Category Archives: What’s up, Doc?

Documenting my long and winding journey towards completing my doctoral study in special education.

Battling to write …

Journal articles

Hmmmm, not much has changed. Look at the photos of my writing desk in the following posts.

October 2006: Working on my qualifying project paper

February 2007: Received feedback on qualifying project paper. I think I did not meet the deadline that I stated in the October 2006 post. That’s why still working on this paper in Feb 2007.

April 2007: Working on the first draft of my dissertation proposal.

June 2008: Completed the first draft of my dissertation proposal. This is just the proposal. I completed my dissertation on 15 April 2010, two years after proposal was completed.

As a graduate student, I struggled to write. As an assistant professor, I still struggle to write. I’ve gained some writing skills during the many rounds of revisions I did on my dissertation. I’ve also gained some writing skills from having to examine my graduate students’ papers. But it is still very hard work. Not physically, but mentally. I’m constantly battling procrastination and self-doubt.

Chasing a grant deadline now. Got to convince grantors that my proposed study is important and significant and worthy of the $99K that I’m asking from them to conduct this study.

School is out!


The hard work begins. Academic writing ๐Ÿ™

1. Council of Exceptional Children 2016 proposals due 22 June 2015. I’m submitting 2 proposals for this round.
2. University grant call due 1 July 2015. I’m revising a grant proposal and resubmitting it.
3. One manuscript that’s been rejected so many times. Got to revise that and submit it somewhere by mid-July 2015.
4. Master student’s dissertation. Good study but have to work on that and must submit by end-July 2015.
5. A chapter on Transition for colleague’s book. Way overdue. Maybe can get a rough draft done by end-July 2015.
6. A manuscript in collaboration with a Fulbright scholar. End-July 2015 maybe? Maybe not.

I found a hiding place…it’s a library.

Research work routine has slowly solidified:
8-9am – research work with Daniel.
1-2pm – research work with Rob.

Fortunately for me, both participants are located within walking distance of each other and around 25 minutes drive from my home. Unfortunately for me, the 2 sessions are 4 hours apart. I couldn’t imagine driving home and back again in that 4 hours. So thus far, I’ve window shopped and/or hung out at a coffee shop to pass the time. Sometimes I would try to get some work done at the coffee shop but those sessions normally didn’t last more that 1.5 hours. It’s hard to get settled down to some boring work at the coffee shop. I always ended up leaving earlier than planned and I would be off to more window and/or real shopping.

At one point I was even tempted to sign up for a summer only student pass at the gym that’s also within walking distance. It cost $99 but since I’ve already paid for the spinning classes that I’m taking at the university’s gym, I was not eager to spend more money. Then a friend recommended the Whitehall library which is only a very short drive away. That sounded like a good place to hang out.

Today, I made the very first trip to the library (after a short window shopping trip). It’s a small cosy library. I love the parking lot. There are many shady trees that I can park my car underneath to keep my car relatively cooler during the hot summer months. In the library, there are several study carrels and I’m currently typing this while seated at one of them. They also have a rather large DVD collection. I’m considering becoming a member so that I can borrow those. This hiding place is definitely the economical and more productive place to spend 4 hours.

Here are some interesting photos:

The bags I lugged around every day:

1. My handbag: purse, sunglasses, tissues, lip balm, keys, hand sanitizer, etc.

2. My pink research bag: portable DVD player, research DVDs, folder with all the data sheets, 2 clipboards for data collection, flip ultra videocam, digital camera, gorillapod, extra batteries, a copy of my dissertation proposal, dissertation log book, and items for the “practice the skill” instructional session with Daniel (i.e., an empty spray bottle, rags, rubberbands).

3. My messenger bag (with stuff for the 4 hr in between work): Neosmart keyboard, research articles (for the never ending meta-analysis work), and iPod.

4. My cooler lunch bag: 2 freeze paks, a bottle of cold water, breakfast (muesli with vanilla yogurt) and pre-lunch (peanut butter and jam sandwich).

Since I dropped by a grocery store on the way home after research work was done, I came home with 6 bags.

Dissertation Update

June came around so quickly this year. Once upon a time, in March, I promised my first research participant, Daniel, that when we’re done with the research in June, I’ll take him to a nice chinese buffet restaurant for dinner. It’s June now and we’re only somewhat close to 1/3 done. The nice chinese buffet dinner has been postponed to August, possibly even later…

I have almost completed videotaping Daniel for the his second job task. This time around it was much easier. During the videotaping sessions for the first task, it was totally new to him so it was very difficult to get to him to do some things more than once and he got upset when we had him say some sentences more than once. Plus, I was rather tensed up about the whole videotaping business since it was also my first time doing the videotaping and trying to get everything to look as good as possible.

