Tuesday, October 5, 2010

And Now Back to the Dissertation

Not doing it, mind you. Just talking about do it.

But first, can I tell you that I just (unwisely) ate half of a tri-trip sandwich and a bag of BBQ chips? It's the first time I've purchased lunch on campus in a long time, but at Chez GEW we are seriously low on groceries. After this high-calorie lunch, I am seriously over-stuffed. But aren't you impressed that I did not--for the sake of completion--gobble up the second half of the tri-trip sandwich?

Anyway, on to other matters.

Since classes started way back in mid-August, I haven't done much work on the dissertation. I've been too focused on teaching. This week, we have a couple of professional development days (i.e., no classes), and I had hoped to use them for dissertation work. However, it looks like I'll spend most of the extra time grading.

Still, I've been thinking about the dissertation work. Regular readers might remember that back in August, I submitted about 35 pages to my supervisor of what might serve as a chapter. Her feedback was mixed. She thought I got more convincing and confidant as the paper went on. Also, she noted that it relied too heavily on too few secondary sources (which I already knew, but it was just an early draft, so I just let it roll). Overall, she thought it was okay, but I don't know that she thought it was great. I think she thought it was less original than my previous work.

Also, most significantly, it goes in a slightly different direction from the previous writing I've done, so now I'm trying to figure out how the different points of concern might be connected. I think this is probably a typical part of the dissertation process--trying to understand/explain how it all fits together. The good news about arriving at this stage is that I wouldn't be at this stage if I hadn't already done a fair amount of work. The bad news about arriving at this stage is that I've officially gotten to "the hard part"--and I'm sure I'll be in the midst of "the hard part" until the whole darn thing is finished.

I think I know a couple of research directions that might help me get a better "framework" for what I've done so far, but, mostly, I just think I need to become better informed. Despite my progess, I feel very underinformed in my time period and areas of interest. It's time to hit the books. But when? When am I supposed to cram in all of this reading?!

I also submitted a paper proposal for a big conference that will be in the UK at a fancy elite school that I've never visited before (oh my, it's so hard for you to guess this one, isn't it?). I should find out in the next few weeks if the proposal is accepted. The Call for Proposals said that full panel proposals were preferred to individual papers, so the planners and panel chairs might not want me since I am, indeed, a stray individual. We'll see. But the conference is soon--in January--so I wonder if I need to start drafting the paper before I find out if it's accepted. If I don't, I could be stuck cramming on the paper in November and December, which is not an easy time because of teaching, holiday shopping, family visits, etc. You know what a wash November and December are, right? It's not just me, right? And plus, as a Yank, I'm am terribly nervous about presenting on a British writer to British scholars in my nasal American accent.

As for getting work done, I think that maybe, every couple of months, I need to take off for a night and go to a hotel room and spend two days and one night just working on the dissertation. No grading. No schoolwork. Family stays home. Just focused attention on the dissertation. This past summer, having that kind of focused time made all the difference in my production.*

It's just not easy to get dissertation work done what with a full-time job and a full-time family. But I still love my topic, so that's good. But sometimes I really wonder how it happens that a dissertation can ever really be finished. Or, perhaps, like novels, "they are never finished, merely abandoned." Who said that? Was it Forster?

*Okay, looking back over that post from July, I'm struck that it doesn't seem like I was all that productive while they were gone. But it was so great to be able to work to my natural stopping point, then leave all my stuff on the table and start straightaway the next morning. And I did get a lot of pages done.


Amstr said...

Dissertations are hard! I was inspired (really more scared) by this article: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/26/entertainment/la-et-mary-mcnamara-20100926. The dissertation seems even harder to me because of all the primary and secondary reading.

I'm impressed that you can take month-long breaks and then jump back in. I have trouble starting again after a weekend. (And I don't even have the full-time job part going on.)

My goal this month (which I've failed at so far) is to treat dissertation work time like actual work time--where I have to show up at my office (even though it still smells musty) and do stuff. So much easier said than done. I do have deadlines approaching, so that should help.

And if you figure out where to fit in the reading, let me know. I've already given up TV and most pleasure reading. Maybe while making kid lunches?

Amstr said...

And someday we should plan a coastal writing retreat when my folks are out of town--lots of decks and doors that close, hot tub, wineries down the road.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of you being all rogue at Elite U. Your accent doesn't matter, just exercise sticking your pinky finger up with tea, and your head up your ass. You'll be fine.

C. Troubadour said...

You can do it! I'm rootin' for ya. Hear my Southern accent? (Seriously, I had one for the first decade of childhood when the family Troubadour was living below the Mason-Dixon line. Then we moved to the Midwest and my vowels morphed considerably.)

loveskidlit said...

Dissertation vacations sound like a terrific idea!

And I did not show your restraint, but instead finished the second half of the caramello bar. Which I had already stashed in a closed drawer in my office...

Good Enough Woman said...

Amstr, regarding that article: But HOW did she do it? When? I think the secret is probably getting up at 4:30am. And I just don't think I'm prepared to do that. As for long breaks, it certainly has a been a fits-and-starts process, which is hard because I often forget a lot of what I've read. And you've given up TV and leisure reading? Ah, maybe THAT'S what I need to do. But I've been too caught up in the DVD series "Long Way Round" and the books in "The Hunger Games" series.

Amstr, A retreat would be great!

jc, Maybe I should where a cowboy hat and chaps?

CT, I started my life with a thick (THICK!) southern accent from Alabama. Then Wisconsin. Then Indiana. Then back to the south. And now California. I've had friends from other places tell me that I sound "California" now, even though I don't really know what that means. Maybe I sound like a milder version of Spiccoli from Fast Time as Ridgemont High? Duuuuuuuudddddde.

LKL, Mmmmm. Yum. I currently have a bite-size Butterfinger in my bag, but I'm avoiding it since I think I'll get some kind of chai before the kids' gymnastic class. And as great as dissertation vacations sound, I want novel-writing vacations, too! Looks like I won't have much time for my day job! Oh, well. Priorities, priorities.

heu mihi said...

What in the world is a tri-trip bar???

Good Enough Woman said...

Heu, Oops! That's a typo. It's supposed to say "tri-tip," not "tri-trip." Are you familiar with tri-tip?

C. Troubadour said...

Hee hee! I love it, GEW. We didn't live far enough north in the Midwest for me to experience the full Chicagoland accent shift, but I totally started picking up bits when I was teaching in Iowa (the school gets enough students from that region to create a fair contingent).