Friday News: Samhain and Books on Board break up; Candlewick puts real money behind middle grade debut; wacky Ph.D. disseration to study happiness of romance authors
Doctoral Dissertation – Um, what the ever loving heck is this? A doctoral student, working on her dissertation for Capella University’s Department of Psychology wants to mine the psyche of RWA members for a “happiness project.” The title of her dissertation? “A grounded theory study of the female members of an enabling institution: Romance Writers of America.”
Could ‘Timmy Failure’ Spell Success for Candlewick? – The one area of publishing that most people believe will continue to be robust for print sales (and thus great for brick and mortar retailers) are children’s books. Candlewick is putting a marketing push of $250,000 behind a debut series called Timmy Failure. If Timmy Failure becomes a success, it may be that more and more publishing dollars are turned toward children’s and middle grade books. I know my own tot, who loves to read and reads digitally, also loves the tactile feel of books far more than I. Publishers Weekly
Samhain books no longer available at Books on Board – I heard from a number of readers that they could no longer find Samhain titles at BooksonBoard so I emailed Samhain to ask if they had Taylor Swift-Boated the etailer. This was Samhain’s response:
Samhain Publishing discontinued a direct relationship with Books on Board over 18 months ago due to non-payment of money owed. However, our books continue to remain available to them via Ingram’s Lightning Source. It is obviously their choice as to which titles they would like to stock, so if you are unable to find a Samhain book listed for purchase with them, we invite you to purchase the title directly from us at store.samhainpublishing.com.
There you go.
What is RWA enabling exactly? That’s a very poor word choice. And why only the female members? Shouldn’t there be some males interviewed, too?
Before today I had never heard the term Taylor Swift-Boated. I think I preferred it that way.
I prefer print books for little kids because if they get torn or spilled on they are easily replaced. Not so much with a iPad or tablet. That doesn’t apply as much to bedtime reading, but I’ve never thought reading should be reserved only for bedtime.
I think “enabling institution” is just professional jargon here, not any sort of insult. If you look at her bio, she’s an RWA member. It looks to me like she’s researching whether membership in an institution like RWA – including chapter affiliation – helps women be happier by furthering their life/career goals, and she’s approaching the subject via extended in-person interviews. Fairly standard social-science dissertation stuff. Poorly chosen title, though, in terms of getting people to cooperate with the project.
Just based on a quick read, I’m not sure what exactly is supposed to be problematic about that dissertation. Studying positive experiences is hardly unusual and I agree with Ruthie that the title sounds like some sort of academic jargon. I’d never heard of the university she’s affiliated with, though – I see it’s an online school.
Did BoB not comment about the Samhain breakup? I’ve noticed there are some other books missing there these days.
Well something happened more recently because I have been able to purchase Samhain books at BoB and had quite a few on my wish list. They’re now coming up as “not available”. BoB have great coupons and rewards and they have been my preferred etailer. I find myself torn between wanting to cry and wanting to break things. :(
At least Samhain answered you Jane. They were deaf to my query!
I SO hope they can sort it out. BoB: grovel!!
The BoB/Samhain breakup explains why I can’t download a book I preordered. BoB customer service, which used to be really quick, took over a week to respond they are aware of the problem and are working with their supplier. The book came out last week and I still don’t have access to it. I have several more on preorder and I’m wondering if I’ll be able to download them.
I’m with Ruthie on the PhD. A friend of mine is working on a thesis in a similar area, looking at wellbeing, and this seems to use the same sort of ideas and procedures. I’m pretty sure the ‘enabling’ is meant to refer to RWA’s role (if any) in producing wellbeing in its members, rather than ‘enabling the study’.
I would do it, if I were eligible.
“Empowering” might have had more allure. “Enabling” is either an unfortunate word choice or a predictive one, but only the finished paper will tell.
Capella University is an online, for-profit institution that specializes in graduate education. All the courses are online, as is the (“virtual”) library. They somehow have accreditation to hand out these doctoral degrees, and they seem to have a pretty big grad psych program. I have no idea how it works, although my mind boggles at training a Ph.D. without any face-to-face interaction. The supervising professor appears to be a practising psychologist who lives in Omaha, the “campus” is in Minneapolis, and the grad student is in upstate NY.
