Friday, September 23, 2005

I'm Regular!

For the first time EVER, I have been writing for a few hours every day. Boy, does this make it easier! Not that it's surprising, but it sure is soothing. I have always been the "write-under-lots-of-pressure" type of person. Unfortunately since I have to finish writing before December I'm going to be a in a crunch again. In a way, only the pressure got me writing regularly. But now I wish I'd listened to that "Write Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day" book.
Still, I'm making slow progress. It takes me about an hour to "warm up," so if I don't write for about 5 hours, then I only get a few paragraphs done. Sometimes only a few sentences. But the more I do this regularly, the easier it flows. Even if I don't have time to write, I'm going to make sure I read some of what I've written or review notes or look at a source to keep my brain on track.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Dissertation Flail

Check out this post on the Vitia blog: The Dissertation Flail. Heh heh....

What do you do when....

...you read something that is almost exactly, or exactly, one of your key theses in your dissertation in a book that has already been published? AAAAAUUUGGHH!! I hate it! I know no idea is completely original, but it sucks when you've finally come up with something that you think is a fresh take on something, and then there it is already. I have one committee member that says, hey, you're gonna say something someone has already said before, but you'll say it different. My question is, what do I do about this book? It was a book I was only skimming through quickly to put in as an example of a book on its subject matter in a footnote. Then I find it says something that even my advisor was saying was going to be my original take on a theory in my field. And OK...maybe I put it differently, and this other author says it more poetically than I ever could, but if I quote the book it looks like I got the idea from him, but I didn't. Do I just pretend I never saw that book? This problem is worse when it happens to be a crucial book in your field (this one isn't) which you have to have read. It's also happened to me that I haven't read a key book I should have read, and there is the person making the same claim I was going to make and I don't find out until it's too late.
This happens to me when making films too...often I've had an idea, and then watched a film that does something very similar. I know from my own experience watching other films that if film A is before film B and they both have a similar plot twist or technical device or whatever, I assume one inspired the other.
I guess it's kind of pathetic to be like "hey, I thought of this on my own!" Who cares anyway, right? But for practical purposes, in a dissertation...I'm not going to drop my idea just because someone else had it too, but how can I keep it mine without someone assuming I "stole" the idea?

Monday, September 19, 2005

After the defense

Well, I made it. I flew back to Boston from CA last week and had my dissertation defense on Tuesday. I think I'm still in shock.

I had gotten far too stressed out about the defense in the couple of weeks leading up to it. I was convinced that I was going to get a lot of questions about what didn't go in to the dissertation and that the defense would turn into something more like orals (qualifying exams). Everyone around me--including my husband and a friend who have their Ph.D.s--were telling me that I was too stressed out. Even my advisor was telling me not to worry in the days before the defense. I was expecting some weirdness with my committee--the prof. who vanished for the two months before the defense and the prof. I had never met before--so I think that made me nervous. I had an upset tummy and what for the life of me felt like heart palpitations the morning before the defense. Icky and so not worth it.

I can't say that a defense is nothing to worry about, but in my case it certainly wasn't anything that I should have been stressing so much about. I had tried to foster an attitude about the defense, one that diffused the fears that a word like "defense" is meant to evoke. I had been trying to think of it more as a collaborative two hours, where the five committee members would be trying to help me improve the dissertation. And that is exactly what happened.

I’m still sort of stunned by the supportive feeling I got during the defense. The questions began with the phrase "When you turn this into a book, you might want to…" I was told that I wrote a very "sensible" dissertation. I was glad to hear that, especially since one of the aims of my research were to correct some heavy-handed casuistry created by other scholars about my topic.

So I'm still in the Sally Field 1984 Oscars "You Really Like Me" stage. I had an especially virulent case of "Impostor Syndrome" before the defense and I'm just now feeling the end of the aftereffects.

Over the course of my Ph.D., I ended a marriage and started a new one. I moved from one side of the country to the other. I dealt with a mother with mental health issues. I handled money troubles. And I even recovered from an accidental deletion of 100 pages of my dissertation. If I can make it to this point, anyone can.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Dr. Francesca???

How did it go? I bet congratulations are in order!

Friday, September 09, 2005

I'm fighting cancer! Ask me how!

Via Forbes:

Here's news that could ease worries about breast cancer: Women with higher levels of daily stress showed a lower risk of developing the disease, according to new research.

Yes, I'm seriously stressed out right now. I leave tomorrow to go back to Boston for my dissertation defense on Tuesday. I'm doing "chicken dance," as my husband would say, trying to get paperwork together, picking up my suit from the dry cleaners, cramming last-minute reading, making sure my students are taken care of for the week, trying to remember the word "casuistry," and so on.

On top of that, I'm fighting what's known in the land of perpetual graduate students (gradual students?) as "Impostor Syndrome." This syndrome is marked by a paranoia that the "Phony Police" will arrive at one's door to declare that the individual was only accepted to graduate school through a clerical error, and thereby all work to this point is null and void and by the way, you're a complete fraud, intellectually-speaking. It seems that far more women than men are plagued by this syndrome, for some reason. I'm just feeling a tsunami of self-doubt washing over me. I know well that my advisor wouldn't have arranged the defense were I not ready for it, but the little voice in the back of my head says "Yes, but you've slyly convinced him over the years that you're not a fraud, but you know deep down you don't really deserve a PhD."

This isn't at all a plea for pity and encouragement. I ranted last night to my husband "If one more random person tells me 'you'll be great!' I'm going to freak out! These people don't even know me or my work! How do they know I'll 'be great'?!" This rant came after the massage therapist I went to see yesterday, to whom I had to explain what a dissertation defense is, told me that I would 'do great!' at my defense. Yes, you can tell that the massage did wonders for my mood and stress levels.

I do know, in the pit of my stomach, that I will do fine at the defense. My advisor has already asked me where we should go for my congratulatory dinner. But I'm the most lazy perfectionist you'll meet. I expect perfection from myself, but am rarely willing to put in the effort that it requires. I want to really ace the defense, but I could have done a much better job in terms of really studying some of those secondary sources. It's my very last exam, ever, so maybe you can understand why I want to do very well and not just eke a pass.

Fortunately, my second reader has resurfaced. Apparently the barn burned down and then he fell down a well and Lassie couldn't find the sherrif to come rescue him...Or something.

Sorry for ranting. Had to be done.

PS: Forgot to mention that one of the members of the defense committee is a person to which I just submitted the letter of application for my dream job. She would be my immediate supervisor and is going to see me have a meltdown on Tuesday. It's anxi-tastic!