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Archive for the ‘PhD’ tag

Doctor is My … Middle Name (1)

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The blog has been quiet for a little while and I am glad to say with good reason – today I successfully defended my PhD dissertation:

Circle of Care Modelling: Improving Continuity of Care for End of Life Patients.

I have posted some of the findings previously and will post other components and findings in the future. I learned a great deal through this (both about my area of study and about myself) and am pleased to have taken the steps to get my PhD. The future looks exciting!

Today, however, I am going to rest and see my family.

Thank you everyone for your support on my journey. To my committee for being fair, supportive and asking good questions. To Francis, my supervisor, for pushing me that much more along the way.

And to my family.


1. Yes, this is a sad mis-quote from Austin Powers. I know what you are thinking “Oh, behave!”

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February 10th, 2010 at 4:36 pm

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The end of 1,000 word days

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This is a follow up to my earlier post on the challenge of writing my dissertation.

For 25 days this summer, I counted my days by the word. I set myself the task of writing 1,000 words per day on my dissertation.

That was the minimum I could write. I could write more, but not less — and no banking of words. And contrary to my earlier post on pictures being worth 1,000 words, they didn’t count.

I had to write at least 1,000 words a day.

Every. Day.

My idea was to set up a chain of accomplishments so that even when I was waning, I would not want to break the chain by missing a day. I had to reach 1,000, then I could stop and rest. Or edit. Or revise a picture. Or re-review my findings. Or do something else. Anything, as long as I wrote my 1,000 words.

25 days later and I was at the end of my 1,000 word days. The body of my dissertation was drafted. 228 pages, over 66,000 words.(1)

Calendar - Chain.graffle_ Canvas 2.jpg

This proved to be a successful approach for me to get through my draft and one I will likely use again in future projects.

I think the trick to find the right metric that is an accomplishment that is significant for a day without being overwhelming that cannot be achieved. For me, last month, 1,000 words a day worked.

Since then I have started the editing process. I have shifted metrics to a set of tasks, determined based on a review cycle and laid out over a week. Not as clean as the 1,000 word metric, but that’s the nature of editing.


1. Yes, 66,000 / 25 is more than 1,000 words a day. I was working on my draft prior to July 30th, so I had several chunks completed before I started (that I didn’t count in my 1,000).

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September 9th, 2009 at 6:26 am

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Dissertation Challenges

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Right now I’m in the deep, dark part of the PhD – the dissertation writing. Having cleared away everything else, but the blank papers in front of me, I have no excuses but to write.

Well I have actually discovered plenty of excuses… that is the nature of writing, isn’t it?

I am moving steadily along and feel like I have a handle on where I need to go. I have done enough of the analysis work before now that this is mostly about writing, instead of doing the conceptualizing / analysis in parallel with the writing. That definitely seems to help.

I have my daily and weekly goals and that’s good.

One of my touch points is volume of words. The target is at least 1,000 words a day. I feel like I have accomplished something if, among the other pieces (e.g. editing, etc) that I have generated 1,000 words. It’s not the only measure, but it is one metric to work against (to quote Monty Python:

Sir Edwin: Ah, well, I don’t want you to get the impression it’s just a question of the number of words… um… I mean, getting them in the right order is just as important. Old Peter Hall used to say to me, “They’re all there already– now we’ve got to get them in the right order.”

But number of words is a good metric. It’s clear and measurable. And I start to create a chain of activity that I don’t want to break — every day, 1000 words. What if I miss a day? Can’t do that, I’ve had 9 1000 word days in a row. Gotta make it ten. That works well.

In a break today I started thinking about ways to keep the chain and slack off (the human mind never ceases to amaze me). “Never fear, I can count my pictures… that’s right. A pictures worth a thousand words, isn’t it? If I miss a day, I’ll count one of those…” My dissertation is full of pictures. Excellent! My brain has found a way around my own self imposed productivity standards… but maybe pictures are really worth a 1,000 words.

So I surfed and – even better – I came across this image:


It appears there was an error in translation – 10,000 words! I can take off the whole week and still make quota! Ah, I love August by the lake… but alas, no matter how I count my actions, I still have to reach “done” as defined by my supervisor and my committee in fairly short order and cannot bask in the warm shade much.

Also, it turns out that there were a couple of errors in the translation of the chinese proverb, actually. As Paul Lester explains:

In fact, the literal translation is: A Picture’s Meaning Can Express Ten Thousand Words.

He goes on to explain that:

With the correct interpretation of the proverb, words and pictures live in harmony as they are both used equally in order to understand the meaning of any work that uses them both.

This is a wonderful interpretation that works well with my dissertation. I’m sure to find a use for it somewhere as much of the work in the study relies on visual communication of findings through pictures and (visual) models.

Until then, however, I am either going to have to change my metrics (1000 words, and 1 picture) or I am going to have to up my daily quota for words, otherwise I am sure I am going to find myself slacking off, counting pictures as 10,000 words each. 🙂

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August 8th, 2009 at 11:56 am

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A day at OHSU

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I spent the day at Oregon Health Science University with Dr. Joan Ash and her team today.