The website describing the project is really uninformative, and while there is some hand-waving language that suggests protection of human subjects, none of the site pages give much information about the study itself. The links to more information redirect back to the home page, and the “about” page describes the literature to which the study is related, not the study itself. So there’s no way to judge the quality of the study or the care with which the student will collect and analyze highly personal participant information.
So yeah, I had the same reaction Jane did.
@Sunita: I got the sense that Jane objected to the subject matter more than to the ethical issues (some of which jumped out for me, too). Calling it wacky and describing the study as a “happiness project” seems to me like criticism of the topic itself, and I don’t think that’s the issue here by any means. I know people who did part or even all of their PhD dissertation in one country while at least one supervisor was in another country. So that part doesn’t strike me as necessarily problematic, and PhD programs that don’t require much coursework aren’t unheard of, either; it works that way in many countries.
It’s definitely the ethical issues that seem to me like the biggest concern here, but that doesn’t make the proposed study “wacky”. Would Capella University have an IRB? Did anyone review the ethical considerations related to the research?
All or most of Hachette’s titles have been showing up as N/A at Books on Board lately too (or not listed at all). Seems like they’re having distributor issues, on who’s side I can’t say.
Practically all Poisoned Pen Press titles are also not showing up at BoB. I first noticed that a couple of weeks ago.
@Meri – I think the whole thing is whacky from the concept of the proposed study to the language of the proposed study to the targeted subjects of the proposed study.
@Meri: Well, the researcher calls it an “experience of happiness study.” It’s not just the ethical issues, which are obviously major. It’s the qualifications of the researcher to carry out the study and the ability of the program to provide those qualifications.
Given the accreditation rules of the regional agency to which Capella subscribes, this program has to operate by US standards. It requires 120 minimum credit hours in conventional (online) classes, and all of 12 days of face-to-face time over the course of the training. That is not the same thing as emailing your professor who is overseas while you’re working on your dissertation. To put it mildly. Neither is it comparable to a system of tutorials and optional seminars.
It’s unclear from the researcher’s website whether she is working toward a Ph.D. (research) or Psy.D. (clinical). Either way, the slate of courses on Capella’s website provides no specialized training in the subject she intends to contribute to. That’s a problem. The supervisor of the project is a practitioner, not a researcher. She may be eminently qualified to supervise this particular topic. Or not.
I would like to think that RWA did some vetting before it allowed their members to be contacted, but I’m not holding my breath.
It sounds like Books on Board is in real trouble. When vendors start restricting terms or cutting off service due to non-payment, it is hard for a business to pull out of the downward spiral.
I understand your point of view, but disagree with it. The topic doesn’t seem problematic to me, let alone wacky, and neither do parts of the proposed research. As I stated earlier, I do share some of Sunita’s concerns, especially the ethical ones. But again, it is worth noting that PhD programs outside the US are often lighter on coursework and face-to-face interaction, and students are expected to be quite independent – yet they still manage to train some very good researchers. This is probably not the case here, but maybe she really is working toward a clinical PhD rather than a research one? Either way, I think it might have been interesting to hear from the student in question, and maybe from the RWA as well.
I’m concerned, too. I buy a lot of books from BoB, and would hate to lose them.
I’m sorry to hear BoB isn’t doing well, despite the fact I gave up on them years ago. I put items on my wishlist on an almost daily basis then shop from it. After the third time they erased half the list and would not accept any responsibility for it (“It is the publishers erasing your list, not us”) I refused to go back there.
Thanks for the heads up about Books on Board. I haven’t been able to buy many books from them because whatever geo-restriction terms they have prevent them from selling many books in Canada. I hope that they aren’t in trouble because they have some really good sales and their credit system has often tipped the balance in their favour as far as my purchases go.
I actually disagree 100%. Empowering is a far more loaded and normative term. As Ruthie said above, it’s just academic-ese. Grounded theory is an inductive method specifically designed to generate new theories about processes. Enabling is a processual word that fits well into that methods. Empowering doesn’t fit.
