Tuesday, December 2, 2008

To Do: Write This Post

(if you have an odd fascination with reading other people's lists of chores, just click the images above to enlarge)

In a recent meeting, we discussed the power of the To-Do List. Properly done, a To-Do list can be a really satisfying experience.

Make To-Do lists of tasks you know you can/will accomplish, along with the things you don't want to forget. Mix in the household tasks and everyday business of life tasks with dissertating tasks.

I make To-Do lists on junk mail, random pieces of paper, and my datebook. Several people in the group make lists out of the basic green calendar pages that we hand out as part of the Dissertation Workshop.

The calendars don't look like much. But surprisingly, they can be useful tools if you write down goals you want to accomplish that week (especially easy / simple goals you know you can reach).

One member of the group mentioned that when the green calendars were handed out, she was nonplussed. "I initially thought, 'I coulda made a fucking calendar!' But I ended up using it. This allows me to relax. It says 'rest and decorate the house' this week, and I did it."

Weirdly enough, meticulously writing down the goals you want to accomplish, what you "can" and "can't" do for any given day or week, can feel great. And crossing off the items on the list can feel "almost as good as a professional massage."

We all have our methods of organization...according to Bennett, his method used to involve random milk cartons all over his house and car (he's since upgraded to 3 ring binders).

Paula uses RefWorks in the place of 3x5 cards. Lynda swears by color coding of highlighting.

Everyone finds their own kind of organization scheme during the process of dissertating.

What's yours?

Is that a jump drive, or are you just happy to see me?

"You know that black cloud that hangs over Charlie Brown's head? I've felt that way for the past three years."

- On the strain of the quals and the diss

Coming on the heels of Lynda's post about having to evacuate due to the recent fires, the group talked about methods of saving your work on the dissertation.

The group discussed the importance of backing up everything you write in case of computer crashes, fires, alien attacks, etc. Lynda carries her dissertation on a jump drive in her purse.

In addition to the security of knowing that you have everything backed up, there's an odd comfort of carrying a bit of your dissertation with you, wherever you go. (although this might also become a memento mori??)

Monday, November 17, 2008

How to write when distracted

Over the weekend my life was disrupted. There was fire on three sides of us and we had to evacuate. We did have a couple of hours to prepare, so we were able to do some packing. It is interesting what "things" really matter. First, of course, was my computer, my flash drive, and the paper copies of my dissertation. I figured all the library books could be replaced by insurance. Then I hit the cedar chest. Although the chest itself is an antique that belonged to my great grandmother, I knew it would never fit in my Honda Accord, so I took my wedding dress, my mom's baby quilt, my kids' baby shoes and other baby things, my father-in-law's letterman's jacket, the quilts my grandmother made for my kids, the afghans my mother-in-law made for my kids, and the quilt my grandmother did not finish for me that I have been trying to finish for about ten years.

Then we packed all the old photo albums, paintings I painted, drawings my mother-in-law did of my babies, and the framed photos dotting the walls of the house. My husband grabbed his most valuable baseball cards, went to his office (about a mile away) and grabbed the server. I packed the keepsake and most valuable jewelry, my daughter's laptop and a few clothes for her (she was at work) and the prescription medication we had for us and for our geriatric dog.

I then took digital photos of every inch of our house, in case we had to make an insurance claim and could not remember what we had. All the while, I was texting our relatives and trying to get a hold of our 22 year-old daughter who lives with us and who was working an outdoor PR event in San Clemente. She had no idea about the fire, but when I finally did talk with her, about a half hour before we were evacuated, she reminded me of the heirloom jewelry and her prized "Grover" stuffed animal which she has slept with since she was two.

That was it. When the squad car drove down the street with the bull horn telling us to leave, we were ready. Amazing what you take from your home of 21 years and what you can get into two mid-sized sedans. We took our smelly, aging 13 year-old "Sam" (a collie, golden retriever mix) and his equally smelly bed, and headed toward our son's rental home in Orange that he shares with 5 other college baseball players. We met our daughter there and spent the next few hours watching the news, trying to place the houses we saw on fire, and communicating with all of the friends we have acquired while living in Yorba Linda for the past two decades.

One of our daughter's high school friends thought her house had burned down, since her dad saw another house of the same model on the same street on the TV report. Her house was fine. Another friend watched her own car catch an ember and blow up. We had other friends in Pennsylvania for his mother's funeral. They left the mother-in-law at their home, which was then evacuated. We were worried about her, but found out later that another good friend of theirs came by and picked up "Nanny" on their way out. Amazing how important it is to have good relationships with neighbors and friends. We had offers from at least a dozen friends to come and stay with them, but we were able to find a nice hotel room with a good shower and two televisions.