Videotaping the second task took a few more sessions because Daniel was dropped off late and we only had 30 minutes instead of an hour. So far, we have gone through three 30 minutes videotaping sessions and I think that should be enough. I just need one more clip of the store manger thanking Daniel for doing a good job and that has been scheduled for this Wednesday.

I’ve started my research work with my second participant, Rob. Work-wise, Rob is higher functioning so his 3 chosen job tasks are slightly more complex than Daniel’s. The first job task for Rob is cleaning the fitting room. Cleaning the fitting room as in removing all clothing and hangers from the fitting rooms, hanging them up again, matching the size of the item and the correct size hanger, and bring them out to the store and place them in their respective rack according to size.

Sounds simple enough until I tried videotaping him doing that task. Since I was trying to keep him slightly clueless regarding the correct sequence and steps to completing this task, I had to videotape the task out of sequence. We only had a short window of opportunity to do the videotaping, between 9:30 to 10am, and we had to stop the videotaping once the store opens. Those 2 mornings were definitely the craziest research days thus far. So many things to do, so little time, and so many things to keep track. I had to go back to the store another 3 days to do more videotaping of establishing shots that I needed which did not require Rob to be in them.

Because I didn’t foresee the craziness, I wasn’t well prepared and ended up with lots of continuity problems with the videos. Continuity problems? One videotaping session Rob was wearing white pants and the next session, he came in black pants. So in the final edited videos, he’s in white pants while walking out of the fitting room and in the next instant, he’s in black pants while looking for the correct rack. There’s a few more similar errors in the videos.

The cleaning the fitting room task is more dynamic and we had to move all over the store and the fitting room. Because of that, I had to do without the tripod and just held the flip video camera in my hand which resulted in some not so great clips. According to a friend, those shots looked like they were from a haunted movie! I have to agree with her and tried not to use the “haunted movie” clips.

After over 20 hours of video editing, I finally have the 2 videos ready for Rob. Unfortunately for me, Rob picked up on some of the steps during the videotaping session and he’s been demonstrating those steps during the second baseline. Since I’m evaluating the effectiveness of the videos to teach him the skill, if he picks up the skill during the videotaping session, without having the need to watch the videos, then my video intervention has just been proven useless/needless. Anyway, hopefully he does not pick up on all the steps and that he will only perform at 100% after watching the videos.

It has been a crazy applied research experience. With Daniel, apparently the task might be too difficult (or the videos were ineffective ๐Ÿ˜› ) since he has not been able to independently complete the task after 2 months of watching the videos. But with Rob, he’s picked up some of parts of the skill even without needing to watch the videos. I guess I have just proven that the videos may not be worth all the trouble and it’s probably easier to just teach the tasks. On the bright side, both Daniel and Ron are excited to get a copy of their videos to show their family and friends. Unfortunately for them, they only get the DVDs at the end of the study.

“Happy” New Year

It isn’t really a happy new year.

My car started making rattling sound before Christmas, so I sent it to the mechanic and was told that the alternator would have to be changed. I was without my car during Christmas eve and Christmas day so I couldn’t attend the Christmas eve service in church but thankfully a friend gave me a ride to another friend’s place for Christmas day dinner.

Then came the car repair bill! ๐Ÿ™

After that came my dog and house-sitting days just prior to the new year, which was more stressful than I thought it would be.

And all this time, at the back of my mind, was the pressure of still not getting the permission letters from the two retail stores so that I can get my research started. What I thought would only require 1 month is taking something like 3 months (or more) to get. As of today, still no letters.

I guess it’s understandable that I am not really in the mood to write anything here.

Dissertation proposal meeting (June 24)

It went surprisingly well. The professors were very helpful. I didnโ€™t feel like I was under attack. And the whole meeting lasted only 1.5 hours.

I have to make some changes to the manuscript and work on the required paper work to submit to the universityโ€™s Internal Review Board (IRB) to get permission to run my research with human subjects. If/when IRB approves my application, then I can start running my research.

Now that my dissertation proposal has been approved by my committee, I am now officially a doctoral candidate.

It is finished!!

All 97 pages of my dissertation proposal. In the dissertation proposal, I lay out the rationale and purpose of the research that I intend to pursue in order to complete my Ph.D. Three chapters.

Chapter 1: Introduction

11 pages. 3 research questions.