I’m an academic, feminist and romance lover, so I understand why we have our backs up but I don’t think it’s warranted in this case.
For the commenter who questioned why women and not men, it’s usually a case of limited funding and focus. Studies need to be targeted to be manageable. Doctoral students tend to be very limited in the amount of funding they can receive. Academia is not about one person coming up with all the answers. We all fill in the bits and learn from each other’s work. If this study shows a relevance between romance and happiness, then maybe another study can use the findings to get funding to look at men. It would be nice to have more grand studies that singularly answer all our questions, but that’s not how it works. That beef should be taken up with funding agencies and government who roll back the dollars they are giving out for research, not with lowly doctoral students.
Okay, putting my soapbox away now :)
@JL: Sincere question: what makes you think this project is not one we should be concerned about? Because I see more red than green flags.
Maybe BoB are having an issue with their supplier then? I’ve noticed a couple of other books suddenly become “unavailable” from my wishlist recently – they’re still listed but I can’t buy them or pre-order them, not just Samhain. As I said above, I’ve been buying Samhain books from BoB up until quite recently (even the recent Joanna Chambers release – I pre-ordered it and even though it is not now showing up at the site, it was on my bookshelf for download.) If the Samhain/BoB thing has been going on for 18 months, that wouldn’t explain the recent change.
@Kaetrin: I believe what Samhain is indicating is that they have a direct relationship with some retailers like Books on Board but because of non payment, they discontinued that direct relationship some 18 months ago. But they make their books available through the Ingram service, a third party supplier. Books on Board must have “bought” through Ingram. Now there appears to be a number of problems with numerous publishers books not appearing on BoB, some of which also use the Ingram service which likely means that BoB might not be current with Ingram and it is Ingram which is limiting access.
So many of my wishlist books on BoB have become “unavailable in this format” or something like that, which was weird because they were available so recently! Even weirder–a title on my wishlist keeps getting cheaper and cheaper, but it’s “unavailable”. I guess I should’ve just removed from my wishlist, but now it’s like strange game I play everyday as I watch the price keep going down–but I can’t buy it!
The wording of the research is very Psychological and she was probably assisted with that by her supervisor. I did my Masters in Psychology and my supervisor was very careful about how I worded my research. The student probably didn’t use men because she probably couldn’t get an equal amount of female to male participants. I remember doing my research and with no incentive you were kind of left begging people at times. Especially when doing face-to-face interviews and something that requires a bit of time.
Is it because this is an online course that is making people feel uncomfortable? Maybe I’m being naive, but the student had to get ethical approval to carry out this study. The site has her supervisor listed, so if anyone who is interested in doing it and has some questions then you can email those in charge of the study :)
@peggy h: There was one book I looked at this week from BoB which hasn’t been released yet and there was a “buy for Kindle” button which took me to the Amazon site! 0-O.
@Jane: I’ve emailed BoB asking if our gift certificates and rewards dollars are safe (I can only hope I get a (meaningful) response) – I don’t want to be alarmist but they need to say something to their customers and/or sort this out stat.
@Sunita “all of 12 days of face-to-face time over the course of the training”
Whoa, warning bells. I didn’t finish my PhD, but I was ABD (all but finished dissertation, long story). And I can not imagine, in any field, having that little time spent in collaboration with people. There are some things you can not do via email and phone. And a huge part of the PhD is who you work with – those are the people you will end up using as references, as co-authors, as advisers for future work. Not to mention there are some things notes on paper can’t tell you about your research, and conversation required to hash things out. With that little human interaction there’s a lot you’re just not going to get out of that experience – and a lot you’re not going to be prepared for with that kind of a program.
I know online is a way that a lot of universities are looking to save costs and manpower in the future – let’s just say that I’m really glad I missed this innovation. There are so many great profs I’d never have been able to really work with, and stories I’d never have heard.
On a happier note…I’ve read the Timmy Failure book and it’s pretty funny stuff. I think it’s sly and funny and so many wonderful things – I’m glad that Candlewick is putting some money behind it, and I hope it’s a wild success for them (it’s a Random House sourced title here in Canada).
