Sunday, November 15, 2009

Week 8

SW 245A, Epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge)
Everyone agrees this is thee most difficult course in the program. It is offered first up, welcome to the doctoral program! A bit of hazing, if you ask me. Every week there are about four articles and a textbook chapter of reading on a different epistemology (positivism, post-positivism, hermeneutics, social constructivism, interpretivism, critical realism, critical theory, feminist/standpoint theory, etc.). Every Friday a summary and three questions from the readings are due. Sometimes, this means posting assignments online just before midnight. Reading is often slow because the material is dense. Philosophers don't seem to speak or write plainly. It is beyond jargon, it is another language completely. I am learning abstract and difficult concepts in an entirely new language.

Our midterm assignment was a paper describing a well-researched theory which we will later analyze epistemologically and ontologically. Ontology refers to the nature of things that we know - are they real or ideal, independent and objective or socially constructed? I chose to examine Attachment Theory and how it explains our vulnerability to PTSD. Why don't all who are exposed to traumatic events later develop symptoms?

Despite the incredible challenges, this is my favorite class this quarter. The reading has become more and more fascinating and thought-provoking. The professor, Zeke, is knowledgeable and brings many real world examples of research using the different epistemologies, including his own. Zeke doesn't seem to mind all my questions. Even when I persist in challenging an assumption of our beloved Critical Theory.

SOC210A Statistics
This is a three-quarter series on Statistics taught by sociology professors. First up is Gabriel Rossman. He is a 32 (!) year-old UCLA and Princeton alum. He writes about pop culture, like music and the movie industry. His examples are fun in that they help explain the how and why of t-tests or bootstrapping or sampling, but also become interesting stories in themselves. He writes about the halo effect of teamwork on movie sets and its impact on the success of movies. He also uses mythology and quotes from rabbis to make his points. I like all this. I forget now which stats point he was trying to make but he told us about the ancient Hoplites and how they lined up for battle with the youngest in the front and the oldest in the back. This was not so much because the youngest were strongest in battle but because it prevented the youngest from turning around and running away in fear. This reminds me of field instructors and interns. Would any intern actually follow through with a biopsychosocial assessement and parent interview without the veteran field instructor holding the line?

I know that Gabriel is a Princeton alum because I actually wore a Princeton t-shirt to class one day (isn't wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants and a pony tail one of the perks of being back at school?). Anyway, when I reached over to get something out of my backpack, he noticed my t-shirt and asked me something about it, only I didn't hear him on account of I wasn't really paying attention yet because I was reaching for my legal pad for notetaking. Anyway, there he was smiling at me and waiting for a response and I didn't know what to say. Also, there is no back and forth conversation in that class. There are about 20 students and no dialogue, even when he asks us direct questions. It's a quiet group. My classmate thinks it is a sign of the fact that everyone is lost. Anyway it finally dawned on me, after a very pregnant pause, that he was asking about Princeton, I told him I had not attended but bought it on campus when I was back east for a conference. What conference he wanted to know. I was feeling uncomfortable in the spotlight, as usual. I am a horrible extemporaneous speaker. When I told him it was at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation nearby, he said his wife did health policy work for them, then went back to his lecture. My carpool partner said I will get an A in that class for wearing that t-shirt (thanks, Pia!). Then I wanted to know where he attended undergrad.

Every week we have one chapter of reading. Homework problems from the chapter and a lab assignment (using STATA not SPSS, Gabriel hates SPSS) are due every Tuesday. There are two 2-hour lectures every week (Tuesday and Thursday) and two 1-hour labs with our TA, Yool, every week (Tuesday and Friday). In addition, Todd Franke, a SW professor, offers a required Stats support session every other Wednesday from 11 am to 1pm. There will be a cumulative final in 3 weeks. I'm wearing the t-shirt again for good luck.

SW286A Survey of Research Methods
This is an optional course in the program, but I figured a review would help. The last time I took a Stats course was Summer 1994. I highly recommend that class. It was a math course taught by Michael Allen at Glendale Community College. I took it as a prerequisite for my admission to the MSW program at Berkeley. Even with all the Stats instructors I have this quarter, I am leaning on what I learned in that summer to get through Stats this quarter. The last time I took Research Methods was three semesters at Berkeley (Spring 1995 to Spring 1996). This is the course that gets my short-shrift. The reading is good but I rarely have time for it. The mid-term paper was the first half of a research proposal and I chose to use the South Los Angeles Resiliency Project to develop reasearch questions, hypotheses and a lit review. I figured it may serve me when I have to submit a publishable paper in my second year. This course is great in that it is walking us through every aspect of research - questions, hypotheses, units of analysis, reliability, validity (face, criterion, etc.) sampling, survey methods, etc.

I have to admit I took a break last week. I felt the exhaustion in every cell of my body. Not even the salmon oil was working. We got a new bed and that helps with having a refreshing good nights sleep (no body aches and pains upon waking). I had a massage, an accupuncture session (and left with Chinese herbs for energy), a color appointment (I was overdue by 2 weeks!), a nice walk at Descanso Gardens and another around the Rose Bowl. I read, A Round-Heeled Woman, in one day (I could not put it down) and now I am feeling restored again.

Monday begins week 8 of the fall quarter and that means we are close to the end of this round of boxing. Finals week is three weeks away and a three week break will follow after that. If the first year is all about survival, then I suppose I can say, with confidence, that I am indeed surviving. But it feels like so much more than that. When you pursue your goals, dreams or set about on your intentions, it feels like so much more than survival, it feels like living, real living, no matter how hard, it feels like being alive, like the pit in your stomach wants to burst out and scream, this is real, this is really happening, I am doing this now!

Thank you, Yesus, again and again and again...

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