Monday, January 31, 2005

Masters Thesis

I've applied for a leave of absence from my masters program. After completing the coursework (including an inexplicable A in the final course, which I honestly expected to fail), I realized that I wasn't ready to launch right into my thesis. The leave gives me a few months to catch my breath and focus on a meaningful thesis question. It has to be related to education and technology (both of which have a fair bit of latitude) and could involve some original research, but wouldn't have to.

I’m tossing around a bunch of ideas, all centered around how people are using (and will be using in the future) the web to discover, define and pursue their aspirations. There’s also an element of mapping aspirations over values, both stated values and how they’re reflected in lifestyle choices (how we spend our time, energy and money), which I’m exploring here.

An example at the mundane end of the spectrum might be how high school students use college searches and college sites to decide where they want to go and what they want to study. It may also include some aspect of online career planning, which I’ve been working on for the last few years. I think the web can be used in better ways to help people envision their future work, especially by putting it in the context of figuring out how work will fit into the rest of their future life, including relationships, leisure, and learning.

Myron is doing some amazing work with high school kids, getting them to use the web to create a presentation of what they want for the future, using MLS to choose the home and location they envision themselves in, AutoTrader to select their vehicles, Expedia to plan their annual trips, etc... They create a sort of "surface view" of what their future life might look like, and then they add up the main costs to figure out what type of work will sustain those lifestyles, discussing values and choices in the context of what kids want. I love that approach, and I've seen how powerful the learning is for his students.

I'm fascinated by the psychology of aspiration and the concept of possible selves. Eddy Elmer sent me a helpful list of psychologists to use as a starting point for researching identity and self-actualization: Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, and Rogers seem to be the most promising.

43Things could be right in the middle of this stuff -— it’s currently the best example of a site that really harnesses the power of the web to help people figure out what they want to do. I love how it connects people with shared goals and informal expertise. It led me to this fascinating paper about goal-setting and the Delmore Effect.

So I’m not lacking interests...just need to focus. Any ideas for further reading, or more specific questions that emerge from these ideas? E-mail me or leave a comment here, and I will be most grateful.


tfoxfan said...


Though I don't have any suggestions for your thesis, I do like some of the items you have mentioned here and have often discussed via lifestylism. For example, the link between Maslow and 43 things can add up to loads of interesting exploration. On a personal note, my recent discovery about the definition of one's effort - which is the cumulative measure of what one is motivated by - and apply that to goals and active living is very fascinating. Apply effort and motivation (insert Maslow here) and link it to 43 things... and I'm in.

My 2 cents,

Chris said...

Oh we have some juicy things to talk about between periods at the Rockets game!

Jeremy said...

Chris, you mean we're not allowed to talk while the game is in play? I fear that three hours might not be enough to cover the juicy stuff we'll need to talk about...

Jeremy said...

Esther, so you like the Maslow, and 43Things floats your boat. I'm equally interested, but how do I turn that into a compelling research question?

Anonymous said...

"how do I turn that into a compelling research question?" - Lord have mercy! You need to be smacked!

It sounds like you want to "assemble" a master's thesis...good fucking luck. If you do that, you're in for a long ass journey. You'd be better off asking questions. Let your topic emerge from your questions.

What are you so compelled to know that you will go down there (or up there or over there or through there) to talk to someone or to read something that can give you a clue to the answer?

For example, I have wanted to talk with blind people and communicate with deaf people about how they perceive the world for a few months. I got myself into a feverish pitch today and walked into the Students with Disablities Office at my college so I could set up some times to go and ask those students some questions. I really want to know what they think, how they experience the world. I have many, many questions for them. Questions I know they haven't been asked before, but they have answers. The woman in charge of the office asked me what project or class this was for...I said NO PROJECT, I WANT TO KNOW SOMETHING DAMMIT! Who knows if they will confirm or deny my hypothesis? I don't care becuase it's going to be damn fun asking them what they think.

You've heard of this career advice trick...imagine you never had to work a day in your life to take care of your needs...what would you do with your time?

Now try this one...imagine you don't need to get a master's degree - just say fuck it...what question would you like to have the answer for? If you don't have a question, then just get a job.

Why do kids ask why so often?

They are curious! A child, by asking why only a handful of times can bring the wisest people to the edge of their knowledge.

It's not about a stupid fucking Master's Degree and you know it. It's about being ENGAGED. Having interests is great, but not enough. You need a question? A problem to solve. What question grabs you? What is pulling you?!

Screw education and screw technology! What the hell do you want to know? Jesus Christ, don't be such a wussy.

Curiosity is where it's at. Start asking questions.

Jille said...

I wish I were better at goals myself - I'd never heard of the Delmore Effect before, but it's so true.

We take better care of our cars and its records than we do of ourselves and our records. And more time planning vacations than our lives. But I don't think lives can be planned as easily. Life has a way of catching you short and sending you down different paths you never would have imagined.

I think you have to find out what makes you most alive and go from there. It's Joseph Campbell's bliss. Personally, the best career book I ever read, actually I listened to it is Rick Jarrow's Your Life Work, the ultimate anti-career guide - how to create a vocation that is an outgrowth of your wholeness and the expression of your deepest self.

Here's an idea - why not pick out the x number of people that you most admire at the intersection of education and technology. They should be in full career bloom. Ask them how they got there, what were the life twists, the unexpected connections or synchronicities, the unexplained opportunities. Then walk it back to see what the common threads were that would be good for young people starting out to know.

Jeremy said...

Thanks Jille, for this excellent advice. I am fascinated by what you've described. It's similar to a couple of books in the field: Gig, which I loved...and What Should I do With My Life by Po Bronson, which I haven't read yet.

Not sure it's a thesis, though. There's something to the idea of planning as being insuffient for something as complex and nebulous as our future...

Jeremy said...

Anonymous, I can't believe you'd care enough about my post to craft this passionate response. I love it, despite you saying that I deserve to be smacked and calling me a wussy. It's excellent advice -- please e-mail me more semi-abusive wisdom any time.

Anonymous said...

Your welcome. Maybe one of your friends will give you a smack, if your lucky.

So what am I interested in? I decided to look back and try to find the commonalities between the most influential books I've read in the past couple of years. If there is one common thread, it is figuring out how people approach their self-actualization. They've all fed my emerging fascination with lifestyle choices and values:

Modern research on self-actualization:

Free and validated questionaires to use in your research that measure the SDT constructs:

Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, Edward L. Deci

Anonymous said...

On being "planful." Many people in their 30s have careers that didn't exist when they were in high school. "Planful competence" will probably not serve those people who have the great luck of being ideally suited for a happy career in a field that hasn't yet been invented.

Jeremy said...

Now you've got my friends smacking me. This level of abuse is probably exactly what I need.

Thanks for the resource recommendations. I won't have the luxury of dabbling in this stuff by May...

Jeremy said...

"'Planful competence' will probably not serve those people who have the great luck of being ideally suited for a happy career in a field that hasn't yet been invented."

I don't really buy this. I think planful competence means pursuing areas of interest and acquiring skills to do things you care about, ideally with some sense of related existing and potential opportunities. The idea of being "ideally suited" to a specific job (or field) seems to be a bit of a myth -- we're all capable of doing many different kinds of interesting and meaningful things.

Brenda Allen said...

Have you already finished your masters degree? I think it is good that some University allow people to take a leave of absence from working with their graduate thesis. But unfortunately, some doesn’t allow it at all and restrict grad student to take leave. Anyway, have long did you spent on grad school?