Clearly I am failing at the whole “don’t feel guilt about not doing work on the dissertation because you are on break” thing because I am (#1) Feeling Guilty and (#2) Doing Work. Okay, I am not really doing work, but something working-like at least.
Before leaving town I needed to pick up some books that were waiting for me at the library. I knew that I had a lot waiting for me. “A lot” meaning that I took the car and multiple cloth bags for all the books — this was a load that could not safely be brought home by bike in one trip. Now that the books and I are home I figured I would share with you one of my many means for making some order out of this chaos that is the research for the dissertation.
#1. Refworks is your friend. If you have not used it yet, try it! Seriously, Refworks is the shit and will make you such a happier person in the end. I test drove this wonderfully useful application last winter before writing my exams because I wanted to see how it worked. It truly helped me organize my sources for the seminar paper and went on to handle the massive amounts of information that needed handling for the candidacy exams. You can export citation information directly from the library catalogue online and most online databases. Why type up bibliographic information when Refworks will do it for you???? The flexibility of it is nice too! It does MLA, APA, Chicago and more. Thus far the only style it does not do is Blue Book, but then again only law people use that.
#2. All books that come into the house get immediately entered into Refworks. The moment that I bring any book home from the library I enter its information. I could say the same thing in about four more ways, but I think you get the hint. Enter the data immediately!!!!
#3. Put books on some shelf or in some pile and hide from them!
I think #3 will need to be revised, but trust me on #1 and #2.
Okay, first off, you should know that I am hard on myself. I am fairly type A and super anal-retentive about most everything in my life. I like order and when things are just so a massive and chaotic that I cannot for the life of me order them I tend to hide. And by hide I mean read books and watch seasons of TV on DVD.
The term is now done for a moment, and while I should be doing things like prepping a whole new syllabus that I was not suppose to have to prepare (ahem, ahem – bitter says what?) and spend 10-12 hours on the dissertation each day I just can’t bring myself to do it right now.
However, I am having trouble accepting that such behavior is not an indicator that the end of the world is nigh or that the sky is falling because I REALLY SHOULD BE WORKING ON THE DISSERTATION. I know that I need to give myself some down time now that the term is done. I know that, but I just can’t feel that.
Next week mid-week I will be taking off to go visit my grandmother, so I am thinking I might give myself permission to be a slacker until I return from visiting her — i.e. one whole week without feeling guilty. I doubt that such a thing will be possible (guilt, guilt, guilt), but it something towards which one should strive.
Now I think I will get back to all that mindless blog reading!!!
Not my awesomeness (although I am certain we will discuss that later), but that of a dear friend. Today she sent me the link to the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) Center as her dissertation has now been published there. I had heard her present sections of it before and read a part of a chapter in a writing group, but until now I have not had the opportunity to read it in full. Well, I don’t think I will be reading the whole 370 page .pdf today, but it was pretty awe inspiring to glance through it. I was also quite touched and humbled to find myself mentioned in the acknowledgments section. I am so proud of her for completing such a great project, and I am sure that she is going to kick some ass this fall in her new TT position.
The summer quarter is done!!! Grades have been submitted!! Freedom is in the air!
Phew. Okay. Now that I have that out of my system it is back to reality. Certainly I am grateful that I had employment for the summer quarter. And overall it was a lovely quarter: I had a great class of students and the writing center was not too insane. That said, I felt like I have not made much in the way of headway on the dissertation this summer. Part of that had to do with teaching a new class and the other part was me resenting spending the summer in C-Bus. Leaving in the summer means that I am just going to school here. Being here year-round means that I live here. I am not ready to admit to myself that I live here yet. Wait. Where was I? Right. Freedom!
So now that I am free it is time to get cracking on the dissertation. The pre-proposal is about 95% done. Books and more books are arriving at the library daily and I think that there is enough guilt weighing on me that I will either have to start working more on the dissertation or such weight will just pull me through the bottom cushion of the couch never to be seen again.
