Tag Archives: dissertation

Defending my PhD Dissertation: Swedish Style

Sweden is a lot different than the USA when you have to defend your PhD dissertation (PhD avhandling). For example, there is a lot more pomp and circumstance surrounding the event.

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Announcements letting people know where my defense will commence.

You get your PhD Dissertation book in the mail weeks in advance (after all, you need to mail them to your PhD committee and opponent [more on them in a minute]).

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My defense is on parental gender issues, so                                                       how could I not where blue and pink?

Your defense is publically announced weeks before your actual defense and anyone may attend your defense (either as friend or foe).

It always helps to go to your defense room, pre-defense, to practice your speech, be challenged by your supervisors (and other colleagues).

And make sure all of the equipment (lights, shades, microphone, powerpoint, etc) all work and that you know how to work them.

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Main University Building, Uppsala University. The sign reads “To think free is big, but to think right is bigger.”

When the day of my defense finally happened, I had to decorate it with my research posters.

After everyone arrives, the opponent, committee members, supervisors, and the PhD student are announced via a chairperson.

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Dr. Jan Gustafsson, former Head of Women’s and Children’s Health was the Chairmaster of my defense.

After the announcements are made, and your dissertation book is passed out, you now make a 30 minute speech about your research; telling a story of where the field is, why your research is needed, the strengths and limitations to your research, how your research contributes to the field, and future needed research.

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The title slide of my Defense (click the picture to see the full presentation [complete with all of the additional slides I included at the end just in case the committee had questions on those topics]).
Another difference from the USA: you have an opponent. An opponent is a professional within your field who is not connected to you or anyone that you’ve worked with (e.g. your supervisors) within the past five years. They are there to critically challenge your dissertation.

For me, this meant facing Professor Anders Broberg, a psychologist from Göteborg Universitet (Gothenburg University).

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Me (on the left) vs. my opponent (Dr. Broberg)

While professors in public health have a reputation for seeing how your work fits in a larger framework, psychologists have reputations for picking apart the methodology and statistics you use. My opponent met that stereotype.

Beyond the opponent, you also have to face a battering ram of committee members. This consists of three professors who also have not worked with you or your advisors for the past five years. The PhD student typically meets these committee members at their half-time: when they are half-way completed with their PhD and need to defend their progress thus far, while also receiving support and advice on how to strengthen their dissertation and future research projects.

I had three committee members for my half-time: Dr. Sven Bremberg, Dr. Pia Enebrink, and Dr. Birgitta Essen. However, by the time of my defense, only Birgitta would be on my PhD committee, as various other research projects began to take hold between my supervisor, Dr. Anna Sarkadi and Sven and Pia, respectively. So two new replacements were needed: Dr. Anneli Ivarsson and Dr. Lars Plantin.

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The three in the front row are my committee members; all of whom are feverishly taking notes.

Hours later–After you’ve faced down your opponent and the three committee members, then anyone from the audience is allowed to challenge your work. This is most tedious, because you’re exhausted from defending, and it’s much harder to prepare for audience members, since they could bring up pretty much any topic.

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Some members of the audience (mostly friends and colleagues)

Thankfully, I didn’t have any audience questions.

At this point, everyone came up to congratulate me on my “job well done” while they committee, opponent, and my supervisors (Anna and Dr. Raziye Salari) went into a private room to discuss the defense. After 10-20 minutes, my supervisors are dismissed and the committee decides your fate.

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A pre-party starts, with champagne and snacks while we await the verdict.

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Promoting my dissertation…a picture speaks 1000 words                             (too bad I didn’t have more pictures 😉

I graduated!

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Colleagues and friends toasting my graduation!

Now time for the party!

 

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My Research Year in Review: Publications, Citations, and Attractions

Last year I wrote a blog post about my research from 2008 until the present (2014).

Today, I’ll write my one year review.

Clearly the highlight of my year was writing, publishing, and defending my PhD dissertation (PhD avhandling) entitled An Unequal Chance to Parent: Examples on Support Fathers Receive from the Swedish Child Health Field.

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Preparing the dissertation, as well as preparing to defend took nearly half a year, starting at the tail-end of 2014, and on through until April 29th, 2015…the magical defense day. You can read more information about the artwork, the spikning, the final product (aka the defense), and the party.

While working on my dissertation, I had two other main projects: 1) to mentor a medical student in how to conduct research and 2) to plan and execute the itinerary for my former master’s advisor, Dr. Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan. After receiving a travel grant, we flew her over from the USA to Sweden to have her provide lectures to different groups of researchers, individually work with various PhD Students, and to have her promote her research to different researchers.

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Sarah flew over to support our research group, and provided invaluable advice while preparing for my defense.

It was a highlight of my year to be able to give a little something back to my former advisor…even if preparing for my PhD defense was a full-time job.

Research Gap

The most unfortunate thing after graduating was having to leave the country for an unknown period of time, while I waited for my visa to change from a student visa to a visiting researcher visa. But at least I was employable!

