Day 63: The Train: A framework to organize research

Somehow, I managed to achieve one of my biggest goals of this year in June: I defended my dissertation proposal. I spent almost three years working towards this point. I thought I would never reach this milestone. I had nightmares about being kicked out because I was taking too long. I thought that living in a different state would allow everyone to forget me and I would wither and die as I tried to come up with a dissertation-worthy idea.

When I asked, people would tell me that things would “snap into place.” I would be told to just keep working on it. “Write every day.” “Read lots of papers.” “Make sure you think about the data.” “Make sure it’s counter-intuitive.” “Cite your committee.”

Endless advice.

None of it was helping me get there.

I wish I could say that my proposal snapped into place too. That I wrote every day. That I read a paper every day.  But that is not what happened. I also did not labor on this idea until something made sense like those academics in TV that have EUREKA moments.

What I did do was use a method my husband used when he wrote his proposal. It is called “the train.”

The Train is a tool to organize a research project. It consist of making sure each building block, or train car, can lead straight into the next one. Each has a function. If any train car is missing, then there is no functional train.

The cars are:

  1. The Engine or the Research Question
  2. The Coal car or the Theory
  3. The Freight cars or the Empirical Investigation
  4. The Caboose or the Application

I will explain more of each in future posts (and link them here). My goal is to be as detailed as possible, in case there are other struggling PhD students ready to become PhD Candidates!

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