Truthfully I am feeling like I am a bit off my game: my prose feels rusty these days, my thoughts aren’t making their way into words as well as they used to, and the overwhelming nature of the dissertation seems to have paralyzed my ability to order all that surrounds me. Right now, however, I must remember that my sentences can sound like shit, my ideas don’t have to flow perfectly, and well, this is just going to be overwhelming no matter how many pieces into which I think it can be broken down.
My competitive side is also getting to me. My partner started back at school this week, as he is on the semester system rather than the crazed quarter system, and he is hoping to get one article out this weekend and perhaps one next week. I just cannot countenance him kicking my ass.
Life with the dissertation is not going great right now. I guess I am just feeling lost and overwhelmed. Yes, I know how to break things down into parts, and I do have a pre-proposal which is a good road map, but it is one that I have not yet internalized. I think doing that might help.
Books are arriving and I am looking through some. The dissertation book is back and that means I have it as a crutch — stupid people recalling such books from me! grr! But still, my confidence level is pretty much in the toilet right now, and my focus is elsewhere.
Today is the last day of classes for the summer term (YAH!!!!). And once my grading is done, I will have a bit of time to take a breather and then get working. I hope to settle into some type of writing schedule before the fall quarter starts. I think going into the term with that set will be good.
It is going to be all about scheduling soon: Gym time, writing time, teaching time, tutoring time, writing time, writing time, writing time, partner time, more writing time, and sleep. Hopefully the scheduling will mean I will fall into a rhythm.
In truth I am a bit disappointed in myself right now. I had hoped to had the dissertation proposal written by the time the fall term started. As it stands now I have a December 4th due date. Although the proposal will be about 10 pages and I could whip that out in two days, the lit review for each chapter will get completed before the proposal is done, so that is what will take the longest. Plus moving between four distinct sections makes me feel schizophrenic in my work sometimes. Yet getting all focused on one makes me feel strange too.
I guess we must all go through these phases with the dissertation. I just hope to be on an upswing with the project soon.
Yesterday I had a bit of an odd conversation with a special friend of mine. This individual (well, I guess we should give him some sort of pseudonym — how about Ally?), Ally, is very much like an non-academic advisor. He is a really great person to talk to and often helps me sort through both academic and personal life stuff. Yesterday we ended up talking about my frustration and lack of progress/very slooooooooooow progress on the dissertation. An odd analogy came out of the discussion, but it is one that seems to work pretty well.
Ally talked about the dissertation as being like a baby and me as being like its mother. Right now mama is having a bit of trouble caring for the baby because she lacking the support she needs to care for the baby. If no one is supporting me well, then how can I support the baby. I have tried all of the quick fixes I know to get this baby to settle down, the types of things that work when you are babysitting your cousin’s kid, but this is my kid and I have exhausted my knowledge. I need the support not only of other friends and mothers out there, but the support from those parents who have babies who have this type of colic….
I think the analogy can only be pressed so far, but there is something to his point. It is rough going it alone when it comes to the dissertation. Talking with other diss. writers helps, but something is still missing. And what is missing is needed.
The dissertation is giving me a headache right now. Or, rather, the lack of progress on the dissertation is giving me a headache because I feel like I am spinning my wheels with no where to go but every where and all at once.
I am frustrated because I felt like I had things in order. There was an outline with headings and subheadings and things were filled-in and there were noted spots where things still needed filling-in.
… And then I met with my advisor and it all got messy again.
I don’t like messes.
I guess I am also frustrated because I am having trouble coming up with solid categories for my literature review so I am not yet able to code my literature. Oh, yeah. And did I also tell you that I have to write four separate literature reviews, maybe even five?!?!!? One for each chapter plus maybe one for the introduction. Some days I really feel like I no longer know what I am doing.
Truth be told, I am very lucky that I have such an awesome advisor. (Granted, I feel this was this week and about 90% of the time; however, I am certain we will see evidence of the other 10% in the year to come.) I ended up in my programme because of my advisor. Even before coming here we talked about my project ideas and discussed my writing. Those conversations then, as they are now, were truly awesome and extremely generative. He is someone who not only works with big ideas and concepts and helps me envision how the large sweeps of ideas might come together or rupture, but he is also someone who will spend two hours with me on a sentence. Yup. One single sentence. Two HOURS.
