Saturday, January 21, 2006

Thank You

Thanks so much everyone for your support. I am feeling considerably better now. I'm definitely looking on the brighter side of things. Now I just have to decide if I want to make revisions to send this off to a publisher. I think it needs quite a bit of work for that, but people keep telling me I'm too much of a perfectionist, too hard on myself, and never give myself enough credit. I guess I'll make the revisions necessary for me to think it's good enough to turn in to the school (they give you a month after the defense to make changes, fix bibliography and format, etc.), and then I'll have someone neutral read it and give me an opinion.

I liked having this blog throughout this helped to be able to anonymously "bitch" about stuff. Even if I never even got around to half the bitching I wanted to do! It was good to have a place to vent and to reveal my deepest insecurities without having them tied to me forever. Soon I'll be able to disappear into the ether if I so desire. If anyone else feels like joining the blog, please let me know. And thanks again for reading and being with me through my ups and downs!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Feeling Better

Well, I'm feeling better, thanks to some of your comments, friends' support, and the positive responses I got at a conference this weekend. I talked to one of the professors too and apparently I didn't do as bad as I thought I did, and some of what was happening had to do with inter-committee tensions. This is just further proof of how I'm way too sensitive. It was hard not to care about the judgment of all my committee because I spent so much time and effort on this.
In response to Dr. D.:

Dr. Porkorama,
What college do you attend? Just interested in knowing how someone could complete their dissertation in three months? How many revisions did you complete, how many times did your profs review and feedback info on your work-in-progress and what classes did you have to take before embarking on the work? Just curious...

I don't want to reveal where I go to school because that would kill my anonymity. But to give you some idea, while I've been here, we've been ranked #1 by U.S. News & World Report and are up top regularly. The course work is 15 classes in addition to the other requirements. I guess it can be pretty misleading to say that I wrote my dissertation in three months, because it had been gestating for much longer than that. 5 years to be exact. I had only written 30 pages of it, however. Everything else was research and notes. Yet, most of it was worked out in my head before I started. More than anything else I thought about this stuff A LOT. Just didn't do anything about it for a really long time! I also only ended up writing a tiny part of what I had in mind. It came out to about 300 pages. A lot of other people in my department have done more like 500, even though 250 is what's expected. So it's not like my school is shoddy or I pulled off a miracle. But I did work my ass off those three months, eating TV dinners while I read essays, not doing a single other thing except my teaching duties. No social life, not much eating or sleeping. It's certainly not the way to go. But it's over now and I can get on with the rest of my life!

Friday, January 13, 2006

What's Done is Done

I woke up after two hours of restless sleep, took a shower, printed out my notes, got dressed, quickly drove to campus. Last night for a moment I actually was able too think through the congestion caused by my cold...I even thought I might give a really nice presentation. Well, that's not how it went at all.

First, they made me leave the room for a good twenty minutes while the professors discussed amongst themselves. The defense was in our department lounge, which is in the extremely stuffy and hot basement of an old building (a bunch of pipes line the WAS like I had descended to hell!) I had put on a double dose of antiperspirant, worried that the sweat would soak through my silk blouse. It was so hot and I was so nervous that I broke through the barrier in less than 30 seconds. Still, I was afraid to step out of the building for some fresh air in case they called me back in. Each minute went on and on and on. What were they discussing for so long??? Was this a bad sign? I had thought this discussing would happen after the defense, not before. Why don't they walk you through it a bit in advance?

Finally the called me in. One professor was on speaker phone--never good. They asked me to start. I got off to an OK start, but then I blabbed away for too long saying the same thing over and over...I lost my train of thought. I didn't talk about all the relevant examples and wonderful things I had thought I would talk about. They cut me off because I was going on for too long. I am extremely sensitive to mood shifts around me. I could feel restlessness and something else, like boredom, or..."yeah yeah get on with it." But do I imagine these things or are they real? Then they took turns to comment and ask questions, but we only ever got to the first two professors because we ran out of time. They were supposed to schedule three hours but only scheduled two because one of the professors had to be at a meeting.

