May 7, 2013

The Dissertation Experience

My dissertation is an interdisciplinary study examining education as an issue in presidential election campaigns from 1968 through 2008. I am integrating the fields of history and political science to determine how political elites have attempted to frame or “sell” the issue of education to voters, what factors influence whether education “makes the agenda” during a particular presidential election campaign, the influence of campaign discourse on federal educational policy reform, and the role public opinion plays in these interactions.

Identifying A Topic

As a graduate student, I presented conference papers on a diverse range of topics: school integration in the North, women’s rights in institutions of higher education, and teacher activism and unions as well as several methodological papers. As part of my coursework, I’d written about merit pay for teachers and affirmative action policies. When it came time to select a dissertation topic, I wasn’t ready to forgo any of these lines of inquiry.  Following faculty advice to find a dissertation topic for which I had a passion, I quickly identified presidential politics as an ideal dissertation topic for me. Since I was quite young I have been involved in presidential election campaigns at the local and state level. This topic ensured that I could continue to pursue my previous lines of inquiry because those issues are all present in campaign discourse. In addition, it offered me the opportunity to engage some issue I had yet to study, in particular school prayer and tuition tax credits.

Finding Funding

My biggest concern when deciding whether to commit to this topic was funding. My study requires extensive archival research, which involves considerable travel and expense. I deeply appreciate the effort program faculty put into helping me identify funding sources and in writing letters to support my funding applications. Their work on my behalf made it possible for me to pursue this study.  The following is an abbreviated list of awards and grants I have received thus far.

  • Ballard and Seashore Dissertation Fellowship, University of Iowa Graduate College, ($22,000)
  • University of Iowa Graduate College Summer Fellowship, ($3,000)
  • Schools, Culture, and Society Program, Dissertation Research Scholarship, ($1,000)
  • Archive Travel Grant, Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, ($500)
  • Research Grant, Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs (Bush Presidential Library), ($1,100)
  • Research Grant, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, ($925) 

The Journey: Archives I Have Or Will Visit

Richard Nixon Presidential Library - Yorba Linda, California;  Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library - Ann Arbor, Michigan;  Jimmy Carter Presidential Library - Atlanta, Georgia;  Ronald Reagan Presidential Library - Simi Valley, California; George H.W. Bush Presidential Library - College Station, Texas;  William J. Clinton Presidential Library - Little Rock, Arkansas;  Minnesota Historical Society - St. Paul, Minnesota;  Northeastern University Library - Boston, Massachusetts; Princeton University Library, Mudd Manuscript Library - Princeton, New Jersey;  Robert J. Dole Archive and Special Collections - Lawrence, Kansas;  George Washington University, Gelman Library -Washington, D.C.;  Texas State Library and Archives Commissions - Austin, TX.