re at the end of this phrase. I don’t know what I’m doing, which sounds despondent and desperate changes to something hopeful and and and optimistic. And I don’t know what I’m doing yet. I’m going to be better tomorrow. I’ll be a better the next day. So keep that in mind. And don’t be ashamed to say I don’t know something because no one knows everything. It’s just not going to happen. Doesn’t matter how many doctoral degree you get, you’re never going to get there. So know what you know what you don’t know. And don’t be ashamed of of the fact that the I-don’t-know bucket has some stuff in it.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.