I had two job offers: one as a postdoc at the Child Health and Parenting (CHAP) Research Group in Women’s and Children’s Health at Uppsala University (AKA- the same research group I earned my PhD from) (60%) and a researcher position via St. Goran’s Hospital & Women’s and Children’s Health at Karolinska Institutet (40%). In the latter position, I started working with Dr. Malin Bergström.

Malin was the first person to ever approach me at a conference and utter the words “I’ve read your work.” That simple sentence led us down a path to our current projects (and obviously made me feel super cool!).

While my postdoc position at CHAP was to continue finishing up current projects, I was to start a very natural progression of analyzing data on Swedish child health nurses’ current attitudes toward father involvement at the child health centers, and to start helping to develop an evaluation protocol for a new program the nurses were providing to families of three-year-olds with Malin (as well as Dr. Emma Fransson & Dr. Anders Hjern via CHESS, Stockholm University).

Publications

  1. Wells, M.B., Salari, R., & Sarkadi, A. (In Press). Mothers’ and Fathers’ Attendance in a Community-Based Universally Offered Parenting Program in Sweden. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, Volume (Issue), page numbers.
  2. Wells, M.B., Engman, J., & Sarkadi, A. (2015). Gender equality in Swedish child health centers: An analysis of their physical environments and parental behaviours. Accepted for publication in Semiotica: Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies.
  3. Wells, M.B. (2015). Predicting Preschool Teacher Retention and Turnover in Newly Hired Head Start Teachers Across the First Half of the School Year. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 30, 152-159.

Article 1 is my fourth and final article that completes my PhD dissertation! It is the first article to explore gender differences between parents (e.g. mothers and fathers) in relation to why they participate in a parent support program (e.g. Triple P Positive Parenting Program).

Of those researchers on ResearchGate, this article was the most read article from Women’s and Children’s Health (for that week). It felt cool to see that people were interested in my research, especially since there are so many researchers doing really highly quality research.

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Article 2 was also in my PhD dissertation. This was the first article I ever collected data on, and the first article I ever tried to get published. The fact that I have since had five other publications before this one though is a tribute to the valuable lessons I learned from this first research project: how to collect data, how to write an article for publication, and the most valuable lesson–learning the importance of developing a strong methodology. But now it’s finally published! 🙂

Article 3 was discussed in last year’s update.

Technically, a 4th article was published:

  • Wellander, L., Wells, M.B., & Feldman, I. (2015). Does prevention pay?: Health and economic impact of preventive interventions for school children aimed to improve mental health. Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, 18(S1).
    *The actual citation writes Inna Feldman’s name as “Jima Feldman”.

This article is published in a supplementary edition of the journal since it is a conference abstract (the conference took place in Venice, Italy and was run by the aforementioned journal).

Citations

My citations greatly increased this year according to ScholarGoogle from 19 in 2014 to 34 in 2015.

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I have also learned some valuable lessons about citations:

  1. Self-citations definitely happen
    • My dissertation alone vastly boosted my alleged citations
  2. Your research network cites your work
    • Maintain healthy relationships to get more citations
  3. Masters and doctoral students will cite you
    • Apparently established researchers are mainly only following lesson number 2 (above); even if your research would fit in perfectly with their own
  4. Use conferences and send personal emails to promote your work
    • People will cite you if they 1) know that your research exists and 2) if you take a few minutes to introduce yourself

I haven’t had too many citations from professional researchers who either my colleagues or myself do not already know. Hopefully this will be a nut that gets cracked as I build my resume, produce more, and establish a bigger name for myself…either that or networking is just as important in garnering citations, as it is in getting employed.

Downloads
My PhD dissertation has been viewed and downloaded quite a bit (relative to others).

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ResearchGate also states that my articles (as a group) have been “read” (a combination of viewed and downloaded) over 1000 times. It’s hard to compare from 2014, since they changed their terminology. For example last year, I had 816 views and 969 downloads.

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These numbers though must pale in comparison to downloaded articles from the actual journal (imagine that, a professional organization does better than my personal website 😉

For example, in just looking at my Early Childhood Research Quarterly article, over a 9-month period, this one article was viewed 655 times.

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Invited Talks

I was invited to provide a conference talk for the Stockholm University Demography Unit and the Linnaeus Center on Social Policy and Family Dynamics in Europe at Stockholm University. I gave a presentation and a paper entitled “The Swedish Ploy of Promoting Equal Parenting:  Paradoxes in Policy Implementation Regarding Paternal Involvement in Childcare.”

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Click here to see the presentation.

I was also invited to speak at the 6th Annual Conference: Focus on Fatherhood for around 100 child health nurses in Kista, Stockholm, Sweden. I gave a presentation called “Father Involvement is Important: Ways to Decrease Paternal Barriers.”

