Interview w/Dave Yates – 2007 Gerardine DeSanctis Dissertation Award Winner

As a doctoral student, we all have a common theme – dissertation!

That drives you crazy, but that also makes you really happy.

So, I thought that it would be a good idea for us to know about behind the scene of writing a dissertation successfully. This led me to interview Dave Yates, the winner or 2007 Gerardine DeSanctis Dissertation Award (and one of the first contributors of this site!). Dave kindly shared his thoughts and experiences with us… Thanks so much, Dave!

Enjoy it and let me know what you think. Please share your thoughts with others…

For more information about Gerardine DeSanctis Dissertatin Award, here is a link

1. How did you find your dissertation of your topic and how did you develop it?

– I started with the broad concept of virtual work. My advisor, Ann Majchrzak really helped me to understand the literature in new ways – where it was pointing me (i.e. new research directions) not just what it was telling me. It wasn’t until I was on site collecting data that I found the ‘really interesting’ problems, because the organization I examined hadn’t told me the interesting stuff because they weren’t even aware of what they were doing wrong (and right). So it was a recipe of one part my initial interest, two parts advisor guidance, and three parts what was really happening that I could study.

2. What was the most challenging moment in your dissertation development process and why?

– I can only say this, looking back now, because each step of the process felt like the most challenging at the time. But the real challenge was writing one of my last chapters, the contributions chapter. Doing the work, knowing the literature, and obtaining interesting findings isn’t enough. You have to be able to sell it to a broad audience. That mean you have to understand and convey what you have really done here, what’s the contribution. Let me give you an example. Part of my work showed how important identity is for contextualizing knowledge when interacting virtually. Is that by itself a great contribution? Actually, no, others had suggested this before me. However, my advisor wisely pointed me to all the literature on anonymity and contribution, and how there were mixed findings, and helped me figure out that my findings helped resolve this discrepancy in prior research on anonymity, i.e. was it a good or bad thing? That’s a new contribution, to be able to resolve a past inconsistency. But you need to really think through your findings to identify that kind of contribution.

3. What was the most enjoyable moment in your dissertation development process and why?

– I really enjoyed collecting data with my research site. My contacts there kept introducing me around the organization as our ‘knowledge management expert’ and at first I felt like a complete fraud. But everyone was so interested in what I was doing so it was great fun to explain the study, and I think the more I had to explain it the more I felt validated.

4. How did you choose your dissertation committee?- Well it wasn’t too hard for me at all. I’ll pass on advice I was given. First, ask committee members who have strong publishing records, because except for your advisor your committee isn’t involved in the details of how you did your dissertation, they are mainly evaluating the finished product. Thus, those with a strong publishing record can tell you how the greater IS community is going to receive your work. Second, pick an outside member with related expertise if possible. The role of the outside member varies from school to school. For some, the person is merely a check and balance. I was incredibly lucky to have an outside member who knew the literature and who provided extremely useful feedback. Finally, I guess you do have to be cognizant of personality clashes. I didn’t have to worry about this at all. But I have read accounts of conflict among committee members – frankly, you don’t need this. You have enough trouble.

5. How soon did you find your dissertation topic (ex. before comps or after comps)?

– I thought I had my topic nailed down right after comps. I was wrong. It turns out what I thought was my topic was too broad, wouldn’t have made a significant contribution, and I was going to have trouble getting data to support that topic. So, I kept the original kernel of the idea but adapted. And I adapted, and adapted, and adapted some more. I’m trying to remember…I think I struggled for about six months until I really had a good, specific, and testable idea. Those were not fun months, but they were necessary for me.

6. What is your dissertation format (e.g. a single format or three-paper format) and why did you choose the format?

– Mine was a single paper format, although that’s really a myth I think. I have a chapter on my qualitative phase (mainly interviews and observations) and a chapter on my quantitative phase (testing a research model with survey-derived data). You could call my literature review chapter “an agenda for future research in….” So don’t think that a three-paper format is necessarily more valuable than the single because you come away with a greater set of publishable work. But that said, the three-paper format has appeal. You can make either format work for you, and some people feel strongly for one or the other. I do not.

7. What was your publication strategy for your dissertation?

– Again, I can only reinforce advice I was given. Your first year as an assistant professor is extremely busy, with moving, setting up your office, prepping classes, and getting involved – it is a lot of fun to get involved in new projects, working groups, research groups, etc. You need to prep your first submission before this mayhem starts. So that’s my timeline advice. My content advice is this: submit the best paper you can from what you have, and then think about ‘what else’ you could publish. Others may think differently, but my goal is one high-quality publication. You will have a myriad of opportunities to submit lower-quality articles, but this is your first and best chance to submit top-notch work on your own. Hopefully you have multiple A-journal articles within your dissertation and if so, that’s fantastic.

