Angela successfully (perfectly!) defended her dissertation today. To say I’m proud is an understatement.
There has been a lot of toiling, crying, fretting, procrastinating, self-hating, housecleaning, and staring at the wall while playing with her toes along the way, but she has finally completed the journey that has been eleven (11! – counting undergrad) years in the making. Completing it was no easy matter, with her husband up and getting deployed and all.
And therein is a story to tell. I got the notification that I’d be deployed after her first year as a graduate student – right before she started thinking about doing her Master’s thesis (in Sociology). The sadness, fear, and overwhelm of the deployment was a lot to bear, but she was talking to fellow spouses of deployed Soldiers and the sociological spark went off in her. She saw so many common themes and problems – and instead of merely “dealing” with it, she started researching what was going on.
Her question: how are the spouses of Army National Guard Soldiers coping with the stress of deployment? Answering that question became her Master’s thesis, and it was an award winning thesis, quite literally.
But there were still more questions, and she wanted to take her research further. Whereas most sociology graduate students use data from data sets that are 5 – 10 years old for their dissertation, Angela wanted to do something far more ambitious – and far more important. She wanted to see how all of the spouses of deployed (Nebraska) Army National Guard Soldiers were coping with deployment. There was no data on this – there was no precedent.
It’s hard to relay how large of a scope of a project this is – I’ll spare a lot of the details, but this is the type of project that is beyond the reach of research firms or tenured faculty. She began writing grants and coordinating with the Nebraska Military Department to get access, which itself took about 2 years to get nailed down. She received a few grants and was this close to getting a National Science Foundation grant – and by this close, I mean that it came down to a revise and resubmit that was denied by fiat of an NSF grant coordinator who wasn’t knowledgeable about the type of research Angela was doing. Getting a NSF grant is a big deal that sets up those who receive it to be a nationally renowned scholar for the rest of their career; we were disheartened by how it played out, to say the least.
Despite the NSF setback, she toiled on. She downscaled some of what she was doing to match her research budget, continued to coordinate with the Nebraska Military Department, and eventually did what she set out to do: she sent surveys to every spouse of a deployed Army National Guard Soldier in Nebraska.
The project continued to be tough. A spouse complained about privacy and access even though every step was taken to protect the respondents, and this complaint almost shut down the entire project. A few stressful weeks of negotiation ensued, adjustments were made, and it continued.
Because of some errors in the surveys and a few setbacks on getting the data coded on time, Angela didn’t start writing the results of her dissertation until around March of this year. Three and a half months later, she’s now no longer a graduate student – she’s Dr. Angela Wheeler.
A lot of your success in life is determine by who you marry. Boy, did I ever luck out. This is who we both are: we are people who take real problems of real people and try to find ways to solve those problems. It’s an honor to share this journey with her.
We’ll be celebrating as much as we can, given that I’ll be putting the Green Suit on this weekend. But if I’m quiet or smiling – you now know why.
One Ph.D. down; another to go.