Doctorate update

It’s been 2½ years since my last doctorate progress update on this blog. Here’s a new one!

I have a lot in front of me, but at least there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!

In early 2008, I seriously considered switching to a PhD in Civil Engineering with emphasis in traffic management. I weighed the decision carefully and decided to pass. I am already “stretching it” with a 12 hour praxis; the 24 hour PhD dissertation would have been too much. Plus I would have had to take two more courses. And in the end, what does a PhD mean for me? Since I don’t desire tenure track professorship, the Doctorate of Engineering, a professional doctorate, is just as relevant to my career.

So I sat around for a year and didn’t do much. Then in late 2008, I finally hatched a praxis plan. In a nutshell, I am doing statistical analysis on traffic citations. The goal is to see whether I can find a mathematical or statistical relationship, leading or lagging, between traffic enforcement and other measures, such as roadway safety, revenue, court docket clearance, and so on. What I can analyze all depends on the data I can turn up.

Starting in early 2009, I lodged the first of many open records requests. I got a small grant from a nonprofit to help with open records expenses. It wasn’t until late summer 2009 that I got serious about open records requests. I spent the fall and the first half of spring 2010 hounding jurisdictions for their data.

Generally, the larger jurisdictions (Dallas, Dallas County, Richardson, Texas DPS, etc.) have been easiest to work with. The smaller jurisdictions (Sachse, Ferris, Wilmer, Cockrell Hill, etc.) have been challenging, to say the least.

In the second half of spring semester 2010, I focused on qualifying exams. I have five advisors; four gave me qualifying exams. Three exams were two weeks each, but the fourth exam has no deadline. (And I haven’t started it yet. Yipe!) I passed the three I turned in, and I need to get that fourth one done! One thing is clear: I am rusty on my statistical skills and need to bone back up on experimental statistical analysis and design.

I made little progress in summer 2010. Life just got busy, partly while preparing for Tiger Cubs for my son, planning a fantastic Colorado vacation (see my Facebook photos page), and other stuff.

After the vacation, I got back into gear and resumed work. Which leads up to right now. I am typing this blog post while my laptop’s CPU is being thrashed by a custom C# program that is geocoding all of Dallas’s traffic citations. That is, I have a program that is trying to create a workable address from Dallas’s somewhat consistent records, run it through Microsoft MapPoint, and then record the latitude and longitude in a database. This laptop is old and creaky, so it’s taking a while. I’ll let it run overnight, and hopefully it’ll finish all 2.7 million citations (roughly 50% are traffic-related).

I want to get this geocoding done so that I can start doing some maps of the data, so I can at least demonstrate that I’m not sitting on my hands. My grant donor has been very patient, but I want to demonstrate that something is really going on. Once I do that, I’ll get back to that fourth qualifying exam and resume hounding the challenging jurisdictions for their data. For some of these cities, it’s time for me to start sending them certified letters and maybe talking to district attorneys!

After the fourth qualifying exam is done, I have to do a written research proposal, oral qualifying exam to my entire research committee, and a proposal presentation. Presuming I pass all of that, I become a doctoral candidate and am “officially” approved to do praxis research. That doesn’t mean my existing research is illegitimate, but it does mean I am taking a risk of losing all this effort so far. But based on the reaction of my doctoral committee members, I think they are intrigued by this research, so I don’t expect the proposed praxis topic to cause any problems.

To allow time for doctorate work, dropped out of a lot of stuff. I ended my neighborhood association presidency after 4 good years. I am no longer District Commissioner for White Rock District, serving a 2 year term. I dropped off the White Rock Lake Task Force, bowed out of the Dallas Arboretum IT Advisory Committee, and am appreciating how the Garland Road Vision‘s work has come to completion. I’m even having trouble making it to SMU Alumni Band rehearsals and performances!

Except now I am Tiger Cub Den Leader. And my den has 11 boys. Argh!

I have no idea when I’ll be done with this doctorate. All my prior predictions have been scuttled. I am just glad I am actually in the middle of the praxis and have a viable topic!

I’ve already told my wife that, once this is done, I’m sitting on my butt and doing nothing. For a long time.