The two professors hadn't a single good thing to say about my dissertation. It was all criticism. I agreed with some of the critique by Prof. #1. Then I disagreed with his view of X philosopher a bit. Prof. #2 agreed more with Prof. #1 than with me. They spoke as if they were right and I was just getting it wrong. But I could have debated with specific passages and everything to support my view (I did a little, but they were just convinced I was getting it wrong so they didn't really engage my arguments). Prof. #2, I thought, might have liked what I had to say, but he didn't seem to like it at all. Nothing! But when I asked him to be more specific in his critique, he couldn't be. He'd say things like you weren't specific enough, or what you say is off the mark, but not tell me how. Then on three points he said what his perspective was and I thought it was exactly what I had thought I said...I agreed with him, but he didn't agree with me. Maybe I just wasn't using the right words (and different words are right for different people--I had to deal with crossing disciplines as well). He asked if I was familiar with X essay. I said no. He told me the gist of the essay, thought I would find it useful, because instead of talking about Y in terms of A, maybe I should look at it as B. But there is a section of a chapter where I specifically talk about Y in terms of B!! I responded to that question by saying, "you know when I talk about Y in terms of B in this chapter? I thank you for your suggestion, because that article sounds like it gives some background to my arguments." I just got the sense overall of not being understood by #1 and #2. Then we had to end. They made me leave the room again. I thought there might be a chance they would pass me because I knew the other two professors had a better understanding of my work (they'd read previous drafts) and were on my side. If I just had one of the other professors vote in my favor I would make it. But I felt like crying, I felt like it went horribly.

I ran to the bathroom, held back my tears, went back to the hall and paced. Then my advisor stepped into the hall and asked me back in with a "congratulations!" I passed!

But feels like a defeat, not a victory. Some people tell me it is because I always see the worst side, I always think I did bad and then it turns out I did good. But I distinctly felt antipathy to my work from #1 and #2. I really cared about what #2 thought, too. Bummer. I thought we might be on the same page. At the very end, before he left, he said he HAD liked the conclusion of my dissertation, where I brought up N, Q, and L [didn't want to discriminate against those letters that fall in the middle of the alphabet!], and that he agreed with me about that...he just didn't think I'd gone in the direction my intro suggested I would go. But at that point I already felt awful.

Afterwards, I had a talk with the head of my committee (one of the profs who didn't get to ask much). She said it went fantastically. !!!! ??? !!!!

Let me repeat. ??????

OK...she's prone to that sort of thing. I said, "really??? I thought it was awful." She said that I talked for the longest anyone she knows has talked at their defense before being cut off. I hardly think that's a measure of it having gone well, but I appreciated her support. She brought up publishing again. And then she mentioned that one of the things they talked about before I started, in their private discussion, was publishing the dissertation. She had said to them that she thought it was practically ready for publication, with hardly any revisions. I think that might explain to some extent why they were so hard on me. They probably disagreed with her (I know I do), and so they brought up more objections than support or encouragement because they thought they needed to counterbalance her enthusiasm. I actually had thought yesterday to ask her to play bad cop so that they wouldn't be so hard on me. Of course, maybe they would have just joined in on the pummeling, you never know. it wasn't as bad as I've heard some defenses go. But it wasn't great in any way. It kind of sucked. But considering I wrote my whole dissertation in about 3 months, and only prepared for the defense yesterday and had a bad cold all week...what could I expect? I just have this insane need for approval and understanding. And academia has never been the place for me. It's like I can see them but they can't see me. I think my ideas are OK, and relevant, but with certain people...maybe I'm not using the right words...I don't know. Or I guess maybe it just wasn't their cup of tea. Plus it certainly needs some work, at least for it to be acceptable by my own standards.

I just wish I felt a little better about the whole thing now. I don't feel relief yet. I haven't extricated myself from the Stockholm syndrome. I know this feeling will fade and I'll regain my sense of self-worth, but right now I'm just going over and over in my mind what I SHOULD have talked about, and all my insecurities about grad school have surfaced again.