I was invited to spend the day there and was able to present on my current research for my first time to a surprisingly large audience (thank you all for attending). I also spent time with some great people learning and getting feedback. They have a productive and energized group there. I think that is what most impressed me. There was play in the rooms as they discussed dreadfully dull (to most people) topics like CDSS taxonomies, thematic coding and findings from months of qualitative analysis review.

Yes, I was thrilled to find some like minded folks on my trip.

I was also excited by the exchanges I was able to have, even in the short period of time. There were several people working on, or had worked on ideas that very much compliment the work I am doing now on Circles of Care and Continuity of Care.


The discussions will, I have no doubt, add to the richness of my evaluation, both from the perspective of adding some new ideas but also from the simple energizing from this visit. Thank you for that.

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July 2nd, 2009 at 7:40 pm

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Compartamentalizing and Deep Thinking

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I recently set up another user account on my macbook. I thought it was an easy way to establish encryption for all the digital files associated with my research in order to inform Ethics that everything was indeed password protected and encrypted. Using FileVault for the home directory of this account ensures that everything in there has some level of encryption.

(I do need a better picture)
This has worked fairly well so far, and has allowed me to connect my dedicated recording devices only to that account so that the files are all stored in the encrypted home directory along with all my notes. I am using a combination of LiveScribe’s Pulse Pen and an iPod with recording microphone for capture, more on that combo in a later post.

The side benefit is that I do not have access to my email, calendar, task list, etc. I have tailored the environment for only the applications I need to do my analysis and so I can focus deeply. I have thought I have been quite good keeping focus and being productive and on task when i have work to do. This does take my focus to the next level. I didn’t realize quite how often my eyes look down at the little badges on my dock (when they are not at zero). Now, when I am focusing on my analysis work, there is nothing there to distract me in the dock, not even the mail icon (or accounts set up).


With fast user switching, it is easy enough to make a change and come back to the rest of my world, but it is just hard enough that I am not doing it unconsciously.

I wouldn’t recommend setting up separate accounts for every project, but for something as substantial as this research, it is proving to be a good choice.

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April 11th, 2009 at 8:31 am

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Scrivener and Writing

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Just a quick note on Scrivener – it’s a wonderful little Mac writing app. It’s written by a little independent company (as stated on their website “not a software company…Literature & Latte is one guy with lofty writerly ambitions, who has written a piece of software designed to aid in the process of writing). The author of the program, Keith, needed a tool to help him write and so he designed Scrivener. It’s a program that I use at the start of several of my writing projects and really like the approach Keith has taken to writing.

Dissertation0-01.scriv - PhD Dissertation.png

Right now for me, it’s starting “the big one” – my dissertation. I want to get started on the background sections in parallel to the research, so I have a large portion done when the results are coming in. I have moments of being daunted. There are these images of this grand document, hundreds of pages in length, gold edged paper, culmination of years of work, etc. etc.

It’s not unusual to feel that about one’s dissertation, I’m told. It hampers the ability to start.

Anyway, I ended up “playing” in Scrivener. Using the index card metaphor — you know titling index cards for sections, a few notes on the index cards about what sections would say, etc – nothing fancy, just pushing some pixels around to let the ideas percolate. Certainly not writing anything. That would be too daunting. Just outlining, some notes, play.

So this morning, with about 50 virtual index cards, I realized I hadn’t written over one thousand words already.

Now with the psychological hurdle of starting out of the way I get to just keep writing, which is far easier.

Thanks Keith.


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February 11th, 2009 at 8:20 am

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Last summer, after some months working on a proposal, I slowly came to the realization that I needed a more clinical topic. After some deep thinking, I decided to change direction.

Now, several months later, I have successfully defended my PhD Proposal. I am developing a model to analyze and improve Continuity of Care. Care Continuity is not a new interest (I posted about it in June) and is a topic that keeps me grounded in the clinical aspects of health information science.

It has been a busy ride since I have made the decision – I have had to re-develop knowledge in several new theoretical foundations and methods, but I am excited about the study that I have developed and think that it will have a positive impact in the communities that I will be working with. Stay tuned for more details on my approach in the future.


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December 6th, 2008 at 6:31 am

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Carefully Circling my Proposal

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“The more things change the more time I work on my research proposal”

Perhaps that is my new slogan. Hopefully not. I am ready to get to my research.

I haven’t posted for a while about my PhD research as I have done a lot of soul searching over the summer and decided that even though I had a proposal drafted, the study was not for me. It was too far removed from the clinical coal face. So I made a change.

Circle of Care.graffle_ Canvas 1.jpg

At the end of September, I changed topics and put my old proposal on hold.

My new proposal, just submitted in draft to my committee, focuses on exploring Continuity of Care for end of life patients. I will be looking at Continuity of Care first through interviews with providers. By leveraging work in Genre Theory and Soft Systems Methodology, I will develop some accessible models that describe communication activities of members in a patient’s Circle of Care. Using these models to structure group discussions, I should be able to guide study participants (both providers and IM/IT staff) to develop feasible recommendations to improve Continuity of Care.

This study is focused on generating the recommendations. Work after the study will be on implementing the recommendations within the communities I am working with.

It is an accomplishment, to have gotten to this point and I am looking forward to the next steps.

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November 22nd, 2008 at 7:13 am

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