For two days, it seems like all we did was watch the news, and then we spent a good portion of the second day trying to get back home, once we knew our house had been spared. We left the house at about 1:30 PM on Saturday, and arrived home about 4:00 PM on Sunday, but it felt like we were away for weeks.

All is well here, but I have a hard time finding the concentration to write about the predator Lucy Steele from Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.

I spent the morning answering emails, washing all the clothes and towels that smell like a BBQ, reading the newspapers (our Sunday papers arrived today along with the Monday papers), and repacking the memories back into the cedar chest. It is now almost 1:00 and I have not worked on the dissertation. Monday is a designated writing day, and my deadline to finish Lucy is Friday. I need to find my way back.

When Tara suggested I add to the blog, I figured I would indulge myself and write a bit of a personal journal. Perhaps if I worked through the trauma of almost losing my home in writing, I might just find my way back to Lucy.

I have no more excuses. I WILL write at least 3 more pages today.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Screw guilt, go to the movies!

On "busy"ness.... Paraphrases from the last workshop meeting:

"I used to feel guilty constantly whenever I was doing something that wasn't my dissertation. Like, I couldn't enjoy going to a movie because of the guilt that I wasn't writing. I mean, it's $10, lost time. Well, I've since decided, screw guilt, go to the movies!"

On getting / not getting job interviews: "Sometimes, luck matters."

On the annoying people in your program who always seem to have time for every meeting, every event, every lecture: "Ever notice they're doing everything but the dissertation?"

"It's okay to quit everything to finish the dissertation."

Unusual Motivation

I'm pretty sure, in the annuls of dissertation history, my latest motivator is one-of-a-kind.

I'm an extremely visual person. As an undergrad, I butcher-papered an entire wall of my bedroom just to be able to write quotes that I was thinking about for my senior honors thesis.

When studying for my qualifying exams, I created a timeline for my kitchen stairway that was over 20 feet (and 200 years) long.

I need to see things. And I need them in prominent places in my apartment to be constantly in mind while I'm doing everyday tasks (don't even ask about the ziplock baggie questions hanging from dental floss in my shower).

At the Claremont Village Venture, I met Michelle Caplan, a Los Angeles artist who creates incredible mixed media collages. I purchased one of Michelle's collages that reminds me so much of Sylvia Plath that I needed "her" to come home.

"Angela" by Michelle Caplan
Mixed media artwork and photography by Michelle Caplan

On the way home, I looked at Michelle's card and realized that she also does commission works.


What a great way to have beautiful art, a front-and-central visual reminder of my dissertation topic, and an inspiration for me to remember why I chose this person / topic in the first place!
I'm now in the process of exchanging photos, bits of texts, and ideas with Michelle to incorporate into the collage.

Sure beats butcher paper.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Insert your head here

Insert Your Head Here

Hello everyone! As you know, I missed the last workshop because I was in Ireland, where the above sculpture was photographed (it's from the campus of the National University of Ireland, Galway).

In my absence, Katie lead a session which included a demonstration by Lorie. I heard it was a good session and look forward to catching up with you all again next meeting.

In the meantime, here are two resources to pass on....

If you're struggling with time management, I've heard raves about Susan at Monsour, who is reportedly excellent at therapeutic time-management butt-kicking. "She's like a life coach!"

And if you're interested in catching a RefWorks workshop:

The following RefWorks workshops have been scheduled for October and November:

Wednesday, October 29, 4 – 6 pm
Thursday, November 6, 6 - 8 pm
Tuesday, November 11, 6 - 8 pm
Friday, November 14, 4 - 6 pm
Wednesday, November 19, 6 - 8 pm

RefWorks is a web-based bibliography management system that allows you to create and manage your own personal database of articles, web pages, and other types of information valuable for your research. In this workshop you will learn the basics of RefWorks for creating your database and importing records. You will also learn how to use the records in your database to format notes and bibliographies in the appropriate style (MLA, APA, etc.) for your papers.

Workshops are held in the Keck Learning Room, Honnold/Mudd Library. If you plan to bring your own laptop rather than use a library computer, be sure that your wireless card has been registered for the CINE network by academic computing on your campus.

To register for one of these workshops, reply to this email or email Gale Burrow (gale.burrow@libraries.claremont.edu) with a subject line of RefWorks workshop.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


A wonderful piece of information in the mailbag, from Dissertator-On-High, Katie:

Hi scholarly friends,

I went to a presentation yesterday on the libraries' new utility: RefAware.

