Thursday, January 31, 2013

Moving right along

I waited to post my dissertation update until today because I had my meeting with Leigh this afternoon. After our meeting last week, she had spent some time thinking about the variables I had presented and how they might become a research study.  I really appreciated that her first priority was helping me discover a study that my future employer would value--since I don't want a career in academe, my dissertation needs to give me cache with agencies and departments that serve military families.  I could tell she had really thought about things, and that made me feel valued.

After some back and forth together, this is what we've landed on:

How is the relationship between post-deployment stressors (including the problems at home during the previous deployment, the service member's adjustment to the return, and whether he returned from a combat zone or was wounded or is expecting redeployment) and spouse adjustment (including her depression, adjustment to the return, and marital satisfaction) influenced by resources and supports provided by the military (including counseling, support groups, and informational briefings)?  Are certain resources more or less related to positive outcomes, accounting for the characteristics of the deployment?  Does the time since the last deployment (0-6 months vs 7-12 months vs 13-18 months) matter?

So, this is a study of moderation and since I have several variables, there will be lots of potential interactions. First, I'll test the relationship between the predictor (post-deployment stressors) and the outcome (spouse adjustment) and I hypothesize that the more risks/worse off the post-deployment experience, the worse the spouse is going to be doing.  Then, I'll test the relationship between the moderator (military-provided resources) and the outcome (spouse adjustment) and I hypothesize that the more military provided resources she accesses, the better off the spouse will be doing. Finally, I will test the interaction of the predictor and the moderator (post-deployment stressors x military-provided resources) on the outcome (spouse adjustment) and I predict that more resources will reduce the influence of post-deployment stressors on spouse adjustment. Of course, it all gets more complicated than that because I have more than one indicator for each concept (3 different measurements of post-deployment stressors, for example).

But I am JAZZED! It was a great meeting and I'm ready to really get to work.  My tasks for this weekend are to come up with an outline of my proposal, with all my section headings and subsection headings.  This outline will be indicative of the story that I'm going tell, how I'm going to link the concepts so that readers conclude that the only logical way to investigate the gaps in current knowledge are through my study!  I also have to determine the theory that helps me explain why I think military-provided resources will influence the relationship between post-deployment stressors and spouses' adjustment. I'm going to give what I write this weekend to Leigh on Monday and the ball is back in her court!

Thanks ROW80 for the kick-in-the-pants to get going on this project.  Writing this post and actually typing out those questions and the interactions...they really are priming me for a full, productive day of work tomorrow! I'm thrilled to be part of this supportive community :)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Progress in the Laundry Room!

We've made some good progress in the basement this week/weekend--the new guest room floor has been sealed, leveled with leveling cement, and one coat of trim paint on the baseboards.  Now we're just waiting for the new concrete to fully set before the engineered hardwood goes down (hopefully next weekend's project) and we picked out a really cool tile option for the backdoor landing that I can't wait to share with you.  Plus, the old carpet was pulled up on the stairs, all the tacks removed, and the baseboards along the stairway painted twice.  I actually walked down the inside stairs this morning, instead of our outside stairs like we've been doing since November. Amazing!  And as for the laundry room...look!

view from the hallway (the openings on the left go into the utility closet)
view from the middle of the room (the hallway door is to the left of the washer)
It may not look like much, but this room has come a long way.  All the exterior walls were demoed, then cleaned, then insulated, then new drywall, then all the drywall work on the seams and corners, then all the exposed rafters/duct work/wiring in the ceiling were cleaned and vacuumed, then two coats of primer, then 2 coats of paint...and now, just this weekend, Alex has stained the floor with two coats of concrete paint.  We love how the rich chocolate brown color ties in the butcher block counter and the wood cabinets above the laundry area.  And then this time we also decided to seal the floor with a high gloss concrete sealer (you can see the nice sheen in the first picture).  This protective coating (2 coats of it!) will keep the floor from getting banged up over time.  We need it to dry for the rest of the day (I shouldn't have walked on it to take these pictures) and then tonight while Alex is in class I'm going to move the shelves back in and fill them up with all the things we've been storing in our upstairs spare room (and the future dining room-- you can't imagine how excited I am to get working on that space!).  I'll definitely take lots of in-progress pictures tonight of the laundry room and maybe even post again!