My Blog
This blog has increased traffic quite a bit as well. While my blog received 15,000 views in 2014, my views significantly increased to 25,000 in 2015. The most common views are by far the posts related to different questionnaires and scales (e.g. not my personal work).

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I find this interesting because it tells me that 1) people want to look up questionnaires and scales to learn more about them and 2) there aren’t many websites that promote questionnaires and scales.

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I wrote about the different questionnaires and scales (e.g. research tools) that I use in my own research–not so much to inform others, but just to remind myself what that tool could be used for. However, it seems that people crave more knowledge about particular tools. So far though, I have taken little responsibility in updating and adding to the tool-related posts–since they aren’t my tools that I’ve developed.

Even so, my website often comes up as the number one hit on Google. People who have invested interests in these tools could benefit from promoting them to a greater extent….and other researcher would also benefit from their knowledge.

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Summary
Researchers always question if they have done enough throughout the year. Writing about a few of my highlights puts my accomplishments in perspective.

And I haven’t even written about the “soft” accomplishments–like learning new methodologies and statistics, mentoring PhD students, leading seminars, teaching, and presenting at conferences.

Keeping in mind what I have accomplished all year helps raise my self-esteem and lowers my self-deprecating thoughts of not doing enough.

Future Research:

As 2015 winds down, I look forward to starting a new postdoc position in Public Health at Karolinska Institutet working in Dr. Finn Rasmussen’s research group (80%) and another postdoc position with Dr. Malin Bergström, Dr. Emma Fransson, and Dr. Anders Hjern at the Centre for Health Equity Studies (CHESS) at Stockholm University/Karolinska Institutet in the Elvis Project.

I am eager to see what 2016 brings!

Dissertation (Avhandling) Cover Photo

I’m often asked by fellow PhD students–what should I have on the cover of my dissertation (avhandling) book?

To me, the answer was very clear–I wanted the overall message, the theme, of my dissertation to be front and center on the cover.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I should shorten my dissertation 😉

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I had a childhood friend, Kirb Brimstone (also found on Facebook here), do the artwork. I advised him what I wanted and he drew it.

Here’s the significance of my cover art:

Since my dissertation is about how fathers are not provided with an equal chance to parent, both through the Swedish family policies and through the institutions, like the child health field, I had this represented on the cover.

There’s an illustration of Sweden in the background, with a father, presumably from Uppsala University, holding his daughter’s hand as he walks towards a nurse and a preschool teacher.

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The nurse and preschool teacher are both women, signifying the gender difference men/fathers face at the outset of garnering parenting advice from these individuals.

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However, he is stopped at a fence, with a lock, signifying the gatekeeping that is happening as those who have knowledge about young children’s health hold the keys (and therefore the power) to inform or not inform others about young children’s health.

In this case, fathers feel like the gate is closed, and that they have several barriers to break down before they can be fully accepted into the child health world.

Even my own institution highlights the lack of the importance of fathers, as it is aptly named “Women’s and Children’s Health“.

Mainly people in Sweden and around the world believe that Sweden is a very gender equal country. And to its credit, it most certainly is, especially relative to other countries. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a vast amount of work still needed before achieving gender equality. While many people work with the struggle for equal rights for women, few pose the argument on ways men/fathers are discriminated against, not the least of which is through the Swedish child health field.

With that in mind, the sign on the gatekeeping fence has a sign saying “Nullius in Verba” which is Latin for “take nobody’s word for it”. In other words, just because people believe Sweden is a gender equal country, and that men/fathers hold all of the power–do not take societies word for it.

Seek out the truth…..by reading my dissertation.

You can find a copy of my dissertation by clicking here.

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One last thing–I gave a tip of my hat to the father-figures in my life: my father (JSW), my two grandfathers (KFE & CRW), and my best childhood friends dad (SP) by having their initials “carved” into the fence on the right-hand side. This was also intended as a symbolic gesture, suggesting that these fathers had reached the gate, but were stopped and couldn’t be as involved in all aspects of childrearing as they might have liked due to the various levels of gatekeeping that they encountered.

A Swedish Spikning–Nailing my Dissertation

After sitting and writing your dissertation (avhandling) for months, the day comes when it’s is printed.

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It looks so real! A book, with my name as the author is coming into being. Are all of my citations correct? Are my results right? I didn’t mess up any of the decimal places, did I?

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After a thorough checking of your printed dissertation is completed, you send it in for processing and you get a real book!

Once your dissertation is complete, you have a spikning. A spikning is when you nail your avhandling (dissertation) to the wall.

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Everyone used to nail it to a door/wall at the main university building, but today, it’s more common to only nail it within your own office space or to not even literally nail it, but rather just celebrate the accomplishment.

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Either way, I did feel a bit like Martin Luther, although I think my findings were a bit less controversial.

And of course, it’s always nice to hear toasts, make toasts.

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And celebrate the accomplishment with cake.

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Now just a few short weeks until the actual defense.

#nailedit