Basically, it's a way to sign up for regular updates on publications on topics of your choice. For instance, if I want to be made aware of any new publications that deal with Paul's letters in the New Testament in a feminist way, I could set up a search strategy for that, and RefAware would email me daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly, bimonthly--or never, and I justlog in periodically to get my results.

So here's how it works. At libraries.claremont.edu, you go to Quicklinks>RefAware. You have to create an account WITH A CLAREMONT COLLEGES DOMAIN in your email address. So not your Gmail account, e.g. Those of you at other institutions, see if you can access it, too! Then you create a "search strategy" you can give it a name, define the discipline(s) that you want to hear from, and give source criteria. The search is boolean, so you can do "ands" and "nots". NOTE that each line is logically separated by an OR, not an AND. So if I had a search strategy for the topic I suggested above, line one might be "Paul and Bible". (I don't want articles about any old Paul!) The next line might be "Paul and New Testament", since maybe not all the articles will say "Bible", but they might say "New Testament." Does that make sense?

You can also set up a search strategy for an author you want to keep track of. And you can make multiple strategies, obviously. You can check to see if any given publication/periodical is listed, as well. Sounds like the database is just growing and growing.

So I hope this might be helpful for you. I periodically wonder if my own work is still relevant and worry that someone else has come up with my ideas, too. This should put those concerns to rest, and keep me educated in my field, as well.


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Kinda Speaks For Itself...

Click above to enlarge, read, and mock at will.

Archrival Archivals

In the last session, Bryan did a "show 'n tell" about his recent trip to Princeton to look at some archives for his research.

Some special collections / archives allow you to bring in only some paper and a pencil, some allow hand scanners - the one Bryan went to allowed hand-held digital cameras (no flash). After several days of perfecting his Hunchback of Notre Dame impersonation, Bryan came away from his trip with thousands of image files...and no clear way of organizing them.

So he started off organizing the pictures by creating files for each day he was at the archive: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, etc. Because there were lots of little thumbnail pictures, it was still difficult to see what was what.

We discussed a few options - printing out the pictures in greyscale, taking them to a printer, transferring them to PDFs (print first, then scan), using ZoomIt to allow for the capacity to write notes on the images. Of course, it all depends on what you need your materials for and what kind of access you want.

Bryan ended up creating an Excel sheet with columns that he filled in as he went through and read and cataloged each image. He created 7 columns at the top of the sheet, labeled:

- Photo No. (ex. DSCN9906.JSP)
- Title / What It Is (ex. Letter to John Smith)
- Box # (for later citation purposes)
- Folder (where he's keeping it in his computer)
- Description (brief description of what that document contains)

Lorie recommended FreeMind, an open source program to help you map out your ideas and keep track of their connections. She said Bryan could use it to keep track of documents and create links that would immediately take him to the originals he wanted.

Cataloging all of the pictures will take Bryan quite some time, however, once he is completed, it will be an incredibly valuable resource not only to his own scholarship, but perhaps even to the host institution where he found the archive.

The one piece of advice everyone gave Bryan: back everything up! All of it! Print it out, use an off-site backup service, get an external hard drive, whatever - save, save, save. Which is excellent advice for all of us.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

DIY Dissertating

In the recent workshop, Lorie mentioned the Association for Information Systems Ph.D. page.

It's worth a gander, particularly "Answers to Doctoral Students' Frequently Asked Questions," "10 Mistakes Doctoral Students Make in Managing Their Program," and "How Am I Doing? Checklist for Doctoral Students at Various Stages of Their Program."

Thanks for the tip, Lorie!

Lynda recommends Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day as good "meditations before you go to bed" reading.

And Paula has many tips about using local photocopy / Kinkos centers' services wisely. For example, if you have printed out reams of dissertations and need them hole-punched, its easy to drop them off at a copy center and have them do it for you (unless you like the catharsis of whacking away on a 3-hole-puncher...and come on, we've all been there).

Bennett said, "I make a deal with myself to take a break every month" as a way to reward himself for his dissertating - and as one month's break, became a certified teacher of raw food instructor.

The group's procrastination efforts in the past week have included surfing, knitting a scarf, baking bread, and watching all three hours of The Godfather. We're a crafty bunch of procrastinators, indeed.

Aya's defending her proposal this week - wish her well!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

ABD on your tombstone

Quotes from recent workshops:

"I'm afraid when I die, I'll have ABD on my tombstone."

"For the first time since I've been in the program, it really feels like I can do this."

"One of my committee members used to be an emergency room nurse. She's used to triage!"

"I don't expect the yellow brick road. This is much more like hazing. I'm a former athlete...preseason conditioning is going to be a bitch, no matter what!"

"What do you call a doctoral student who graduates at the bottom of their class?"

