My dissertation has been published!

My dissertation, Neurofeedback as an Intervention to Improve Reading Achievement in Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Inattentive Subtype has just been published on eScholarship.org. eScholarship is operated by the University of California and “provides Open-Access scholarly publishing services . . . and delivers a dynamic research platform to scholars worldwide.” Unlike many diploma mills, which do not provide open access to their school’s dissertations, the University of California now publishes essentially all dissertations and provides free access to the public. This is as it should be. It’s rather interesting, to say the least, that the lower the status of the school, the more restrictive they are to providing access – in fact, many charge exorbitant fees for them. I am very proud to be a graduate of a world-class research institution such as the University of California, Riverside.

Finis!

It’s hard to believe but on March 21, 2014 my degree was “conferred.” In other words, that was the official date that my graduation was recorded on the University transcripts. Of course, I’ve been done for many months and the conferral of the degree was merely a formality. Just the same, it is now behind me. The only thing I have remaining is the commencement ceremony in June (yes, that’s still a few gazillion years away). I’m really looking forward to that.

For the first time in nearly six years, I’m no longer a student. Although it has been a tremendous honor to have attended a world-class research institution such as UCR, it still feels great that I’m done. I couldn’t have imagined a better university to attend. Now it’s time to move on to bigger and better things!

The race to the finish has begun!

I just returned from the 2013 Conference of the International Society for Neurofeedback & Research (Dallas, TX) where I presented a poster session, as well as an hour-long oral presentation on my dissertation research. What a fabulous experience! There must have been one hundred people at my oral presentation, including some of the top researchers on neurofeedback; at least two of the most renowned researchers who helped launched the field back in the late 1950s and 1960s where there. Not only was it an incredible honor but, of course, it was also a bit intimidating but that’s a good thing.

The exciting thing is that the university sent out the announcement for my dissertation defense today! Wow! I can’t believe I’m nearing the end of a very long and challenging (for lack of a better word) experience. Sleep may be in my near future again and, perhaps, I may even be able to break away from my computer for a few days (but not for too long as I’ve got at least one more presentation to do in a few weeks and several articles I should write). I’ve got some exciting things going on and it feels great.

Finis! (Well, if not that, then it’s close to finis!)

It’s hard to believe but the first final draft of my dissertation is DONE! I finished it on September 4th at 6:58 P.M. after spending countless months glued to my computer, not to mention everything that preceded writing it up. I’m too tired to think straight so for now, I’m just going to leave it at that! I’ve proofread it twice so far and may write up the abstract before calling it quits for tonight. Just the same, it’s DONE!

Does the work ever end?

Wow, I’m tired! I’ve had an extremely busy summer. After completing data collection for my dissertation, I immediately launched into teaching a course at UCR – EDUC 280L: Foundations of Education. The topic (advanced theories of learning) is fascinating and I had a great group of students. Of course, I also spent every moment not preparing for that, working on my dissertation.

I ran into a few snags with the dissertation, particularly a problem where I did something previously unthinkable – I bought a Mac. Really. Although I’ve been a longtime computer geek and have a ton of experience with PCs, I never thought I’d end up needing a Mac. The problem I ran into is that Microsoft Excel literally cannot generate the graphs I need for my dissertation! After spending many weeks trying to figure out what to do, I finally had several “clues” that made me realize that the only way to get on with life was to get a Mac. Specifically, I first wrote to my advisor and told her of my problems. She, in turn, referred met to a recent Ph.D. graduate from UCR who she believes is a computer whiz (I’m not bad, myself). That individual knew I’m a PC guy and suggested I try out a Mac. I immediately went to an Apple store and within five minutes, generated a graph similar to what I needed – even though I haven’t a clue as to what I’m doing on a Mac!

At the same time, I had spent weeks searching for a solution and only hit countless dead ends. In one case, I found a retired chemistry professor on a Microsoft forum who has written several books on Excel. It took him several days but he finally figured out how to do a partial workaround but that simply wasn’t sufficient, not to mention that the process was extremely complicated and time consuming.