Things are really, really coming together!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

We're a GO!

My meeting with Leigh on Wednesday was a great success---we're a go!!  Here's what I'd come up with the week before:

The 2010 MFLP data is worth using for four reasons:
  1. it's from 2010 (whereas most recently published studies on military couples are analyzing data from 2003-2006 and deployments are different now than even 5 years ago),
  2. it's a large sample of spouses (unless the study is of medical record data, where the Ns are in the hundreds of thousands, sample sizes are generally between 100 and 1,000), 
  3. its questions cover a broad spectrum of issues that face military families and this breadth will address a gap in the literature that while we are gaining understanding about specific associations, we still know very little about the "big picture" of risk and resilience in the face of multiple deployments, 
  4. and most importantly, I HAVE THE DATA!

Leigh loved it :) I had typed and then cut into movable pieces my different "clusters" of variables, like demographic information, current reunification experiences, military life characteristics, coping and resources...and we moved them around on her desk as we talked about how they might be combined into an analysis model.  It was a quick meeting, only about 30 minutes, but I walked into it and out of it feeling confident and knowledgeable and on the right track.  It was SO great to have those feelings confirmed and to know that we're moving forward on the project with the data that I already have.

Our next meeting will be late next week after she's had some more time to process my new direction.  In the meantime, I'm going to comb back through my literature and reorganize it into the new conceptual variable "clusters" so that when the time comes for writing (soon! soon!), I'll be ready.

So. When people ask me now what I'm writing my dissertation on, I have an answer.  I'm going to be analyzing data from female spouses of active duty service members who have recently returned home from a deployment to investigate their levels of risk for negative outcomes (like depression and low marital satisfaction) and to identify what military and social resources (like counseling and family coping style) contribute to their resilience.

Alex and I are off to a concert this weekend (Tegan and Sara!! check out their new album here it's amazing!) then Sunday I have a full day of clients. Work on the basement is moving along too, the concrete laundry room floor has been painted and the baseboards in the new guest room have a coat of trim paint. Things are definitely looking up :)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On being effective

Yesterday, I helped Alex in the basement (as I've said, we call this 'avoidance behavior' in my family).  He's about to start classes again for the spring semester, so this was the "last" full weekend of basement work before homework starts.  My job was to chisel up all the old flooring and glue in what will become the guestroom in our basement.  Here's what I looked like before I started:

Clean and ready to go!

I used an air hammer, which is basically a chisel bit attached to an air compressor.  I was on my knees, leaning over the floor and using both hands to push and scrape and guide the chisel as it jack-hammered under the tiles and glue. Today I'm sore in muscles I didn't even know I had, but at the end of the day yesterday, I looked at that pile and felt so good!  I started in the morning in one place, and I finished in the evening in another place.  That pile of old tile and glue was real proof that I worked hard and accomplished my goal.  So often working on my dissertation feels the opposite- I work and work and think and write and at the end of the day I don't have much to "look at".  But yesterday, I was effective!  I produced a real result through my own sweat and determination.  I didn't stop when I was tired, I didn't complain.  I just kept chiseling. 

My pile of tile, glue, and effectiveness

I'm going to print this picture of me, tired but proud, with my pile of tile and glue and effectiveness.  I'm going to tape it to the wall behind my computer at work as a reminder that I can do anything I put my mind to. That I am hardworking.  That I am determined to reach my goals.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

No progress, feeling stuck

Since my last check-in, I haven't made any dissertation progress.  Another week slips by and nothing to show for it.  I didn't even spend time thinking about my question, or my model...nothing. 

I'm feeling pretty stuck at the moment. I know I need to dig in and get going on this (I want to graduate! I want to graduate!) but every time the thought enters my head to sit down and work, I come up with something better to do (like work in the basement, which as you could tell from my last post isn't nothing!).