You're the WorldCat's Pajamas

During our next workshop meeting, Brian will be giving a "show and tell" about research he conducted at special collections in Princeton in July. They allowed him to take a camera into the room!

While we're on the subject of special collections, there's a good possibility that you'll need to travel to a library and peruse special archives in your own research.

So...where do you start?

Well, if you need to find out where your primary documents are held (for example, original documents / texts / letters from a specific author) you can use WorldCat. This collects all of the library catalogs of the world together in one neat place.

2. Go to the middle column and select "most used databases."

3. Scroll down to "WorldCat."

4. Type in your search terms.

5. Select the box that says "Archival Materials."

6. There you are! You'll get a list of what collections are out there along with websites and info. If you're lucky, your documents will be held in a city you've really wanted to visit.

The ILLiad and the Odyssey

Starting this fall, the library began using a software program called ILLiad to process all interlibrary loans. You have to register an account with the library to use the interlibrary loan service (ILL).

This can be your last resort if the library doesn't have the book you want and LINK+ doesn't have it.

The librarians recommend that you set up your ILL account now, even if you don't need it just yet. That way, when the time comes, you're golden.

Be kind to librarians

Today I went to Honnold Mudd and had a chat with Meg Garrett, one of my favorite librarians (and a science fiction guru). If you haven't already befriended a local librarian, I highly recommend stopping by. They know everything.

Here's a list of the librarians at Honnold and their specialities.

If you live far from campus, they have a great service called Librarian Chat, which is a real-time instant messager that allows you to ask librarians questions. I've used it several times and have been really happy with the level of service it offers.

Finding Dissertations on Your Topic and Printing Them at ACB

Just for you! Clear instructions for how to get to the Dissertations database off of the Honnold website. You may want to print these out or minimize this window and use it for reference.

1. Start at the Libraries home page.

2. Click on the link that says "Databases" in the middle column.

3. Under "By type & format" you'll see "Dissertations." Click on that. This brings you to the page "Databases: Dissertations."

4. Click on "Dissertations & Theses."

5. Now you'll be sent to a page that says "ProQuest" in the left hand corner. (To skip steps 1-4, you could also just use this link: Jump straight to ProQuest page). Here, you can type in keywords for your topic under "Basic Search" and you're ready to go!

6. Next, you go to the "results" page. You have several options: You can read the Abstract, Preview, get the Full Text PDF, or Order a Copy.

What's really great about this is that you can get that PDF (for most dissertations after 1995), download it to your desktop, and print it out! If the dissertation you want is before 1995 and doesn't have a PDF available, you'll have to buy it (Order a Copy).

Let's say you're lucky - there's a PDF of it. But if you're like me, you need a hard copy...none of this fancy interweb stuff for you! You like to get your hands on cold, hard, paper. But this involves printing out 200 pages and your ink cartridge at home costs $30 a pop.

This is where ACB comes in handy. The Academic Computing Building (ACB) is the building between the Blaisdell fountain and the parking lot on 8th street. On the first floor is ACB is room 111, the computer lab. Each CGU student gets something like $30 of free printing a semester. So this is cheaper than you printing 300 page dissertations at home.

The downside is that printing large things in ACB is sort of a pain in the ass. The printer is shared, so your stuff can get mixed with other people's stuff, and it's finicky - it doesn't let you do jobs of over 100 pages at once, so you need to send it in smaller chunks.

Here's what you do:

1. Download the PDF you want.

2. Right click on the PDF for "print." Print in small batches. For example, 1-99, 100-199, 200-299, etc. Remember that the page numbers you type in won't necessarily correspond to the page numbers on the dissertation.

3. After you send it to print, a blue popup box will show in the center of your screen. It will tell you your current balance and how much your print job will cost.

For example, mine says: "You are printing 49 pages at a cost of $2.49"

4. You HAVE to hit "print" in that box for the doc to print. Sometimes, the box doesn't appear where you can see it, and you have to click on the pop-up balloon at the bottom toolbar, or close your applications, to see the box behind everything else.

5. If your thing doesn't print, first check for all those popup boxes and make sure you have enough money in your account to print the pages you sent. If that doesn't work, try logging off the computer. Sometimes that will make it print. If that doesn't work, check the printer - it may be out of paper. If none of that works, go bug the lab attendant.

6. When your account runs out of money, you just take cash up to the lab attendant and they'll add it to your account.

P.S. Remember, this is the chain for finding PDFs of dissertations that you want. Weirdly enough, you can find dissertations listed in other databases (such as the MLA database) that don't give you the PDF option, even though it is available - so you wouldn't know you could do this! So any time you see a diss you want, go through these steps to find out if you can get the PDF.

