What do those letters really mean? What is this academic language? A Ph.D, a master's degree, a bachelors degree? A "terminal" degree?" What's that all about? And most importantly - when is enough school enough? If' you are like me, you have heard these titles all your life but have never paid much attention. We all know the old joke about Ph.D standing for Piled Higher and Deeper, right? And no doubt, there is much truth to that. I certainly have mountains of books and papers threatening to avalanche without notice. One of my professors explained it to me this way: a bachelor's degree is awarded to someone who has studied the subject matter and can demonstrate how to "do" what they have learned; a master's degree is an advanced professional degree, and is generally awarded to one who has become a proven subject matter expert in a field and plans to work as a professional in the field of study; and a Ph.D (doctorate of philosophy) in the subject can define the philosophy - or why it is and came to be. The Ph.D track is generally a focus on academics with plans to stay in the field of education. Regarding culminating research in a given field, while a Master's Thesis is generally between 50 and 125 pages long, a Ph.D dissertation can be 450 to 600 pages long. A terminal degree is the highest academic degree in a given field of study. While a Ph.D is considered a terminal degree in most academic fields, in some professional fields (outside of education and academics) a Master's degree is the highest degree one can receive in that field. Architecture, creative writing, visual arts, and other creative efforts are among those subjects for which a Master's Degree is a terminal degree.
The dream degree plan: Texas Music and Culture
A Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis on Texas Music and Culture?
Okay - so it's not like I am going to cure cancer, or even create a fat free french fry, but what a great ride! This course of study has amazing. Every single class that I have taken in the Graduate Program at Texas State University has been like being a member of the dream book club.
The Course Work for this degree plan is divided into three sections:
Effective Communications Module
For the communications module, I took a Leadership Studies course with Dr. Steven Dietz; an independent study course in how to create more effective presentations (and avoid the dreaded "death by Powerpoint!" with Dr. Steven Beebe; and am finishing my course work in Spring 2014 with a Human Performance Technology course - how to be more effective in what we do.
The research module is the vehicle for writing the thesis. I was fortunate to have Dr. Dietz for all three sections of this course.
Part One, Research Methods and Statistics: An indepth study of how to conduct research, what statistics mean, and how to develop a thesis. This course culminates with a Thesis Proposal, and includes an abstract, a review of literature, and an annotated thesis outline. We spent a lot of time narrowing my scope of work for this because, as is typical of novice academic researchers, I was like a kid in a candy shop - wanting to taste everything and share it with my friends.
Part Two, Applied Research: This semester is spent doing the research for the approved thesis project. Reading and gathering data, and reading and killing trees, and reading and making countless copies of materials, and reading and becoming a hoarder. No, wait! Katie Saltzman, the lead archivist at the Southwestern Writers Collection in the Wittliff Gallery at Texas State corrects me. I am not a hoarder. I am a home- archivist.
Part Three: Writing and Presenting the Thesis: This is the fun part. Putting everything together. As with several other professional papers, I heard my old friend and mentor, Bob Barton's voice rattling around in my head more than once during this trek: "We're not writing the Bible here - let's go to press!" I finished and presented the Thesis, but there is much more to say and do so it does not end here. (More next semester!)
If anyone can show me a more amazing academic block of study that will culminate in a Master's Degree, I want to know about it. This has been an amazing journey. The courses included:
History of Texas Music - Dr. Jason Mellard
Music and Social Movements - Dr. Gary Hartman
History of Country Music - Dr. Jason Mellard
Independent Study: James McMurtry - Dr. Jason Mellard*
Creative Writing: Biography and Memoir - Tom Grimes*
Contemporary Fiction: Larry McMurtry - Dr. Mark Busby
Independent Study: Frontiers to Footlights - The Book Project: Dr. Steven Dietz (Spring 2014)
* These courses have culminated in seminar/research papers that have been/will be published and/or presented at conferences. The James McMurtry project is a chapter in a collaborative Ruthlessly Poetic Songwriters book effort under the editorial leadership of Craig Clifford and Craig Hillis, currently under contract with Texas A &M Press. I am developing the "Frontiers to Footlights" thesis into a larger book project in the spring. The Billy Porterfield Story has been published in Real South. I have presented the thesis at two conferences, and will be speaking at two more conferences about Texas Music History in the spring of 2014.