I have a meeting next week on Wednesday with Leigh when I need to present to her my revised question using the 2010 data and my revised analysis model.  So I'd better get going!  Looking at my calendar, I have time tomorrow, Saturday during the day, and Monday during the day.  Hopefully by my check-in next week, I'll have much more to show for myself.

(Tell you all what, though, having to check-in today and tell the world that I haven't made any progress is motivating me to get my act together!  This week may have gone by without my working, but now by checking-in about that lack of progress I'm held accountable.  Slowly, slowly I'll change my habits!)

Monday, January 14, 2013

French Drains (better late than never)

Posting a check-in on Sunday is going to be difficult.  I work as a couple and family therapist in private practice, and I work most of the day on Sundays seeing clients.  Yesterday, before I left for the office, I helped Alex paint in the basement and right when I got home from the office, we left for dinner at my parents' house.  No excuses, but I'm realizing that I'll need to work on the Sunday post ahead of time so that I can just upload it.

I'll be better this week.  And since I mentioned the basement a few sentences ago, I'll leave everyone with some teaser photographs about where we've been since November of last year with the "basement project"...

Water damage! Seeping under the floors and through the walls for YEARS. Most of the studs in the exterior basement walls were rotted out and the old insulation was full of mold.

So...french drains were installed.  And when I say installed, I mean a two foot trench was jack-hammered and scooped out all the way around the basement.  Then the pipe and rock were laid, and new concrete was poured. This is the view from the corner of the TV room.

Another view of the trench at the bottom of the stairs.

We should have installed the french drains before Alex laid new flooring and built a bar in part of the basement, but installing them late was better than never.  And we've come a LONG way since these photos were taken.  I promise this next week I'll do a better job of 1) posting something cohesive and 2) posting it on time!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A timely check-in

It's timely that I'm supposed to post my first dissertation check-in today, because just this afternoon I received an email update from my data contact at the Pentagon.  But before I feel like I can explain what the message said, I think I should walk through the story of how I got to this point.  So here's my dissertation story, from where it started through where it is now.

My Ph.D. program is in Family Science, which you can think about as the psychology of families.  Our department is housed within a school of public health, which means the coursework and the research is community-focused and has a real sense of contributing to the greater good of our communities in the service of family health and well-being.  It's a great program, with great faculty and great opportunities.  The program is set up with the first two years as coursework (for me this was fall 2010 through spring 2012).  Then, after all course requirements are met, you are eligible to sit for the Qualifying Exam, which is a two week period of intense thinking and writing on three prompts.  At the end of the writing period, you have to sit in front of a committee of three faculty (you're not told who they'll be ahead of time) and defend your answers. For me, this happened in the late spring/early summer of 2012.  Once you pass (which I did! what an amazing feeling that was), you advance to Candidacy.  This designation means you can begin to work on your dissertation. 

Being the high-achieving student that I am, I started working on my dissertation even before I passed Quals.  I'd started to think about what I wanted to research when I entered the program and the answer was obvious to me: military couples.  I also had thought about what I wanted this dissertation to do for me-- did I want it to get me an academic position or did I want it to get me a degree?  This answer was also obvious: I wanted to write a great paper, to produce good and meaningful research, but I did not want it to lead me to an academic job.  I wanted it to lead me to graduation.  Knowing this meant that I'd be doing a secondary data analysis.  In other words, that I'd be using data that someone else already collected so that I didn't have to collect it myself.  Through a few coursework papers, I'd identified a data set at the Pentagon that met all the requirements: it was large (over 100,000 participants), it was designed to examine the health and well-being of military spouses and their marriages (perfect match for my interests), and it had more than one year of data (which means I could look at how the spouses' health changes over time as they experience deployments).  I identified my dissertation chair from within our faculty, Leigh (she was also my thesis chair during my master's degree and we work great together), and she was on board with the idea of a research project that used the Pentagon's longitudinal data on the spouses and their military husbands.  The plan was to write my project proposal over the summer and fall of 2012, defend the proposal in the late fall/early winter of 2012, and then graduate by May of 2013.