P.P.S. If you have to write an abstract for your dissertation and want some samples to look at, this is another source that's helpful.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Unconscious procrastination

This week, I've realized that I feel like the little ball being violently whacked around in a drunken Fussball game. All of these forces are acting on me in different directions...you should be doing your dissertation. You should be preparing for teaching. You should be cleaning your apartment. You should be exercising, losing weight, eating better, making friends and influencing people.

It feels impossible to do any of those things fully, so you spread yourself thin and feel like you're doing a mediocre job at best on any of them.

Lately, when people ask me how the writing is going, I tell them that my teaching is taking up too much time now, but next semester, oh, next semester, I'm going to not-teach and focus all my time on writing.

And I have a moment of pride: look, I'm setting aside time just for the dissertation!

Except, as one ruthless friend pointed out, well, okay, next semester is settled, but isn't that just putting things off until then? And she's right...without even realizing it, I've used my "next semester is dissertation time!" plan as a subconscious excuse for not doing anything right now.

So I'm starting to force myself to do things on the dissertation, even if they are small things - ordering books, organizing books, setting up the place in my apartment where books will go, looking at calls for papers to submit my as-yet-not-written chapter as a way to trick myself into having more deadlines. Because its great that next semester I will have time, but I should make myself make time now too.

Monday, September 22, 2008

You and Your Dissertation: A May-December Romance

At this week's workshop, the issue of age came up - how much more difficult writing a dissertation can be when your body is older, when you are taking care of children (even adult children), when you are running a household. Writing a dissertation at 40 or 50 (and up) isn't the same as writing it at 25 or 30.

It made me think of my mother, Sheila Hesler, shown at her college graduation above.

(I was an adjunct teaching at her college at the time of her graduation and was allowed to present her with her degree...but that's a whole other story)

When my mother decided to go back to school for her Associate's degree, some people said to her, "Why go back to school? You'll be 50 by the time you get your degree."

My mother replied, "I'm going to turn 50 anyway. I may as well have my degree when I do it."

This has always struck me as being an incredibly good answer.

Books or food? I guess I'll buy books...

Early in the dissertating process, I figured out that actively doing something, anything, on the dissertation makes me feel better / like I'm "taking care of business." And that includes buying books.

You need to buy the primary source texts (at the very least) for your dissertation. You'll need to write in them, flag them, read them in the bathtub (risking water damage) - they're too important for some lame person to put a "recall" on at the library.

And they're expensive. So here's where to go to buy used copies of the books you'll be living with:

Half.com is a a company linked to eBay, but it isn't auction-based - there's no bidding and no time limits for when the books are available. Basically, its just a forum for regular people (and book companies) to put books up for sale, and because of the competition (there are often multiple copies of books available) the prices can be incredibly good - often below half price. The down side is that you still have to pay for shipping, and occasionally you get a seller who doesn't describe the condition of the book correctly or doesn't mail as fast as they said they would. But I've bought a lot of books off half.com and have had good experiences with them.

Alibris is another site for buying used books. They tend to have a wider selection of rare and out of print books than half.com. (but definitely check both sites first and take the cheaper deal)

If you die during your dissertation process, Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, is where you'll wake up. Seriously, everyone concurs: this is Book Heaven. I have yet to go myself, but am waiting for the opportunity...it's supposed to be the most incredible place. Anyway, I just learned that they have an online component for used books, so check it out.

For in-person rather than online buying, I recommend buying local - Second Story books here in the Claremont village. You can give them a call at 909-624-0757 and ask if they have the books you're looking for. They mostly only carry major texts, but you never know...and its a fun place to visit if you haven't been there (it's easy to miss - it's a single glass door next to Podge's, across from Some Crust in the village. Go through the door and up to the second floor).

Formerly owned by the fabulous Chic Goldsmid (a book and manuscript appraiser and all-around awesome human being) and known as Claremont Books & Prints, Second Story books is now run by an incredibly nice man in his early twenties who has really built up the store's collections of indie prints and graphic novels.

Kyle Hernandez, owner of Second Story books.
Photo by Gabriel Fenoy of the Courier.

You'll pay a little more for used books here than you would online, but the experience will be nicer - you'll get that good feeling that can only come from supporting a local indie bookstore.

And while we're talking about books, can I recommend one for light reading / getting out of the dissertation? Comedian David Sedaris writes incredibly funny and smart short stories based on his life and his absurd childhood. I was feeling down this week, picked up his latest, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and started giggling in the aisle at the book store.

The stories are perfect because they're short (some around 8 pages) and you can just dip in and out of them as needed. No commitment for those of you already committed to books heavier than your car.

