Doctoral Dissertation


This page provides insight into my experience in the pursuit of a doctoral dissertation, which is the culmination of years of research, thousands of hours of development, as well as hundreds of hours of data collection and analysis. And then there is the writing.... In any case, I have provided some answers to commonly asked questions below. If you have any others feel free to contact me.

Committee Members


Process Overview

Frequently asked questions

When did you expect to complete your dissertation?

I initially thought that I would be able to complete the entire process in three years - at most. During my second semester, I presented a concept to Dr. Levy who agreed to allow me to formally submit a concept topic. I believed at the time that this topic submission at this early stage would ensure my timely completion.

Why did the dissertation take so long?

Essentially, my dissertation could be considered as dual research: an expert-panel that provided the feedback to create the Social Engineering eXposure Index (SEXI)™ as well as the validation of SEXI with analysis and assessment of aggregated data of 100 individuals. Either aspect might have served as a full dissertation.

Dr. Levy, my dissertation chair, and I had agreed early on that three to five data sources were required to validate the SEXI benchmark. After a year of development, followed by several months of testing, Google+ was shut down and Facebook drastically changed their API allowing the company to have unfettered access to personal information while removing access to many others - including researchers with permission and authorized access. We chose to abandon the prototype and pursue alternatives.

Did the dissertation go as planned?

Definitely not. I initially wanted to use Swarm Theory as the foundation of the research. Instead, it was suggested that I use Theory of Mind (TOM) which introduced a novel approach to understanding how disparate individuals perceived personal information. TOM provided a mechanism to ask subject-matter experts, from a wide array of industries and experience, questions on how they perceived personal information as well as providing insight into their working environments as it related to policy and procedures.

Source validation proved to be a major issue as well. In order to validate the SEXI of Hollywood Personas and executives of Fortune 500 companies, I first had to find and verify data sources to be used in the study. What I assumed would be a three or four week process ended up taking several months.

We initially agreed upon three to five sources of personal information. When Google+ and Facebook removed as options, we ended up with 26 sources. The prototype tool I built was able to assess the information from the sources, aggregate the data, and store the analysis in a matter of seconds. We had to abandon the tool, due to the development time required to add new sources, or face the possibility of not completing the research and failing to publish the dissertation.

Did you have any problems in the dissertation process?

There were several. Initially I had to learn the APIs of Facebook, Google+, and Twitter and then map each of those to the list of personal information items used in the research. A simple API can take a few days to learn and implement, while more complex ones can take weeks or months. Debugging, testing and validation adds additional time. I could either write the dissertation, code the prototype, or assess providers - but only one at a time, while all needed effort.

Several data sources where obtained, but when their "data" was validated, I found instances with false (randomly generated?), incorrect, and valid entries. Each source required several hours to a few days to validate against known data. Even very popular sources, used by organizations and law enforcement could not readily be relied upon.

I believe the largest issue I had during the research was a direct result of the literature review, wherein I extracted 105 personal information items. This led to a hefty amount of data:

personal_information_items * number_of_people_being_accessed * number_of_sources * iterations

What tool did you use to collect data?

I developed an online system using xPDO, PHP and MODX. The prototype was discontinued when Google+ and Facebook were essentially taken offline.

The data presented in the dissertation was collected in Microsoft Excel using multiple rounds of data collection.

Do you know the specific number of pages written and read for the dissertation?

In short, no. During course work, it is advantageous to begin collecting foundational articles and begin performing research by reading the four most significant sources in each article and then reading the four foundational articles for that set. This could be upwards to 85 articles (the original + 4 sources + 4 sources for each of those + 4 for each of those) and provide a starting point to understand a literature stream. Much of the initial reading for a dissertation may actually be conducted during course work, so there may be some dissertation reading during the doctoral studies.

How many pages did you write during the dissertation?

579 pages comprised the final documents of each of the stages (concept, idea paper, research proposal, research report). For my study, there were dozens of revisions and Little means of tracking those changes as far as a page or word count would go.

There were also many supplementary documents which would add several hundred pages to the count such as the revision tracking documents.

How many pages did you write during the doctoral studies?

971 pages were turned in as part of assignments.

There were also many supplementary documents such as notes, summaries, projects, etc.

How many pages did you read during the doctorate?

21,475 is the best estimate and is derived from reading each document a single time. It should be noted that in any academic writing a document may be referenced multiple times and each of occurrence would typically require portions of the article to be read again - at least briefly skimmed. So, the value presented here should be a conservative estimate.

Did the dissertation progress through the expected route?

Definitely not, but does any legitimate research go entirely as expected?

This should be expected on any developmental research as it typically attempts to describe a previously limited area of study or a novel approach.

Were there any unexpected complications?

Of course.

During the data collection an analysis phase, the college change from APA 6 to APA 7 as well as changed the margin and indent sizes. Additionally, a maximum page count was suggested of which my paper exceeded by approximately 100 pages.

Do you have any insight that you can offer?

The most important insight I can offer is that doctoral candidates should keep in mind that their committee chair is working with many other students at various stages of their dissertation preparation. As such, they may have a tendency to see an improved or alternate means to present content and data. This may lead to additional suggestions with resources expended on content which may be deleted later.

Record all virtual sessions and keep everything in writing.

For example, one of my dissertation committee members suggested that the presentation of so many tables disrupted the flow of content and that they should be moved to appendices, which may be typical to social studies.

Most important: keep in contact with your committee chair. I ahd a tendency to disappear occasionally, and Dr. Levy might be very busy when I resurfaced. This resulted in several weeks and eventual months of no contact over the duration of the research.

What is the most important aspect of the dissertation?

Keep in contact with your committee chair. I had a tendency to disappear occasionally, and Dr. Levy might be very busy when I resurfaced. This resulted in several weeks and eventual months of no contact over the duration of the research.

Near the end of the dissertation we were waiting for one of the committee members to sign off on the dissertation, leaving only the final defense. Without anyone being aware the email box had been deactivated during an upgrade at the university and they had not the request, pushing the dissertation beyond the acceptable time limits and requiring an appeal for less than one week of activity.

Were there disagreements?

Yes. Keep in mind that the dissertation transpired over years. In one recording of an online session I was instructed to move content from one chapter to another. After months of writing, the document was submitted and I was asked as to why that content was there. Having to move the content from one chapter to another proved difficult as the purpose of the chapters was different causing much of the content to be written for the third time.

The most significant debate stemmed from a position taken early on in the research and defined in the proposal:

The second delimitation is that each source will be validated to ensure that it correctly associates with the executive or Hollywood persona. A possibility exists for the returned data may be associated with another individual having the same identifier, such as name.

A debate ensued on this very point in that only a name was returned and as such was marked as not found. The committee chair said that any information found should be counted, even though the dissertation proposal specifically stated that an individual could only be shown as identified if they met certain criteria (having PDI, or enough PII/PUI to positively identify them).

My stance was that several hundred people shared the name within a limited geographical area making the finding of the name moot and non-significant.

The committee chair took the stance that any content found should be counted as partial identification.

To address this we opted to use targeted assessment by using known open sources concerning the individual. The prototype was set aside and not used.

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