I understand now that enabling has an academic meaning. It is just unfortunate it is a word which has negative connotations in non-academia.
I hope BoB gets things straightened out. I would hate to see them close.
I admit that the information you added about the particular PhD program is concerning, but my lack of concern overall is due to my familiarity with the method. This isn’t a method that produces a ‘is this good or bad’ type of answer. It studies processes, and shows how they evolve. Of all the qualitative methods out there, grounded theory is by far the most inductive and aims to be as ‘objective’ as possible (yes, lots of room for debate there). But by objective, I also mean that it tries to stay away from normative assertions. Postmodern scholars don’t really use grounded theory, for instance. So, this project doesn’t concern me because, based on title alone, it’s intentions are clear: to show how RWA enables happiness. That doesn’t feel particularly loaded or controversial because the method doesn’t allow for that. But again, I’m coming at this as an academic whose area of specialty is qualitative research so I’m bringing a fair bit of assumptions and background knowledge to the table. All that being said, a study is only as good as the person doing it, so who knows how it will turn out.
I really agree with you about the word choice. I think it’s often the case that studies use the academic-speak because in that world it’s more precise. When the studies trickle into the media, there’s no one to translate the meaning. I’ve yet to read a newspaper article about a research project that didn’t make me want to tear my hair out.
@JL: Thanks for the response. I see our points of disagreement better. If I had confidence that (a) she was taught grounded theory in a rigorous way; (b) that she had been taught the tools to apply the method effectively; and (c) that the data were of a sufficient quality to generate theory we could then use, I’d be more supportive. But in my experience, people are frequently less attentive to the pitfalls inherent in collecting and analyzing qualitative data than they are of the shortcomings of quantitative data (regardless of the fact that you hear the damned lies/statistics comment all over the place).
Designing an interview protocol that will induce people to talk about their emotions in ways that produce reliable, interpretable data is difficult enough. Taking that information and analyzing it in terms of its connections to the institution in which the person is embedded raises additional and quite different issues that require different training, both in terms of theory and in terms of the relevant literature. Doing all this in an online-learning environment without much faculty or grad-student-cohort input raises the difficulty factor even more.
I agree to a point, since grounded theory is notoriously mis-used. But usually it’s mis-used as a throwaway analytic approach, not as an actual method. That she has grounded theory in the title suggests she might actually be using it as a method. At the same time, grounded theory is one of the most ‘accessible’ methods in the sense that how-to books are abundant. Kathy Charmaz has pioneered feminist grounded theory, which I hope would influence the study we are talking about.
I do think your comments about interviews may be a little off, as it implies that the discipline of Organization Studies and a good chunk of Sociology, Geography and Poli Sci are without merit. People do study social connections to organizations using qualitative methods all the time in these disciplines. Institutional Ethnography, for instance, is designed specifically for that. Much discourse analysis does the same. The validity arises from how well intentions and outcome align with your epistemology and theory. Understanding how an organization functions is certainly different than understanding the psychological foundations of happiness, but understanding how people understand themselves within an institution, however, is pretty standard social constructionist fare.
Sorry for potentially hijacking this thread with all that. I guess, ultimately, academe will decide whether this study has merit. People fail their defenses all the time. Studies are done that never get published. It just seems a little harsh to judge an individual on their potential rather than on the finished work in this case. I loathe the bad reputation romance has and a bad study could be fodder for critics but at the same time this study in and of itself doesn’t make me think the author has a hidden agenda.
Well, that would be incredibly self-loathing of me, since I have conducted hundreds of open-ended, long-form interviews and they are integral components of two major projects of mine (I’m treating my dissertation and first book as the same project, although the data sources were greatly expanded in between). I also teach qualitative data analysis in the social sciences at the undergraduate and graduate levels at an R1 institution in the US.
I’m not judging her on her potential. I’m making a prediction about the likelihood of a successfully completed project, based on the kind of training she has received and the courses required for that training. Lots of bad dissertations get through. Anyone who has sat on more than a couple of examining committees knows that. It’s not about whether the dissertation passes, it’s about the potential contribution it makes, a contribution that validates the way we as social scientists exploit the emotions and experiences of our subjects.