During the summers my advisor helps to run various programmes for visiting undergraduates, and this summer I have had the chance to work with some of them. The experiences of working with these visiting students on their essays and statements of purpose have been great and extremely rewarding. I feel that same awe and exhaustion as I do when I have been working for ages with my advisor on ONE FRIGGIN’ SENTENCE, but this time it is me in his role working with these students. Those are good moments.
Vacation was lovely. I highly recommend such things. Frankly, I think I need more travel in my life. Actually this is not an “I think” but rather an “I know.” I really need much more travel in my life to see other parts of this country and the world. Not the type of conference travel of hotel rooms, conference centers in some hotel or in some university campus basement, and being stuck in airports.
This was perhaps not the typical vacation as I went back to my former SLAC (the one for my M.A. not my B.A.) to see friends, breathe the lovely and clean air, and talk with professors. It was really heartwarming to be there. A friend of mine summed it up well when I walked in and greeted me with “welcome home!” Indeed, I was home and I was with my family.
I come out of an unconventional M.A. programme – one that is much more akin to summer camp for dorks than a typical department or school of X. That said, most people in that M.A. programme don’t go on to Ph.D. programmes. I, like in many things, am the exception. This was the first summer I have not been back to the SLAC for the whole summer. It was much, much harder than even I am willing to acknowledge not to be there this summer as it is such a magical place, and there is a very generative and productive atmosphere that surrounds the campus and the students. If you think OSU’s quarter system is insane, then you should try seven week terms! The compressed nature of things up there does funny things with time – days are long and weeks are long, but they aren’t. Everything is simultaneously long and short as there is so much to get done. In all honesty, I would do (and have to do) more work there in a term than I would have to do when I still had coursework at OSU.
When I think about the dissertation and all that I want/need to get done in the next 12 months, I am seriously contemplating saving up throughout the fall, winter, and spring quarters so that I can go back to my SLAC to do my work next summer. Trust me, I am grateful that I am teaching and working for the WC this summer — I’m a big fan of having an income! — but I think that I might get more quality work done there then I do here. There is something about being surrounded by a community of academics (professors and students) 24/7 that really pushes you to work hard and think in new ways (which ultimately help you to produce better work). The isolation that comes with working on the dissertation is sometimes hard to countenance and I wonder if our work suffers for it at times. Then again maybe it is just me, or maybe it is just the humanities. Perhaps other departments rock out way more than mine does.
I am the type of person who is pretty good about imposing deadlines upon myself and sticking to them. As I am leaving town on Thursday for the only vacation I will be taking this summer (a whole three days! woohoo@!), everything has to get done as there is no way I am taking work with me on this trip. ( In fact, I may be so bold as to leave my laptop behind – I can’t remember the last time I’ve done such a thing.) To this end I started planning weeks ago as not only did I want to have the first draft of my pre-proposal written and off to my advisor before leaving, I also wanted to have all of my grading and lesson planning done for my class.
Accomplishing such goals as I set a good schedule for myself — it was going to be easy. It was, until I worked out a deal with my students that meant pushing their paper back a week, which then mean papers came in last week and their midterm was yesterday. Oh, yeah, and it is a class of 45 students. Needless to say I have been a grading machine for the past week plus now. Everything will be done by the time I go. Essays have been graded, mid-term exams are almost fully graded, the book I will teach next week has been read and I’ve typed up my notes already, and I will even post my grades before I get on the plane.
Even with all of this teaching “stuff” going on I’ve managed not to neglect the dissertation work. It got neglected for a few days, of course, but I did manage to write an almost complete draft of the pre-proposal (there are a few aspects of it that are still a bit confusing to me, so those will get ironed out with the advisor). I guess I mention this laundry list of tasks and the craziness of teaching right now to remind you about all of the things that we sometimes use as excuses to avoid the writing and to emphasize planning. Truly, I think “to do” lists and sticking to self-imposed deadlines might be the only things which get me through this dissertation in the end.