8. What did the Gerardine DeSanctis Dissertation Award mean to you?

– Let me answer that two ways. First, what did the award signify? Well, I never met Gerry DeSanctis, but I can only hope that in the future I will have the personal and professional reputation she has still. So many people have been touched by her impact. Winning an award like this, it makes you feel like a member of a tight-knit community within the IS community, and that’s a great feeling. Second, you wouldn’t believe the mileage that I’ve enjoyed from winning this award. Universities love to see assistant profs come to them with awards. It helps open up doors for new research sites, cross-department collaboration, etc. It is well worth your time to put in for this award.

9. Any advice for OCIS doctoral students to successfully finish their dissertation?

– One of my former fellow students, who was a year or two ahead of me, told me once how many drafts of his dissertation he went through before he had a final product. This was right before I started writing in earnest. At the time, I couldn’t believe how much revision he had done. I thought, ‘he’s either really bad at this, or his advisor is a taskmaster, or something, but it sure wasn’t going to take me that many revisions.’ Wrong. It sure did. He was exactly right. So plan on a lot of revision before you ‘get it right.’ Don’t get disheartened by having to keep changing what you think is really good stuff. That’s my first advice. Second, don’t hide from people. I think I lost a few months overall because I was afraid of criticism. That’s the wrong approach. You need to get your ideas in front of anyone who will listen. One of my core ideas came during a 30 minute sit-down with Dick Boland after he had given a visiting research presentation. I wasn’t planning to discuss my fledgling ideas with him but he made me do it.

10. What did you do wrong along the way? (this wasn’t a questin originally asked, but Dave kindly added it – very interesting one!)

A billion things. The #1 worst thing is that I didn’t take advantage of every minute on site at my research site. I let them tell me when and where I could talk to people. I focused too much on my survey and not enough on everything going on around me. I thought of this time as a ‘break’ from academia, but don’t do that. If anything, ramp up your level of effort during data collection, don’t sit back. If you aren’t constantly moving, talking to someone, and making notes, your are missing a golden opportunity.

#2, my data was really messy. My advisor told me it was going to happen, but I didn’t believe it. The real world is messy, so I don’t know how you can avoid this, except to be adaptable, and extensively pilot your interview questions, survey items, etc. Don’t think they are good just because you designed them!

#3, I didn’t take advantage of my coursework. If I could do it again, I’d write detailed notes about every article, every methodology, every discussion from every class, because you need that later. I thought I knew it from studying for comps, but I ended up having to re-read a lot of material. Even early on, plan for the future.

#4, the worst, is that I didn’t fight for my ideas. I was too quick to change an approach that I really liked because I didn’t do a good enough job explaining it to my advisor. I came full circle on some things. The problem was, I wasn’t able to explain my ideas well enough early on, it took a journey and some intellectual maturity before I could defend some of my thoughts. You can’t think like a student, you have to think like a peer. Of course, on the other hand I had a fellow student who would never listen to his advisor or anyone else, and he suffered for it. So there is some give and take there.


7 Responses

  1. Nice one, Dave. I particularly liked the mistakes section, as well as the amount of revising. But mostly I liked the ‘full circle’ idea; it’s often hard to express what you have in mind without the data, then the data doesn’t match up and you have to chase the interesting things in the data. But I agree that you have to keep the ideas you have at the start and along the way somewhere (the back burner 😉 and come back to them from time to time. Sure feels like progress when you see new insight for older ideas in the data.

    Now, back to it 🙂

  2. Great post! I am currently in the dissertation stage, and any little bit of advice from someone who has been here always boosts moral. Thanks, Dave.

  3. Thank you for preparing this interview Dave and Yukika, it was very interesting to read.

  4. Thanx god… i am not the only one with such problems…

  5. The full circle idea is pretty cool. While I think I had a pretty good understanding of my research topic early in my dissertation stage, I found that investigating numerous alternative perspectives really sharpened my thinking. In the end, I came back to a more informed understanding of what I wanted to do in my dissertation. Also, by examining alternative views and avenues relevant to my main interest, I feel that I am better prepared to address questions like, “Have you considered this perspective on your research topic” or “How does [a particular area of research] relate to your study?” Thanks Yukika and Dave for posting this interview.

  6. Hello Everyone!

    Thanks for this interesting interview! I’m about to start my PhD at McGill this September and am filled with questions about what to expect and how to manage the process!

    I like the advice on taking notes on classes and while reading the literature. I’d love to hear more advice related to preparing for the comps! Anyone?

    I have also started going into the field. So I can totally identify with feeling like a fraud and I’m so happy at the prospect of this feeling going away!

    I’ve just discovered this web site (although I have visited once before, I did not know the affiliation of the site that time). I’m so glad to find a resource like this!

  7. Hi Reem,

    Thanks for the feedback about the site and interview. Welcome to the Ph.D. life!



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