Monday, April 16, 2007

Dissertation Defense - The Verdict Is In

Although I've had a few days to reflect on the while process of successfully defending my dissertation, I can't say that I have any profound thoughts on it. It was a lot of work, but in the end, it was completely manageable. Other than one melt down over whether my SPSS spreadsheet was so screwed up once it got imported into SPSS that it would be worthless -AND- the many numerous small assaults on my patience with detail, it was a relatively emotionally easy task to deal with.

The hardest part of all of this for me has actually been the rift that has erupted over time between me and my mother that stems from our vastly different levels of education and corresponding values.

Yes, I may have a Pretty Huge Diploma but as my mother reminded me not too long ago, she has "a PhD in street smarts" as if to say that was better and that I lacked the life knowledge that really matters. Why she really feels so insecure in comparison to me I will never know. For me to understand that would require us to actually talk without self-protective defenses. I am capable of laying down my quills in the name of peace-making. I hope some day she is too.

My experience of having difficulty with a family member because I am educated is certainly not unique to me. Later this month the author of Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams,
Alfred Lubrano, a reporter working at the Philadelphia Inquirer, will come to speak on my campus. His book is a combo of autobiography and interviews of fellow "Straddlers" as he calls them who walk a fine line between their working class roots and their white collar life, not really fitting into either. A summary of the book can be downloaded here.

"This country always celebrates the idea that there is enormous opportunity here to move up from one's station in life, to achieve greatness from the most humble of roots. But for those who are the first from a traditionally blue-collar family to enter college and move into the white-collar workplace, there is a darker side to success when they find themselves alienated from both their own family and their strange new middle-class world."

I don't know if I agree with the conclusion of one review of the book that proposes class values is a subject even touchier than race or gender, but I do think this is a subject that ought to be discussed along with race, gender, and sexual orientation.

The movie Spanglish provided my first opportunity to realize that my education might alienate me from my family. I recall one scene from the movie in which the working class mother speaks to her school-oriented daughter on a bench waiting for the bus to take her daughter off to get an education. I can't recall exactly what the mom said, but I remember she expressed anxiety about whether they would still be able to relate once her daughter moved into the other (white, educated, English-speaking) world.

I'd like to think I can navigate both worlds, but it is a struggle to straddle them well. I can relate to being an outsider who doesn't really fit into either one. Although it's uncomfortable, I find that I actually gravitate toward that place. My dissertation topic is a perfect example.

I studied human mutual grooming - think primates and louse picking but translate that into the myriad ways humans groom each other. The topic is brand, spanking new but it's not like no one has ever noticed it before. No one has ever published anything academic on the subject. Finding a "home" for my research in the world of publishing has been difficult. It's psychology but not your typical psychology study because I talk a lot about animals and use theories from evolutionary biology. It's not biology either because zoologists study animals, and as we all know from our culture, people aren't animals. For that reason it's also not primatology. However, my stance has always been that people are primates too so if I review primate literature, use ev bio theory, and study a primate species, my research ought to be considered primatology. But alas, it isn't because I studied the only primate species that doesn't fall into primatology. So that takes me back to psychology. My research isn't classic social psychology because the topic has little to do with behavior change on account of being in a group and my theoretical perspective is evolutionary, not the Standard Social Science Model. However, my work is not classic evolutionary psychology either. I did not use Sexual Strategies Theory to craft my hypotheses. The fatal blow. To make it worse, there's a little journal that deals with nonverbal behavior but they are only interested in behavior that has actually been observed. No one is going to observe people taking a shower together or sqeezing each other's pimples. We just don't groom in public. I am not interested in professional grooming so much as the casual ways we tidy each other's appearance.

As much as my research makes difficulties for me because it doesn't fit any one area, I actually like that it straddles multiple areas. My breadth is a strength.

My committee encouraged me to publish my dissertation. They think my introductory chapter, the literature review, is very strong and could stand on its own as a review article. Evidently I synthesize well. They think my whole dissertation makes a real, genuine contribution, and they think it should be published in its entirety for it to make the strongest statement.

Hopefully one day in the not too distant future I will be able to find an editor and reviewers who think my unique research voice needs to be heard.

Oh if only I knew what to do with the document!?

ONE: Hack it up to create a number of small articles and rewrite the lit reviews/theory so that it fits journals that exist? Yuck.

TWO: Hack it up to create a couple of articles with really brief lit reviews that retain the theory but wait to make a statement later? How boring.

THREE: Figure I won't get a T-T where I actually want to live and focus on writing a book instead that way I will be able to make the statement I want to make? That seems risky and I don't know the first thing about book publishing either.

I think option two is the best choice of the 3. I can always write the book later and it will be much more interesting after I've done the additional studies I want to do! I just need to choose the journal(s).

Since you've read this far, I'll reward you by revealing the results of my study in a nutshell:
People perceive groomers (as opposed to non-grooming touchers and non-touchers) to be better parents, more caring, more in love with the person they groom, and more committed to them.


Rose Connors said...

I think your study is fascinating. With the right promotion, it would go over well as a mainstream book for regular public consumption. I have an idea that I'm a little bit of a "straddler" as well.

DancingFish said...

Your work sounds very cool. Coming from my purely fish and evolution based background with behavior, I have often struggled with where people fit into a lot of the theory.
I think it would be a fascinsting book but could also see the merits of your second option with a big-journal review article for your major statements. Thanks for sharing some of your work!!

B said...

Well I'm a groomer, I'm always doing something, tucking E's hair away from his face etc. I also am a big cuddler, is cuddling and grooming related?

I bet that even if your Mom doesn't know how to express it she is really proud of you.

Good luck w/ the publications, I'm sure there is a journal out there for you. maybe Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes?

Manesar Monkey said...

I think you work on grooming is interesting. I hope you publish it somewhere. I am sure there are many journals that are straddling two field, but they might be low impact, if you care about that. It might be an interesting story for a popular book also.

Apart from that, you have brought to light an important issue that I didnt have the 'vocabulary' to talk about or even think about clearly. Alienation from ones loved ones because of education or upward mobility. Its a strange phenomenon and hard to come to terms with (without a sense of humor).

good blog, all in blog.

here is my feeble attempt.

ScienceWoman said...

Congratulations! Dr. Holly. Feels good (and strange), doesn't it?

I've got a question I've been meaning to ask you: What are the evolutionary origins of kissing? And what about the differences between sensual kissing (between a couple) and non-sensual kissing (me kissing my baby daughter's head)?