After trying the above, I also waltzed into a Microsoft Store and told them I had to buy a Mac. They laughed at me (never a wise thing to do) and told me that they could solve the problem. Of course, I told them it was impossible and challenged them to show me, especially since I have long been able to get around on PCs and am quite proficient with Excel. Needless to say, an hour later their “Excel Expert” gave up and told me that I had to buy the Mac (really). Unbelievable but absolutely true!

I’ve since generated a bazzillion or more graphs and have been writing endlessly for weeks. I’m just about done with the results section on my dissertation and after that, all I have left is the discussion and conclusion. I don’t anticipate that will take me nearly as long as what I’ve been doing. At this time, I just want to be done with the dissertation! I’m tired!

Data Collection is Almost Done & the Score is Now: Jeff = 1, Microsoft Excel = 0

Data collection for my dissertation is nearly done – I’ve been at it, nearly full-time, since mid-January. Although the participants are great, I’m simply exhausted. Fortunately, essentially all of my data collection will be done this week. As a result, I will now be entering the final stage of the program – writing up the “Results” and “Discussion” sections of my dissertation (the lit review and methods sections were completed and approved last Fall). Although this final stage should be the most “fun,” I’m engaged in yet another battle with Microsoft Excel. It always amazes me as to how clueless programmers are to the needs of real users. I’ve now spent days/weeks fighting with Excel in order to create graphs for my multiple-baseline across-participants single-case research and finally conquered the last hurdle, thanks to a response to a question I asked on an Excel Forum. Here’s a sample:

Sample Graph from Actual Data
This is a sample graph that is very close to what I’m going to be creating from the mountains of data I’ve collected.

I’ve also created an “instruction guide” (for me) so I won’t forget how to create the graph. Here’s the link to: Jeff’s Single Case Design Graph Instructions. Please note that I did not proofread it – it was created only for my use but I’m posting it here, just in case someone else is interested in “how I done did it.” Enjoy!

 

 

Dissertate, dissertate, dissertate . . .

Although “dissertate” and “dissertating” are not real words (even though “Merriam-Webster” claims they are), I’m in the midst of being a dissertator (another Merriam-Webster term) so I can be forgiven. I’ve been putting in 18-hour days for weeks now and I’m fully immersed in the data collection process. As of today, nearly all of my “participants” (according to the APA, this is the new politically correct word for “subjects”) have completed more than 50 percent of the intervention process and I’m thrilled! I’ve been truly blessed to make it this far. The school I’m dissertating at is exceptional and my participants are a joy to work with!

Although I was originally supposed to defend my completed dissertation about this time (and I should have been able to “walk” in June), my research was delayed by nearly three months due to a bureaucratic problem. As a result, I will have gathered nearly all of my data by very early June, will write up my results and discussion sections over the summer, and should defend by late September or early October. Currently, I have just 21 days of data collection remaining (excluding post-intervention and follow-up assessments) but who’s counting?!

Additionally, I presented a paper on my early findings at the American Educational Research Association Meeting in San Francisco, earlier this week. At the moment, I’m very, very tired and am looking forward to crunching more numbers over the weekend.

Looking back at the first year. . .

Perhaps I’ll recount some of the highlights of my experiences at UCR, especially since I took a 4-year hiatus from this blog! The first year was, without question, one of the most grueling experiences of my life. The courses at UCR were extremely challenging and enlightening. If that was all that I had on my plate, I probably would have enjoyed it immensely. However, the personal matters I had to deal with (esp. those related to the extreme family emergency I’ve mentioned previously) were part of the darkest moments of my life. Again, I will not go into the details other than to say that I honestly don’t  know how I survived that first year.

Essentially no one at UCR is, even now, aware of the issues I faced. I was forced to drop one class (which I’ve mentioned before) in order to deal with matters. In hindsight, I still wonder if it would have been best for me to just have taken a quarter off to deal with things. Regardless, I survived! That alone, is an accomplishment that I’m proud of. Under no circumstances would I ever want to relive that year.