But it's over, right? It's over. Bang or whimper, I get the same degree.
And that's what matters. I'm the first person in my family on either side to have a doctorate. And I am finally free of this thing that was hanging over my head (aside from a few details like a second format check): my deep deep hatred of graduate school from the very first year of it through now (with peaks and dips of hatred, of course, but never like or love). Thirteen and a half years of dragging my feet through something I never wanted to do anyway! WTF was I thinking???

The moral? Do it or don't do it, but don't just stand there suffering! Use me as a negative example! You write one page at a only ever have to write one word. And before you know it you're at the end. I know I will feel extremely happy to have completed this as soon as I'm able to process it all.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Last Day of Hell

Sorry to have been out of touch, and thanks for those of you who offered encouragement!! So...I turned it in last Friday, hoping the professors would not have time to read the really crappy parts I wrote last minute. Tomorrow is my defense. Yep, Friday the 9am no less (I am not a morning person). Of course, due to my last post, I have a bad cold. I thought I would spend the past week making revisions and preparing for the defense, but instead I took a break and watched TV and took naps, trying to recover from the cold. Today I have to prepare my talk. I wish my mind were a bit less fuzzy from the cold, but I think it's going to be OK. I had a meeting with my dissertation advisor yesterday, and to my surprise she said that my first chapter especially is so good that I need to send the dissertation off to get published immediately...that she thinks Harvard UP is the place to try first. Hmm.... This could very well be merely a ploy to boost my self-confidence, but I appreciate her comment none the less. I'm still worried, but surprisingly not nervous. Which is not necessarily a good thing! I thrive on stress. She wants me to dazzle the committee with my intro tomorrow...and its hard to feel dazzly with a kleenex stuck to your drippy nose. I am going to buy one of those power drinks to take a bit before the exam, though. I don't want to take cold medicine because it will make me loopy.
Anyway...I'm going to get to work now preparing the talk and reading through my dissertation and trying to anticipate questions they might ask.

M asked how I balance this with my life. The truth is I never did! I did practically nothing for several years, letting the rest of life take over--teaching responsibilities, side projects, etc. Then something clicked and I did this for three or so months 8 to 14 hours a day every day of the week. My aunt died of leukemia during that time, but I had promised her I would finish so the night I found out I doubled my efforts and kept on going. EVERYTHING got put on hold. This is not the best way to do it. If I had worked 1 to 2 hours a day, even every other day, I could have gotten this done and it would have been less traumatic. Starting is the worst part. I think the advantage of doing it obsessively like I did is that you enter this intense thinking can really focus on just one thing. I tend to be obsessive compulsive anyway. My body went into emergency mode. The day after I turned the dissertation in I got sick. It was like my body was holding out for me.

I need to make revisions before turning in the final draft to the grad school, and I'm hoping to do a more relaxed work-on-it-a-couple-hours-a-day thing for that. I think the key is working on something every day, even if it's only for fifteen minutes. Just like exercise, it's hard to do if you're not in the rhythm, and its more likely you won't do it today if you didn't do it yesterday. Once you get the rhythm going, though, it becomes where you are at the moment. I had the luxury of not having children and only one pet to worry about. to overcome the hump of not having worked the past week!

I'll report more details when it's over. WOW--my hell is going to be over!!!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Almost There

I have two more days to finish my dissertation, and I still haven't written a conclusion, the last third or so of the first chapter, and about half the introduction. All because I actually took a break over Christmas. Still, I don't think I could have kept going at the pace I was going before without breaking down. I'm lucky that I didn't get sick! Because I was so afraid of getting sick, I took a maitake mushroom supplement. It's expensive, but it's a powerful immune system booster. I knew ecchinacea just wasn't going to cut it. There were a few times when I felt a sore throat coming on, but I have successfully warded sickness so far (I hope this won't be a case of "famous last words").