So I recommend either When You Are Engulfed in Flames or Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Me write a pretty dissertation one day!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Keep on truckin'

(artwork: Robert Crumb)

In today's meeting, we started by talking about motivation issues - how do you motivate yourself when your committee has asked you to restructure your work in a way that makes no sense to you? How do you motivate yourself to just keep going?

There's no catch-all, magic-bullet answer for everyone, but here are things you might try:

  • Get a few good friends (or random workshoppers) to pester you. Imagine it like being on a diet or quitting smoking - you need support around you to remind you and help you stay on track.
  • Schedule a meeting in the future with one of your committee members to discuss what you've been working on. Just pick some random date, even if you have nothing right now to give them. Because, well, you'll have to come up with something by then.
  • Keep something regular in your life - meetings with professors, therapy appointments at Monsour, the biweekly Dissertation Group, meeting with another dissertation writer for coffee once a month. Part of the problem of finishing a dissertation is the lack of structure, the lack of a timeframe, the lack of baby steps to reach your goal. So you need to invent that structure that you lack.
  • What's your biggest time waster? Come on, you know what it is. Video games, internet surfing, facebook, housecleaning. Whatever it is, force yourself to cut it back, go cold turkey, or use it only as a motivation (when I finish writing x, I can do y).
  • How are you going to treat yourself after you finally do whatever it is that you're avoiding? A good friend of mine who was a HUGE Harry Potter fan bought the last book when it came out and wouldn't allow herself to read it until she finished her dissertation. Pick small rewards for yourself and work towards them - be it food, going to the movies, crap television, going to the beach - whatever you really want that you can enjoy as a reward. Stop beating yourself up and start finding ways to pat yourself on the back. Positive reinforcement will do you better in the long run.
  • Remember: ultimately, this thing you're working on isn't going to become a polished masterpiece for generations of scholars to ooh and aah over (although hey, it could happen!). It's just gotta get done. And it has to get done in a manner to please a select group of people: your committee. You have the rest of your life to write Your Great Book (or even the Great American Novel ). This isn't it. This is Your Decent Book That Freed You From Having To Pay Tuition Forever.
Your Decent Book
That Freed You From Having to Pay Tuition Forever.

When you've been in your writing so long, you can't see the forest for the trees. It all looks the same to you. That's where outside readers, even those (or especially those) totally outside your field, can help. Fresh eyes! (fresh meat?!) If you've been in something so long you don't know if it makes sense anymore, that's where we come in.

Advice that both Bennett and Aris got from advisors:

  • Don't do too much, because the more you put in that's irrelevant, the more we'll have to chop up.
  • Keep it simple if you can - as you write, it will get more complicated all on its own.

  • Be wary of too much jargon - when you need to be understood clearly, be plain if you can.
Bennett made a great analogy between looking at the bare essentials / expectations of the dissertation and game theory. Ask yourself:

  • What's required of you? (what do you have to do to get the next thing signed off?)

  • What do you require of yourself? (what are your personal goals for this piece of writing?)

Because we workshopped Paula's proposal draft today, we talked a lot about proposals.
  • If someone picked up your proposal right now, would they be able to tell the gist of what your dissertation will be about by reading just the first and last paragraphs?

  • Are your hypotheses early in the proposal? (Margaret was advised to move her hypotheses from page 13, so she moved them way up, front and center)

  • Remember, the proposal is a sell. You're selling the reader / committee on your dissertation. They should get a good grasp of what it will be about, why its important, and why they should read it.
Remember, the point of the proposal (and eventually, this will work into your introduction) is to tell your reader:

  1. What you do
  2. Why you do it
  3. How you do it
Someone made the suggestion of trying to write the abstract (150 words or less, depending) first to see if you can "sell" your idea in a few words.

If you were in an elevator with your favorite academic, could you pitch your dissertation to them in a minute or less? This isn't about being reductive, of course, but if your topic is getting immense, it can help you stay focused on the central question you're out to answer.

Lorie brought up an unusual resource that she uses called Atlas t.i. According to the website, Atlas t.i. "serves as a powerful utility for qualitative analysis, particularly when working with larger bodies of textual, graphical, audio, and video data."

As Lorie says, it is software used in hermeneutical analysis and she used it to quantify results from a lit review. Some of the computer labs on campus have it, including computers in ACB. You can use it to code seminal words you keep on seeing, create relational trees, etc.

The Atlas t.i. website gives sample areas of application, including working with art, a medical application, and coding images and video.

It might be worth checking out to see if it is something that would be useful to you.

