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Posts Tagged ‘PHD Comics’

Overthinking it all around!

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Of course, by “Celebrating” I mean “mentally preparing for the exhausting task of.”  Though a celebratory drink or two might not hurt the process.  Here are two recent episodes from PHD Comics that allow us to reflect on the most frustrating time of the year:

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In my current transition between graduate student and faculty member I am experiencing a brief summer vacation that may be my last.  Sure, I have lots of work to do in preparation for the fall semester (not to mention that ASA presentation I keep forgetting about), but I don’t have to get up particularly early and I don’t have to work more than a few hours a day until I get back from ASA and I shift into full “teaching” mode.  Of course, there will be plenty of times in the future that classes are not in session, indicating “vacation” to many of those in my family, but I will likely just transition into “research” mode during those times, since teaching three courses a semester are likely to prevent much research from getting done when classes are in session.  These thoughts on “academic” versus “normal” definitions of vacationing were brought on by a recent PHD Comic:

Indeed, though my family will likely imagine me spending my summer “vacation” getting up around noon and lounging by a pool, margarita in hand, vacations from students do not equal vacations from work.

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I wonder how many (other) graduate student blogs consist mostly of reposts from PHD Comics…

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It is comforting to know that while Cecilia and I may have no idea how to write a dissertation, there are always others who believe they have the answers we seek.  From Inside Higher Ed:

Large projects, such as an M.A. thesis, dissertation, book or just a long paper, can be daunting. For some of us, myself included, project management can be a challenge for any article written from scratch. This memo can help you break down your writing project into smaller, less intimidating parts. I will focus on the writing of a thesis or dissertation, but the same basic logic applies to even smaller writing tasks.

Unfortunately, like Lao-Tze, Gastil doesn’t say which keystroke to start with.

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In graduate school, most of us learn by doing.  We learn to write 20 page papers by writing them for nearly every course we take.  We learn to present at conferences by presenting in front of small and, well, mostly small crowds at regional conferences, roundtable sessions, and occasionally, a regular session of the ASA.  We learn to publish by submitting our manuscripts to journals and awaiting the soul-crushing reviews before revising and submitting again, usually to different journals.  If we’re lucky, we coauthor conference presentations and journal submissions with faculty members who have done these things before and can give some context to the pitfalls we experience along the way.  But almost nobody coauthors a dissertation.  In this, we are on our own.

Writing a dissertation may be a sign that we have come full circle in our graduate program, since we were also on our own when writing 20 page papers in our first graduate semester after countless five page papers as undergrads (somewhere along the way we might lose sympathy for our own students as they struggle to complete five page papers in our own courses, since I’m pretty sure I could write a randomly assigned five page undergraduate paper in the next hour, including relevant references).  When we struggled with those initial 20 page papers it was okay, because we were new to graduate school and we were supposed to struggle.  The dissertation, on the other hand, is the crowning achievement of our graduate school years.  Why, after success in courses, success in presentations, success in publishing, and even success on the job market, does a dissertation have the power to revive old insecurities (Do I really know anything?  Will this make the world a better place?  Why is this important?  What if my conclusions are wrong?)?  For some, these questions make the dissertation difficult to begin.  Unfortunately, once we do begin we must face the same questions with each new chapter.

After the job market, when I began writing my dissertation in earnest, I was struck by the fact that I had entered uncharted waters.  I had followed the job market experiences of friends, but once they had jobs they disappeared into a dissertation netherworld, only to emerge victorious three to six months later.  Their process, their daily tactics, and even their products were a mystery to me.  In fact, the only written draft of an unfinished dissertation chapter I have ever seen is my own.  Even though those who go on the job market ABD are probably faced with a mad scramble to get things done, I think that graduate programs in general would benefit by bringing dissertators out of the netherworld and inviting a more open exchange of information about the writing and editing process.  This may even make it easier to figure out where to begin for future generations.

Well, I’m off to the netherworld.  Good luuuck!!

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As spring approaches, I am the missing link between the second and third phases.

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