Back in the day, now three semesters ago, one of my courses was focused entirely on preparing our dissertation proposal. We spent the semester writing a draft of our proposal, which was our main grade for the course. I ended up taking an incomplete for the semester (most of us did), to buy a little more time to work on my proposal. Our instructor actually encouraged this, because, as she said, dissertations are not written within the arbitrary deadlines of a semester. Boy, have I proved that to be true...
Needless to say, what I submitted that July totally sucked. It still was not anywhere where I needed it to be at the time. Nor is it there yet.
As I sit here trying to crank this thing out today, it strikes me as interesting to think about what that class prepared me for, and what it didn't. Our professor did a great job of outlining the different sections, what is included and what isn't. For example, no adjectives. None. As someone who LOVES adjectives, you can imagine that this is not just a challenge, but a MAJOR challenge. She also gave us a document outlining the major grammatical errors that PhD candidates tend to make in their dissertations. A good reminder to proofread. And most importantly, she told us, when in doubt, go back to the literature. I have had to do this many, many times.
But when it comes to the things that I wish someone would have explained to me, they are as follows:
You will spend about triple the amount of time thinking about your dissertation as you will spend actually writing it. Maybe I am alone here. Maybe I am just trigger shy. But I find myself having to walk away from my computer a lot. It doesn't mean that my brain turns off, or that I am distracted by something else. In fact, I am usually stepping away to mentally process something I just typed and/or read. I walked to the coffee shop around the corner, and spent the whole trip processing my rationale, and what it would look like if I mapped it via post-its. Then when I came home, I mapped the post-its. I later wandered down to our basement to find a book that I needed, and stood there pondering the concept of "goodness" in qualitative research for about 20 minutes. This feels both productive and unproductive at the same time.
You might spend just as much time reading dissertations as you will writing yours. As I try to piece together what a dissertation should look like, I have found that I learn best by example. As I start to write my key concepts, or some other component of this thing, I find myself having to go back to see how someone else did it. Thanks to those that have shared their proposals with me. I also spend a significant amount of time reading bibliographies to see what others read and cited, and then even more time trying to find those articles.
You will find yourself hitting a peak of productivity right when it comes time to do something else. Ugh. This is annoying. These past three days, I have been the most productive between 1 and 5 pm. I am just finally hitting my stride when it is time to make dinner, or to go look at washing machines, or for date night at the movies (Don't worry Chris, I do still want to see Lincoln tonight!). When what I really need is to just keep writing It's not that I didn't plan my day around these things happening. It's just that I spent my morning mucking through all the crap in my head. And by 4:30 pm, when it's time to roll out pizza dough, I am saying, "Crap. Why couldn't I have been in this awesome groove at 10 o'clock this morning?" If it makes me unreasonably crabby, I apologize. I have a feeling that it is going to be hard to pull myself away to celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow. Because I just want to read and write about phenomenology. I'll make time for the parade and for eating. But that may be it.
I am thankful that friends that have come before me and other faculty have given some good advice too:
"All diets are off during the dissertation process." - Shelley
-Evidenced by the rows of Oreos that I ate today.
"Write something everyday, even if it is just a sentence." - Leah (via Janelle)
- I am working on this one. I wrote it on a post-it as a reminder.
"Copy someone else's methodology. You are not the first to do this type of study. Don't make it harder than it needs to be." - One of my professors.
- This was not an okay to plagiarize, but an acknowledgement that there are only so many ways to collect data.
"A good dissertation is a done dissertation." - My advisor
- A good reminder to get out of my head and get this ish done. I am not in this for any awards. I do not anticipate a research career ahead of me. I just want to finish.
Many have said what an isolating process this is. It is the one thing in the educational process that you do totally by yourself. So if I seem a little crazy or distracted, it is because my brain is going 100 miles an hour right now, but sometimes it feels like it's going in reverse. Dissertations come with a lot of mind games.
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