So, the unwritten parts will necessarily be rushed and incomplete...right now I'm just aiming for the illusion of completeness. Half the time I feel anxious about that, because I know I'm not going to want to touch this after finishing at all, but there is a part of me that wants to get all my ideas out on the page.

Being in grad school you can really suffer from a sort of Stockholm syndrome.... Sure it would be nice to turn my dissertation into a book just to have that achievement under my belt, but when I really think about it, aren't there a million other things I'd rather accomplish? Being in the academic mileau, however, makes you judge your self worth by the standards that surround you. It's going to be great to finish this degree...will it be just as great to let go of this world?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Past the Point of No Return

I've got 200 pages I thought I'd never have! I am no longer worried about length....just girth. Ha I am just concerned about getting the whole thing to kind of hang together. I've got two chapters to finish, one to fix, and one to revise, plus a conclusion to write. Supposedly all by the 12th. Yikes! Unfortunately this is also the busiest time of year for my TAships and all sorts of other things have been haywire. I've been surviving on TV dinners gulped down while reading. My eyes feel like they are going to pop at the end of the day. But I must keep going! I am so close to the finish line, I can feel it for the first time ever. I realize now I really, truly never believed I would come this far.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

However, furthermore, and Yet now I'm sick and tired of my little segway words. Hell, I can't even remember the right name for them now. Words like:

even if
as a result
in fact
in the same vein
even though
at any rate

And I also need more of this sort of thing:
for instance
for example

I think after I finish this thing I'm going to only be able to say "aagaafhuh" for about a year. All my words will have been used up.

The Nonacademic Job Search

If you're like me, you want to get as far away from academia as possible after finishing Hell. If so, you might find this an entertaining read.

(From The Chronicle for Higher Education, 11/1/05)