Lorie also mentioned filling out her Institutional Review Board (IRB) forms. What is the IRB? Well:

"In the interests of protecting the rights and welfare of individuals recruited for, or participaint in research conducted by faculty or students under the auspices of Claremont Graduate University, the University maintains the Institutional Review Board (IRB). All members of the CGU community who conduct research involving human participants must have the research protocol approved by the IRB, before the research is conducted."

Many fields use the IRB, including Education and SBOS.
The main CGU page with IRB info is here.

The CGU Writing Center also holds periodic workshops for IRB, so stay tuned.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

How will I know?

If there is any reason to have Whitney Houston lyrics stuck in my head right now...

Lately I've been thinking about the problem of choosing a dissertation topic. Sounds like it should be easy, doesn't it? So many people describe their topics the way people describe love: you just know.

Well, what if you don't? What if you weren't born to write The Economic Influence of the Development in Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485? (Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim)

Some people fall in love at first sight and "just know." The rest of us spend a lot of time questioning and second guessing everything.

The advice I hear, over and over again, is to pick what you love, because you're going to be spending X years on it, so you better love it. But what if you love multiple things?

I suppose that makes you an academic polygamist in the dissertation-topic-as-love analogy.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Publish or Perish

This is going to be a long entry. Just so you know, it will cover peer reviewed journals and some examples for the type of timeframe you might expect from submitting an article to seeing it published. Of course, it varies widely by journal.

In today's workshop, Aya brought up a great strategy: sending out parts of your dissertation-in-progress for publication in journals.

The benefits:
  • You may get helpful feedback from the journal editors for improving your chapter before it goes to your committee.

  • You might get to take your paper to a conference and test it out on an audience of your peers, giving you more ideas about how to proceed and feedback about what's working (or not working).

  • Your committee might be less inclined to significantly change that part of your dissertation if it is already published (hey, it could happen!)

  • You'll build up the publications section of your resume and get a head start on the process of eventually publishing your dissertation as a book.
So how do you go about it?

First you need to find a peer reviewed journal for submitting your work.

What does "peer reviewed" mean? It means that every article the journal publishes is sent to a panel of professionals, usually the top academics in a given field, spread across several universities throughout the nation. All of the members of the panel read the articles carefully before accepting them for publication. This means that the quality of the published articles is trustworthy - that the journal maintains a certain standard and that several people in the field have carefully looked through the articles before publishing them.

You know what you're getting with a peer reviewed journal - it's a reliable, credible, trustworthy, consistent source.

As a researcher, you should be focusing on peer reviewed journals when you're doing your literature review. As an aspiring published scholar, you should also be sending your work to peer reviewed journals for their consideration.

How can you tell if a journal is peer reviewed? Well, one easy way is to get your hands on a copy of the journal and look inside the front cover. Look for a list of Editors, Advisory Editors, or the Editorial Board. If there's a long list of names and their scholarly affiliations (well-known universities), then you've got a peer-reviewed journal.

By this point in your program, you'll be expected to know what the major associations and publications in your field are (for example, AAR for Religion or MLA for English). But if you don't know, that's okay - just ask. It's better to find out now than to pretend you know when you don't. Find a professor you're comfortable with and say, "You know, I should know this...but which professional organizations would recommend that I join?" or "What would you say are the most important conferences for my field?"

If you're too embarrassed to ask a professor, consider talking to a classmate who is further along in your program than you are.

Once you find out which journals you should be reading, take a look at them - what kinds of articles do they publish? How long are they? What are their submission guidelines? (you can usually find this information on the inside cover, the first few pages, or on their website) Think about whether or not a chapter of your dissertation might fit the type of thing they publish.

Another idea to consider is doing a book review. A book review is basically like any review you'd read in the newspaper: short (usually 250-500 words), covers the basics about what its about, how well it accomplishes its task, etc. Many journals are hungry for people to write book reviews, and book reviews are often easier to get published than articles.

You might write to a journal editor and say that you're interested in writing book review for them and see if they have any books they need reviewed. Or you might do a review for a recently published work and send it to them to see if they need reviews.

You might be thinking, "How the hell will I have time to do that on top of everything else?!"

Well, you can kill two birds with one stone: look at the books you have to read for your dissertation. Were any of them published in the last two years? If so, you could easily read it for your dissertation research, keep notes, then write a little book review for it and submit it for publication when you're done. You've got to read that book anyway - might as well get a little something extra out of it!

For anyone who is reading literature related to Women's Studies: Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal is based here at CGU and is always looking for people to do book reviews. So if you're reading any recent books that would be of interest to feminist scholars, definitely contact the journal about doing a book review for them.

During our recent meeting, someone asked, "How long does the process take?" Well, it really varies. But it probably takes longer that you'd imagine.