Chapter 2: Literature Review

26 pages. Everything that I think I need to convince my committee that what I am proposing to do is actually worth doing.

Chapter 3: Methods

20 pages. The what, when, who, how of getting the research done.

References and Appendices

39 pages. Stuff to fatten up the proposal ๐Ÿ™‚

June 24. I meet with the 4 professors in my committee. If the proposal is approved, then I can go ahead and start doing what I said I would do in the proposal.

Random updates


I just received my advisor’s feedback on my latest draft of my dissertation research proposal. After glancing through the comments, I realized that there’s not much revisions to do…so, I guess this chapter of my life, struggling to write and rewrite my dissertation proposal, is finally coming to an end..whew!! Tomorrow, I’ll have to finalize the date and time (some time end of June) when the 4 professors in my dissertation committee will meet with me for a prolonged they-question and I-answer session.

As I ponder over the whole writing process, it wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. I expected more revisions and several more drafts. Wow, now that this writing process is over, I wonder what should I do with my additional stress-free time. Patapon? Crochet? Cross-stitch? Update special ed blog?

Hold on, I’m not done with studies yet. I’m just almost done with the research proposal; after this, I’ll have to actually do what I proposed in the proposal, and pray that everything will go as planned and I’ll get great results in a short amount time. Yup, that would be ideal….

Great South Side Sale

Every year, the university’s community service office will have a move-out sale. They collect all the stuff that students (who have graduated and are moving away) donate. The money from this sale would go to neighborhood charity organizations. This year, I volunteered to help out during the sale. I was there at 7am, helping to move boxes and boxes of stuff from the trucks, and then arranging those stuff (e.g., clothing, housewares, electronic goods, furniture).

There was one really big Sony TV for sale. It had a crack at the back, but otherwise, in good running condition. Two guys removed it carefully from the truck, but the bottom of the TV cracked a little more. As they were lifting it to the TV area, the TV literally fell apart. The plastic casing broke into hundreds of pieces. The inner tube crashed to the ground and circuits spilled out everywhere. I’ve never seen a TV in that condition before…hahaha.

My volunteer shift ended just before the sale started. So, I stayed a while longer and shopped some. I grabbed
– 2 new Lehigh t-shirts (I’ve always wanted to get a Lehigh t-shirt but didn’t want to spend close to $20 on a t-shirt)
– 1 new random t-shirt
– 1 like-new pair of shorts
– 1 very nice reusable shopping bag
– 1 rolling pin
– 1 set of stainless steel measuring cups (I have plastic ones but they are difficult to wash if I use them to measure cooking oil, stainless steel is much better)
– 1 new cap
– 4 pot holders
– 1 small first aid kit
All these only cost $7.50…not a bad deal!

Pendidikan Khas (Special Education)

During my last trip back to Malaysia, I said I was going add many more entries to my special education blog and it was going to be a resource site for parents and teachers and blah blah blah. Unfortunately, I didn’t add more entries and pretty much countinued to neglect that blog.

Well, things have changed. I now have an official blog with my name on it. An ego booster? Haha…I actually think that it makes me more accountable for what I write on it.

I said to my official blog sponsor, Tai-lo Victor, that I should use that blog to write about the children that I have taught and showcase their personalities, likes, dislikes, quirks, etc. Sort of to show readers that these children are not just a group of children with Down Syndrome or Autism or Mental Retardation, but they are individuals, just like you and me.

I’ll also try to lose the pretentious words that people in higher education like to use.

Ok, here goes nothing:

Introducing Pendidikan Khas: My Reflections of Special Education in Malaysia.

Dangerous territories

In preparation for my dissertation, I have to observe several individuals with disabilities in their employment settings. This is so that I can see where they are working, what they are doing, who they interact with, what target behaviors I can work on, where I can set up the videocamera…all the practical aspects of doing research in applied settings.

Unfortunately, one of them works in the warehouse section of a large departmental store, the other volunteers at a Salvation Army thrift store, and both places are located in the largest mall area in town. I’m exposed to all the big discounts in the dept store and if I can’t afford those, I end up spending an hour observing my potential research participant tidy up racks and racks of $3.99 stuff at the thrift store.

“What you don’t have, you don’t need it now”
“Buy Less: Live More”

I should quickly walk out of the stores and drive straight home. But I don’t ๐Ÿ˜›

On the bright side, the asian store is nearby so I can stock up on the ingredients that I need to make all the good stuff that I’ve been reading about on some Malaysian food blogs.