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Quote of the Day
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Pretty Smart for a "New" Kid
Although she calls herself "New Kid," it's pretty clear to anyone who reads her posts that New Kid on the Hallway is an experienced academic with loads of great advice for us true "new kids." I don't read New Kid's blog every day -- I try to limit myself to reading 6-7 blogs each day, mostly from fellowABDs (or recent Ph.Ds!) -- and so when I do manage to read her site it is always filled with little treasures. Last night, as I cracked open my second box of Kleenex for the day, I happened upon this post, in which New Kid describes how she struggled through the dissertation process. The post is an invaluable source of advice, warnings, and inducements to write.
So much of what New Kid talks about in that post is or has been true for me at some point, although on a smaller scale ("smaller" in that I will have spent a year and a half on the dissertation when I am finished). When I think back to the times I've been the most productive dissertation-wise, they've always been those times when I've had other commitments, such as teaching in our campus writing center, teaching a course, or handling the administration for the largest course in our department. I am not a person who handles open blocks of time well -- I have always known this about myself. I like to have a lot of competing demands on my time and then try to squeeze everything in, juggling deadlines and projects with the ever-present fear that something is going to slip through the cracks. I like to be busy; the more I have to do, the more I get done.
This year, I've been on fellowship. The fellowship has been fantastic in that it has allowed me to do many things that would not have been as easy for me to do if I had a full teaching load or a research assistantship. I barrelled onto the job market, which took a lot of time both in the preparation of my applications, the fretting about call-backs, and the eventual campus visits. I was able to spend a month in Europe. Since I returned from Europe and accepted my job, however, it's been really difficult to get going again, to get back to the normal doldrums of dissertation-writing. It's been hard to come off the excitement of last fall and early winter. I think I'm "back" now, or have been since February, but there are still some days I feel like I'm just frittering away the time, getting nothing accomplished.
New Kid also writes about the importance of having those confrontations with advisors and colleagues even when you least feel like it, when you feel like you've not done anything of note. I totally agree with this, too. The times I've felt the worst about my project and about my writing have been when I was "overdue" for a "come to Jesus" meeting with my advisors, either via email or face-to-face. Although I haven't met with my advisors face-to-face in March, I have corresponded with them weekly via email and, as I've written about, they've sent me mountains of comments on my work. These comments, even if they're discouraging, keep me going. They keep me engaged. And without that sort of feedback, I'm sure I'd be dead in the water with this dissertation and nowhere close to being done. (I still feel like I'm nowhere close to being done, but the light at the end of the tunnel that used to be the size of a pinprick is now at least the size of a saucer.)
Finally, I completely agree again with New Kid's advice about not lying to yourself. Don't do nothing today and console yourself by saying that you'll write double the amount tomorrow. You won't do it, and then you'll feel worse as the week progresses. I have done this -- had one non-productive day and then promised myself that I'd write 15 pages the next day. It never happens, and then I'm disappointed. Once I started keeping myself on a schedule, I started making better progress. Once I figured out that if I said, "Well, I'll work on Chapter X today and see where I get," I was doomed, but if I said, "I'll finish Section XX of Chapter X today" I was successful, this process became more bearable. I don't always stick to my schedule. I'm off of it already with this case study, because the language element has really thrown me for a loop. But the important thing for me is that I am making continual progress, a little each day, and that feels good. Although I'm a little "behind" schedule, at least I have a schedule to be behind on, which is important to me.
After I read New Kid's post last night at around 10:00pm, I vowed to stay awake until I finished the nasty section on Chapter Six that's been bothering me for a few days now. And I did it. I wrote five more pages last night before 1:00am, five good pages that I won't simply delete later today. When I did go to bed (only to be pulled out of bed again by ST, who wet his bed for the first time since he's been diaper-free at night), my mind was clear. I didn't sleep well due to my incessant coughing, but at least I wasn't kept awake by thoughts of my own shortcomings.
Now I am off to put some finishing touches on the house and grab ST's sheets and mattress pad out of the dryer so I can make his bed. We're showing our house for the first time today, later this afternoon. After the showing and supper, it will be back to the dissertation to tackle another mound of documents.