A Dissertation Update

I have been working on a PhD at George Mason University since Fall 2015. This article summarizes current progress.

I began working on the dissertation in 2018. GMU has a useful progress tracking tool here. The deadline to advance to candidacy is 6 years, so I’m pushing that. To graduate has a deadline of 9 years.

My dissertation topic is on alternative education. I’ve blogged quite a bit about this before. See those related articles at the end of this article in Section 6, “Related Articles.” The current approach is a dissertation by publication. I publish three academic articles and this constitutes my dissertation. I’ve written three articles and submitted two. I plan to write two more simply to boost my odds of rapidly reaching the finish line. I’ve collected data for the two which I’ve yet to write, and I will begin writing one of those two today.

1. Papers Written and Status Summary

In total, here are the 5 articles planned and their current status, with GitHub links to the preprint versions:

  1. Preliminary Attitudinal Trends in Alternative Postsecondary Learning
    1. Under Revise and Resubmit with Applied Economics Letters.
    2. Details in Section 3, “On the Preliminary Paper Resubmission”
  2. Attitudinal Trends in Alternative Postsecondary Learning
    1. Never submitted. Internal revision shrunk this paper and created the preliminary version. Is this non-preliminary version now obsolete? No, because:
      1. There are important bits I cut out which I can turn into a distinct paper.
      2. More information has obtained since the preliminary version, so I could form a replication or validation of predictions in the other.
      3. There are analytical techniques I can use which are cut out of the other paper. Dynamic OLS and cluster analysis are two important examples.
    2. While this paper is neither finished nor obsolete, it is also not my priority. I will work on it if I have time, but I think the coronavirus-related paper has better odds of publication as it is currently trendy.
  3. New Digital Education as the Market Solution to the Student Debt Crisis
    1. Rejected from Cliometrica due to journal fit. Feedback stated: “This decision does not reflect on the quality of your work or your manuscript. A journal in applied economics or in education economics seems to be more adapted to your research in its current form.”
    2. I was referred for submission to Educational Technology Research and Development by a Springer transfer desk subject matter expert on the basis that this journal was recommended for subject fit. The manuscript was again because the “manuscript while interesting on a personal level is not well aligned with the journal focus.”
  4. Dynamic Effects of H-1B and Section 127 Policy on Higher Education
    1. Rejected from Economics of Education Review
    2. Additional detail in section 4, “Details on the Section 127 Paper”
  5. Coronavirus-Induced Blowback: Evidence on Changing Remote Learning Favorability
    1. Working title, the data is in, the paper forthcoming
    2. The first revision of this paper will use a single-period sample of Coronavirus response, but I may run additional samples for a distinct paper or non-first revision.
  6. Toward Innovation or Against Tradition? Experimental Evidence in Higher Education
    1. Working title, the data is in, the paper forthcoming
  7. alt-ed-scraping
    1. This is a paper that I will not be finishing for the purposes of the dissertation. In this case I try to scrape real productivity data from individual-level web sources including Udacity, GitHub, LinkedIn, and more, then I try to relate alternative education achievement to labor value.
    2. This would be even better if I can get some of the scraped individuals to take my survey and I can link attitudes to education and labor force success.
  8. accelerated-degree
    1. This is a paper that I will not be finishing for the purposes of the dissertation. In this paper I calculate the return to alternative education in order to directly engage a comparative discussion with existing measures of the return to higher education.

3. On the Preliminary Paper Resubmission

Editor David Peel provided the request for revision. The journal listed my manuscript in a status of “Major Revision.” David stated, among other things, “I have now received a report on your paper in which the referee makes a number of recommendations for improvement… I note that some of the revisions suggested by the referee are quite substantial…”

I personally seem to miss the major substance of the revision request, because in my view the change request seems extremely small. Perhaps the email used boilerplate language, or perhaps I really am missing the boat here. To guard against the second possibility I have invited multiple faculty to review the request for revision and discuss my resolution. Because this paper is no longer in preprint, I don’t want to share exactly what the anonymous referee said nor exactly how I addressed the concern, but the gist was that I need to prove that survey was taken by only those in my population of interest. I responded, essentially, that I can’t prove such a thing but that I know the results hold anyway. There are several reasons for this, but a big one is that regional effects are significant and only regions of the United States were available for selection.

I have created a new draft and will resubmit later this week, pending further recommendations from some people I will be talking to for advice.

4. Details on the Section 127 Paper

EER did a great job of proving prompt and clear feedback. The rejection notes included the following:

I think that EER readers would be interested to know more about the effects of Section 127 and H1-B policy on enrollment, but would question the identification assumptions necessary to interpret results as causal. Another concern that I expect would come up is the subjective selection and de-selection of explanatory variables based on their importance in a kitchen sink regression, and likewise, the choice of one measure of the dependent variable based on its predictability rather than its economic or policy relevance. Finally, I will say that the writing needs work and revision. This is a distant secondary concern to the research design, but in order to reach its audience and influence future work, the paper needs to have a clearer presentation of the research question, research methodology, results, and implications.

Of course, I think the paper is just fine but the advice is clear, and removing two of those three potential vectors of criticism is straightforward enough if I am rejected again. The clear criticisms in my view are against the argument for causality and against the left-hand variable selection process. The third point which I don’t have clarity on how to solve is the comment on overall writing. I followed a Hanushek paper closely for organization and I scored a 99 using Grammarly Pro for clarity while writing in the active voice as recommended.

I just submitted the paper without edit to The Economic and Labour Relations Review, but I fully expect to be rejected because this is an American policy paper. There are no fees to submit and the response time is rapid, though, so I gave it a shot. If I am rejected I will look to the Journal of Business Research. I will begin working on a short version of this paper for submission to Economics Letters in the meantime.

5. Future Research Vision

In the short term, I have three papers done and waiting on acceptance at some journal. I will continue to push these papers and make changes as requested. Going forward, I will review any new manuscript revisions with Grammarly Pro and ensure a score over 90. I will also complete two additional papers identified as items 5 and 6 from section 1, “Papers Written and Status Summary.” Finally, I will work with George Mason’s faculty to see if graduation is possible without publication.

In the longer term, after graduation, I plan to remain in the industry because my experience as a software developer has been great, but to do nothing with the research would be quite a waste wouldn’t it? It may serve as a glorified MBA for the purposes of industry. I don’t want to stop there. I may teach on the side, but probably not. I will certainly be writing a book leveraging my doctoral credentials. A more direct application compared to those previously mentioned is the application of creating a website that allows people to predict their own future effectiveness with respect to alternative education.

6. Related Articles

  1. Feb 2020, Preparing to Submit a Policy Analysis Paper
  2. Jan 2020, Preparing to Submit a Short Experimental Paper
  3. Dec 2019, Preparing to Submit an Economic History Paper
  4. Nov 2019, Selecting Model Papers
  5. Oct 2019, Preparing to Submit My First Academic Paper


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