Analyzing a decision
I said I’d be coming back to the meeting I had with a potential new advisor a couple of weeks ago, and here I am. These past two weeks have been busy. I started by reflecting and meditating on what I had received in that two-hour interaction with that professor. And it wasn’t long before a wonderful idea came to me. Last semester, one of the classes I took was about decision making. Why not use the analysis tools you learned in that class to evaluate this decision?
It made sense. In fact, it made perfect sense. That professor said more than once the decision before me was one of the most important of my career because so much would result from it. And I felt deeply impressed each time he said it that it was true. So why shouldn’t I be rigorous and thorough in analyzing this decision?
At the same time, I recognized a wonderful opportunity before me. Writing this decision analysis into a formal report would allow me to clarify my thinking and help me bring the rigor to the analysis I wanted to bring. But it would also help me to answer one of the major concerns which that professor raised at the idea of being my advisor, that being his question about my writing ability. Could I produce professional-level writing in a timely manner that stood a decent chance of getting published? I believe the answer is yes, but here I have the opportunity to produce receipts. If I could produce a report describing my decision analysis procedure and results in a format not unlike what a professionally published academic journal article would have, that demonstration of my ability would speak highly to resolving that professor’s concern.
So without telling him my plan, I took ownership and got busy with the task of performing a formal decision analysis on the two parts of the question before me. Will I stay close to my chosen research topic or find something completely different? And how will I fund the next year? I decided to write the report while conducting the analysis. The analysis itself would not take that long, but the act of writing would clarify what I was doing, and writing about the analysis while performing the analysis would expedite production of the final draft, the receipt I wanted to bring to that professor.
I ended up evaluating 14 different alternatives over 8 different attributes. The analysis used linear models to evaluate utilities for each attribute, swing weights based on a ranking of the attributes, and calculation of total utility for each alternative. But I didn’t just stop there. I evaluated the sensitivity of the two highest swing weights across the top five alternatives to see what it would take to unseat the top alternative from its position. And I analyzed the risk involved in implementing the top alternative and developed ways to manage that risk.
In the end, I produced a 22-page, single-spaced report formatted much like a professional journal article would be, and it took me a little more than two weeks to complete. Although the analysis resulted in a ranking of the alternatives considered, I made it clear from the start that I was not conducting the analysis to make my decision but rather to inform my decision. I would have the final say regarding what next step I would take. And that final say must pass the “gut” check; it must feel right to me. I took that professor’s advice to heart. And the top alternative from my analysis — staying near my chosen research area and funding myself through a combination of my own labor and other sources — actually felt right to me.
I had reached out to the professor from my decision analysis class for assistance, and he promised to help me when he returns from his travels. I appreciate his assistance, but I’m not waiting for it to move forward. I decided to put my best foot forward and show what I could do to that potential new advisor. So I emailed him the report. He responded promptly, saying a brief scan shows I performed a rigorous analysis. He also said he was on his way out of town for a conference and would provide more feedback upon his return. I don’t know where this is going to end up, but I feel a real benefit from having performed my decision analysis and using it to inform the decision that I have made regarding my future. And I feel empowered to press forward with the decision I made myself, a decision that feels very right to me. So here I go.
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