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Quote of the Day
Thursday, May 04, 2006
I'm working on revisions to Chapter 1 of my dissertation, and I must admit that it's not nearly as bad as I thought it would be (the bad stuff is waiting for me in Chapter 3, I'm sure). As I read the words I first drafted so many months ago, back when I was a new ticket-holder for the dissertation rollercoaster after defending my prospectus, I recall how uncertain writing those words felt. I remember typing up the first "real" section after the introduction and thinking, "Does this make sense? Is this even right? Where is this going?" Today, however, I read the words and I know that I'm right.
There are precious few moments in life lately where I can hold my head up high and say with confidence, "I am sure about this" or "I know I'm right." So it's been especially uplifting when I read some of Prof. C.'s questions scribbled in the margins of my draft: "Does [causal process] really work like this?" or "I understand [overarching principle] to mean XYZ -- can it also be interpreted as you have written?" or "Wow -- is [strange fact] really true?" I love that I can answer his questions immediately. Yes, it really works like thatand here's proof. Yes, my interpretation is correct and here's why. Yes, strange fact is really true. These revisions are making me feel, for a moment at least, smart.
Before I reached graduate school, I always thought that I'd feel really, really smart when it came time to write and defend my dissertation. After all, you'd have to be "smart" by some standard to come up with a topic in the first place, a topic no one had yet investigated. You'd have to be "smart" to know how to support your ideas, to know where they fit into the larger literature, and to write hundreds (and hundreds, if you're Mon) of pages about them. But as it turns out, I've never been less confident about my abilities as a scholar than during this time when I've been working on my dissertation. While I was taking courses and certainly when I was writing my comprehensive exams, I felt like I was at the top of my game. I was up-to-date on the literature in three different subfields, was writing interesting seminar papers, and incorporated discipline-related jargon in my conversations with classmates. I was learning and I was having fun, for the most part. Then the prospectus was successfully defended and voila! I was expected to take off and produce something great on my own. It is not easy to be smart when you're alone.
I was explaining this to one of my friends recently, a friend who graduated from my program last summer and is now a highly successful Assistant Professor at a Major Southern Research Institution. She told me to gear up for another "wave of confidence" once I start my job. She said that she felt the same way I do now when she was finishing her dissertation last year: unsure of herself, unsure of her work, unsure of her future. But when she started her job, she said that her confidence surged and she somehow felt "smarter." She said in all honesty that things come easier to her now: ideas for teaching, answers to student questions, ideas for new research. "I know it sounds ridiculous," she said, blushing a little, "but once you have that Ph.D. in hand it's like a personal Enlightenment!"
I hope that will be true for me. After suffering through this dissertation, I feel like I've been holed up in the Dark Ages for far, far too long.