Capella University is a for-profit institution that values credentialing people over educating them, all the while charging them through the nose. That’s problematic at any level of education, but at the Ph.D. level it’s fatal.
@Sunita – given that the discussion is about PhD’s etc, I wondered if I could ask a question that has been tickling my mind. I’ve read a couple of books where one of the MC’s is a PhD student and they have to “defend” their dissertation. I have little knowledge of academia. It *sounds* like the student has to appear before a panel of “judges” and explain their thesis and their conclusions and the judges then rigorously interrogate same to find holes. Do I have that right?
If the judges are not satisfied is the canditate then not awarded the PhD? Is that common?
(sorry, that is 3 questions…) :D
@Kaetrin: Happy to oblige! Not every defense process is the same around the world, and even in the US there are variations. But the oral defense is pretty much mandatory. The candidate appears before a panel of 3-6 scholars, makes a brief presentation/overview of the dissertation, and then answers questions for as long as it takes for the examiners to be satisfied. That can be anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 1/2 hours. As a candidate, you pray that yours is closer to the former than the latter.
Some universities have a system where only the dissertation committee comprises the panel of examiners (the primary advisor plus 2-4 other scholars who are inside and outside the candidate’s department). Other universities require that an expert outside the department be part of the examination. Still others require that an expert from outside the university be part of the examination.
The defense is often open to all members of the academic community, or even to non-academics. My husband’s defense was closed, but my defense (same university, different department, same year) was open. In some open defenses non-committee members can ask questions as well (and do).
I know that at least some Canadian universities have a different system. I have served as an external examiner for McGill, but I wasn’t required to be part of the defense itself. I wrote a critique of the thesis, submitted questions/comments, and recommended whether or not the candidate should pass.
It is possible to fail your defense, but in the systems I’ve participated in, that would really be a failure on the part of the primary advisor. Unless there is an overwhelming reason why the candidate has to sit before she’s prepared enough to pass, the defense shouldn’t be scheduled. But some candidates are never going to make it and they won’t withdraw without the defense, or things go pear-shaped in the defense. It’s rare but it happens.
Dissertation defenses can be brutal. The candidates can be grilled pretty thoroughly. One now legendary defense in my grad department had two advisors (who didn’t like each other to begin with) taking over the defense with an argument between themselves. At some point the primary advisor looked at the candidate and said, “I think we’ll assume you’ve passed.”
@Sunita: Thank you – it’s fascinating to me because it is so far outside my experience. The only PhD’s I know are via blogs and Twitter :)
I think I’m starting to see where the source of are disagreement lies. I think you are %100 right that the set up of this student’s dissertation is riddled with red flags and could likely result in a crappy study. But, frankly, success is relative. This person may just want to do a small, contained study that generates nothing of interest, earn her ‘PhD’ (I won’t lie that it chafes to hear of people earning doctorates with little course work after the 14 courses I trudged through), and walkaway from it all a happy, satisfied person. No, my university would never even flip through her cv if she applied for a position here with a pseudo-degree from an online university. But it’s possible she will do a perfectly mediocre study, since most students who excel in a method need to obtain their expertise through self-guided study, not an overview methods class. Whether or not she passes her defense, it’s still likely that the study will fade away to obscurity. So in that respect, I don’t have many concerns about the study (provided she did go through a legitimate ethics approval) because it’s unlikely to have any impact on the larger world whatsoever.
On a side note, a good relationship with a supervisor is crucial, but I wouldn’t look at a student from an R1 (I’m also at one, though I did start my career at an R2) as more likely to succeed. In my experience, students at R1s are the most likely to fall through the cracks. I have colleagues with 15+ grad students, and meet with each of them in person at most once per year for an hour. If a student isn’t thriving, they more or less get dropped until they realize their supervisor is hoping they will just quit. And many do. There’s just so much crap qualitative research, especially in my field now that ‘mixed methods’ are the hot ticket for grant funding, that I have blanket reservations about all studies until proven otherwise.