Many times over the years, I have regretted not pursuing a doctorate immediately following the attainment of a master’s degree, back in 1988. My advisor at Cal State San Bernardino strongly encouraged me to continue with my studies. Instead, I wanted to focus on “settling down” and having a family.  It would have been far easier for me to continue with my education then. However, I most certainly would have not been interested in a Ph.D. in special education. Little did I know that many of my experiences over the next twenty years would lead me down this path. That is not to say that I didn’t have a lot of meaningful experiences. I had many wonderful times as both a classroom teacher and later a music specialist. I became involved in higher education very early on in my career too – I’ve taught innumerable graduate level courses as well as a six-year stint as an adjunct instructor at a community college (which I found to be very rewarding). In addition, I was very active with a number of professional organizations.

Prior to the time I became a music specialist, I observed school districts doing heinous things to children with special needs. That was the beginning of my current career path although I certainly was not aware that my experiences would ultimately lead to enrolling in a Ph.D. program in special education. Early on, I spent one summer as a teacher for special needs kids. At the time, I believe those kids were labeled “educable mentally retarded.” Although I was not prepared to be a special education teacher, I did enjoy the experience despite the fact that it was a very difficult position.

I would later do a considerable amount of work as an advocate for kids who were being denied services by the very school districts that were required, under Federal law, to help them. Briefly, I observed, first hand, school districts denying services to children with very severe special needs (not to mention higher functioning children who also needed assistance). I was appalled that such things could happen in our schools. Just as appalling were the  schizophrenic responses of the very governmental agencies that are obligated to enforce education laws that are supposed to protect the educational rights of children. Although I have prevailed in large number of state and Federal cases, I’m also disgusted with the fact that helping these children is entirely dependent upon the whims of obviously incompetent government “investigators.” Over the years, the incompetence has only grown and I’ve become increasingly cynical.

My first year at UCR was clearly an outgrowth of the previous twenty. It was a cathartic experience that seemed to launch me down a new path were I could put my skills to use in a new, meaningful way. Although I find educational law to be fascinating, my disgust for most of those in the “legal professions” is absolute. I do not believe that our courts and law enforcement agencies are capable (or willing) to protect our children. I do, however, believe that a more positive path can make a difference – specifically research into educational practices. Laws can be altered and changed by lawyers and courts who twist both their meaning and intent. Research, on the other hand, cannot be altered in the same way. Sure, there can be very heated debates about research but scientific inquiry has one advantage over the games played by lawyers and governmental agencies. Specifically, research must be objectively based and must be replicable. Genuine scientific facts cannot be altered – only denied by those who are either ignorant or malevolent (and yes, plenty of lawyers and governmental agencies do ignore research findings). Just the same, research provides an venue to explore positive things in order to promote change. That made pursuit of a Ph.D. particularly attractive.

In summary, my first year at UCR was painful (although much of it was not related to my scholarly pursuits). Arguably, the most difficult academic challenge for me was dealing with the development of research-based writing skills. I’ve lovingly referred to this style as “academic BS”  because, in many ways, it’s so pretentious. Having now read a few million (or more) research articles, I’m amazed at how some can say so little while pretending they have a lot to contribute. On the other hand, good research-based writing is also an art. True experts (to borrow a phrase attributed to one of my professors), “can make the data sing.”

Interacting with my professors has  been a wonderful (and humbling) experience. One of my professors has had more then 350 articles published in peer-reviewed journals – he’s absolutely amazing! My advisor is a brilliant scholar. Her research skills are impeccable and are only exceeded by her ability as an editor.

Mentioning editing . . . I still laugh about an experience I had many years ago when I first started teaching for the child development department at a community college. It was reported to me that several students in my class were overheard stating, at the beginning the semester, that “Mr. La Marca thinks he’s a damn English teacher.” Of course, I thought that was hilarious and was actually delighted to be accused of such a thing (not that I have ever had a desire to be a real English teacher). I’m pleased to say that I persisted and soon the rest of the instructors in the department were demanding that their students write in complete sentences (with correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax – gasp)!!! Over time, we observed a distinct improvement in student writing. I suspect that learning to write as a true academic has been equally painful for me – I especially have a penchant for using superlatives and inserting loaded terms. Not that such things are bad except that in academic writing, all subjectivity must be removed. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks but my professors were finally able to break me from my old habits. Oh well . . . obviously they didn’t break me entirely as this post is already far too long. Good thing this isn’t my dissertation! I’ll write more later . . .