Everything was going smoothly until it wasn't.  The first hitch was that I was denied access to the data on the military husbands.  Because they're active duty military and I am not a government employee, I didn't meet the clearance qualifications to get access to the data as soon as I'd need it.  The second hitch was that I didn't get the first year of data on just the spouses (the data from the 2010 survey) until early December.  When you're using secondary data, it's really essential to have the data in front of you, to know how each question was asked on the survey and then to know how those answers were coded in the data set.  Having this information ensures that your research questions and literature reviews are relevant and appropriate to the study you'll actually carry out.  I tried to get started on the literature review through out the fall, and actually wrote almost 80 pages of it, but in the end when I sifted through the data in December, I knew I'd have to end up rewriting or restructuring most of it.  And even though I'd received the 2010 data, I still didn't have the 2011 data (the next survey year and what would make the project longitudinal).  The third hitch just came this afternoon, when I checked my email and found out that I wouldn't be receiving any of the 2011 data after all.  Due to a confidentiality audit and data cleaning procedures, the 2011 data wouldn't be ready for release until almost the end of 2013.  Since I'm not planning to be in school that long, I won't be waiting for it. 

So, that's where my story ends for today.  Even though this news is disappointing, it means I can get on with things now.  Knowing is better than not knowing!  I know I can still write a great paper and produce good research.  I'm ready to just be done with school, to graduate this year and do a great job, and then get on with my life.  As soon as Leigh gets back from her break, we'll dive in again to tweak my question and analysis plan to adjust for the single year of data and I'll keep moving forward.  She'll be back in the office early next week, so hopefully we'll get a chance to meet before my next check-in.

So that's where my story ends for today.  Whew!  If you're still reading, thanks a million :)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Round of Words

(I'm just going to move past the fact that it's been a year and a half since we last used this we say in my family, "we're looking over it." It's a new year, okay?) 

Last night while looking for 'how to sear bay scallops' I came across a recipe on a blog called Pots and Plots.  I liked the recipe so clicked around the site a bit and found out the blogger is also a novelist.  So I jumped over to her author page and found another link to ROW80, or A Round of Words in 80 Days. 

And it was like lightning.  I want to revive Making Room and I want to motivate myself to dig in to dissertation writing...could ROW80 marry my two goals?  

"ROW80 is the challenge that champions the marriage of writing and real life." (from here)

Perfect!!  The first Round of 2013 begins on January 7 and goes through March 28, that's 80 days and about 12 weeks. My goal can my anything that I want, as long as it is measurable and that once I've settled on my goals, I write them up on my blog and link it to the ROW80 Blog.  There are check-ins twice a week on Wednesday and Sundays, where I write up a post of my progress and link it back to ROW80. And since my italicized thought above doesn't actually contain goals (as I found out here), I've revised them below:
  1. I am going to post once a week about house projects, house decorating, or something else home and family related.  By the end of the first Round, I will have written 12 of these posts.  These posts will occur on Sundays, as my Sunday ROW80 check-in.
  2. I am going to post once a week about dissertation progress, what I've accomplished that week, or something else dissertation related.  By the end of the first Round, I will have written 12 of these posts.  These posts will occur on Wednesdays, as my Wednesday ROW80 check-in. 
Now, I realize that participating in ROW80 means I already have to check-in (and since these are my goals, it could seem like a wishy-washy goal), but it's actually perfect for me.  Posting about the house on this blog has been something I've wanted to get back to for a while so using the check-ins will keep me accountable.  And all the other work that goes in to a house post, like picking the project to feature, taking and organizing photos, and writing it up, will all happen throughout the preceding week.  In terms of dissertation progress, right now some of my most important work is just thinking and organizing my literature and tweaking my research design--goals about actually writing would be doing myself a disservice.  Those are for Round 2!  So right now, just needing to write a post about what I accomplished that week, will keep me accountable and moving forward.   

So here I go.  My first dissertation post will be Wednesday January 9th, one week from today.  Then my first house post will be Sunday January 13th.  And since posts are more interesting with photos, here's an in-progress picture of our new desk in our newly painted office!  More details to come on Sunday :)

Thank you Google gods for leading me to ROW80 :)