The Truth About the Nonacademic Job Search
by Elle Madison

After an unsuccessful year on the academic job market, I decided to test the proverbial nonacademic waters for a year. I have watched colleagues struggle through years of uncertainty, low self-esteem, and pennilessness while adjuncting, and I imagined (rightly or not) that the nonacademic world had to be much better.
Upon receiving my Ph.D. in comparative literature last June, I spent the summer applying for writing and editing jobs, consulting career counselors and job-search books, and generally trying to determine which path to take. The nonacademic job, however, has not been as easy to obtain as I had fantasized in my post-dissertation stupor.
Furthermore, I found that the transition into the real world bears little resemblance to the success stories and promises of those job-search books. So I decided it was time for someone to tell the truth about the nonacademic path.
Truth No. 1: You will lose your friends. That unfortunate process may have started much earlier, of course, once you began to express doubts about the academic job market. I can assure you from experience that there's nothing that will scare off your fellow graduate students more than talk of leaving academe.
The idea that a different career, a different life, is possible in the nonacademic world seems to threaten those delicately balanced ivory towers. If you begin to test the strength of the towers, you will alienate others inside the university. In short, you lose your friends because you are daring to imagine life on the outside.
The irony of losing your friends is that the very means of finding a job outside of academe is by networking. Books on the nonacademic job search insist that the only way to find a job is by networking: while pursuing your favorite hobbies!; by meeting people at cocktail parties!; while doing volunteer work! You may have heard that advice before, back when it was in a guidebook to dating.
In neither case is it helpful, since you long ago had to give up your hobbies when you started graduate school, you've become increasingly anti-social while writing your dissertation and, as I already mentioned, you've lost all of your friends. Networking may be the best way to find a job, but you will have to be realistic about the success of that method as a recent Ph.D.
Truth No. 2: You will lose your mentors. My committee members, who read patiently through the drafts of my dissertation, have certainly been exceptionally helpful in the academic job search. I have been greatly indebted to them for their letters of support and words of encouragement throughout the process.
In the nonacademic job search, however, you're out at sea on your own, since the crew members you've come to need and trust can't venture that far from shore. That is perhaps the most startling part of the transition, especially after spending several years relying on a circle of trusted advisers and mentors. As you explore uncharted waters, you will have to learn how to navigate on your own.
Truth No. 3: You will be told you know nothing about "writing." In an informational interview with a technical writer, I was told that I knew nothing about real writing because I had never published an article in a magazine or newspaper. In that case, I'm not sure why I was unleashed on hundreds of undergraduates as a teaching assistant in essay-writing classes.
The writer I was interviewing had worked her way up as a journalist over many years and suggested that I build my portfolio of "clips" (published articles) by writing about something I know. For example, she thought I could write an article on my two fighting cats for a cat magazine. After spending years researching and writing a 300-page dissertation, I can't believe that an uninformed commentary on domestic cats would actually be more impressive.
I've concluded that jobs in "writing" in the nonacademic world must simply encompass different kinds of writing, from news reporting to technical writing. Academic writing, it seems, is not understood in the outside world. You will have to reinvent yourself as a writer, but not, I hope, by writing on topics like feline foibles.
Truth No. 4: Your Ph.D., awards, and accolades mean nothing. One of the curious elements of books on the Ph.D.'s nonacademic job search is that the authors, who have made the transition into the "real world," always begin their discussions by presenting their academic qualifications. Interestingly, they all published extensively, received glowing reviews from students, and piled up awards and fellowships. Their reasons for leaving academe vary, but they all insist they were extremely successful as graduate students and professors.
Similarly, I have tried to squeeze in "Dr." in front of my name at every opportunity, and my Ph.D. is proudly perched atop my résumé. A career counselor, however, advised me against that. The Ph.D., apparently, should be buried on the ésumé underneath lists of skills and abilities, for fear of frightening off potential employers.
The problem with that strategy, of course, is that you wouldn't want an employer who is afraid of a Ph.D., anyway. For now, I'm boldly displaying my academic credentials on my ésumé, with the hope that I will find a job that actually makes use of my qualifications.
Truth No. 5: You will have to throw things away. By that, I mean your papers, your jargon, and your definition of self-worth. A good house-cleaning after graduate school never hurt anyone, but your definition of yourself is perhaps the hardest part of your past to discard. New assistant professors, I've heard, suffer from a similar difficulty, since they have to negotiate the shift from graduate student to "professor."
I had built my sense of self-worth in graduate school on the number of pages of my dissertation that I had written in a week, or the research I had finished, or the papers I had graded. My academic work came to define who I was.
Without the security blanket that was your dissertation, you will have to allow your self-definition to shift. On the nonacademic job market, that means an indefinite period of time not knowing who or what you will become.
Truth No. 6: Rejection letters from last year's academic search will seem hilarious. Let's not forget the upside of taking a break from the academic world. In late July, I received a letter of rejection for a teaching position advertised last fall. I had applied and never heard back from the university, but in the letter the department announced it had received my application materials and, "after much consideration," had decided to offer the position to another candidate. It had, according to the letter, been deliberating for an entire year. The stressful, painstaking process of the academic job machine can, for a moment, look ridiculous. But that leads us to the final and unfortunate truth:
Truth No. 7: Finding a job outside academe is just as difficult. You may believe, as I once did, that the nonacademic job search is much less painful. The process of networking can be liberating, since friends and contacts can actually have a positive influence on prospective employers. The ability to choose to live in metropolitan areas rather than small towns can save your social life. And the fact that you are not constrained by the yearly academic job market and limited job openings means that you can, at the very least, apply for jobs year-round.
However, the real world functions in a manner as mysterious as the academic market. Most employers, I have found, specify "no telephone calls," which means you are left helpless and uninformed. I have, in some cases, eventually received automated rejections by e-mail, but I seem to be waiting by the phone just as dolefully as in December of last year.
Perhaps some will read this as a cautionary tale, but that is certainly not how I have meant it. The opportunity to redefine yourself and explore other, perhaps more rewarding career paths should not be undervalued.
In order to do that, however, you will have to venture out on your own, without the support of your colleagues, your dissertation, or your portfolio of awards. You will lose the security of the ivory towers, but also the fears instilled within. And you will learn not to be afraid.