Here is a sample timeframe I experienced for submitting an entry for a book that was going to be published:

2/22/05 - I see a CFP asking for short entries for a reference book that is going to be published. I submit my entries and they are accepted.

7/7/08 - I receive e-mail letting me know that the book will be published at the end of 2008.

8/8/08 - Still waiting!

Lapse time: Three years and counting... (this can't be normal!!!)


Here is a sample timeline that I experienced: from a CFP (Call for Papers for a conference) through publication in a journal:

2/3/07 - I first see a CFP for a conference happening in July.

3/1/07 - Deadline for submitting an abstract. I choose a paper I've written for a class at CGU.

7/13/07 - I present the paper at a major conference. At the end of the conference, the organizers invite participants to submit papers that were presented at the conference for a special issue of their journal.

7/31/07 - The deadline for submitting papers. I submit.

1/12/08 - The editors ask me to shorten the paper by two pages and convert it from MLA format (the usual citation for my field) to a type of modified Chicago (which I've never used!). They give me until the end of February as the new deadline. I chicken out.

3/18/08 - I decide its ridiculous of me to chicken out. So I e-mail the editors, acknowledging that I've missed the deadline and checking to see if they'd still accept a submission. They say they will.

3/24/08 - I submit the revision.

5/14/08 - My essay has been accepted! But not by the journal I sent it to! They're actually publishing it in a sister journal. They accept my essay, conditional upon accepting their suggested changes using "Track Changes." It involves me clicking "yes" multiple times. Awesome.

7/30/08 - An editor from the new journal e-mails me for two corrections.

8/25/08 - Still waiting to find out what issue it will be in.

Lapse time: 1 year and counting...


Turn around time for creative submissions (a very different process from academic essays, but might be important for some of you doing Fine Arts degrees or wanting to keep doing your creative work on the side)

Submitted 11/15/04, rejected 12/15/04
Submitted 11/22/04, rejected 3/29/05
Submitted 11/30/04, accepted 2/13/05
Submitted 12/15/04, rejected 1/13/04
Submitted 4/9/05, accepted 6/1/05
Submitted 4/2/05, rejected 6/30/05
Submitted 10/20/05, rejected 11/15/05
Submitted 3/24/06, accepted 5/6/06
Submitted 11/18/06, accepted 2/17/07
Submitted 3/19/08, rejected 6/10/08
Submitted 4/21/08, rejected 7/1/08
Submitted 6/11/08, accepted 8/11/08

Typical Lapse Time: about 3 months

You'll also notice a decent amount of rejection in there. Toughening up your skin is a great, great thing to do. I recommend creating a "rejection letter" collection. Or wallpapering your bathroom with them. That way, when you get a rejection letter, it's weirdly kind of a good thing ("Now I can finish papering the right wall!")

So as you can see, it can take awhile. But don't let that discourage you! If anything, it is even more of a reason to start the process if you haven't already. Send stuff out into the ether, forget about it, and you might be pleasantly surprised in a few months. And if not, that's cool too. There's no shame in a rejection letter - that's simply an opportunity to send your piece somewhere else. There's a home for it somewhere!

(By the way, these cheeseball photos of motivational words? I totally took them in Honnold Library. Did you ever notice them there before? Me neither!!!)

Dying before your student loans are due...

Today while crossing College Ave, I nearly got creamed by an SUV driving at warp speed. This, combined with the time I nearly set my bed on fire by falling asleep and knocking over a hot reading lamp, makes me think about the very real hazards of writing a dissertation.

It's dangerous stuff, people!

A good friend of mine, who needed the Ph.D. in hand before beginning her new job, was able to complete her dissertation in 6 months...and got shingles from the stress. (but she did it!)

We all joke about dying before paying off our student loans....

But seriously. Writing a dissertation is hard on your body. There's stress. There's consuming large amounts of prepackaged food. There's anxiety. Lack of sleep. Sitting for extended periods of time, staring at computer screens.

Take care of yourself as best you can. Make time for healthy food, sleep, sanity breaks for movies or friends or movies with friends. Yoga. Whatever it is that sends you back in touch with reality for moments at a time.

And remember: As CGU students, we get 8 sessions of free therapy from Monsour (the link is on the right sidebar). Even if you have your doubts about therapy, you ought to check it out...because hey, it's free. If there's one thing that grad students love, it's free stuff. You pay an incredible amount in tuition, so you should scarf up all the free food (GSC parties! Welcome Back party!), free tutoring (CGU Writing Center!), and free therapy (Monsour) you can.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

If I could turn back time...

What do you do if your research requires knowing what a particular website looked like...say, in 1990?

Try the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. (thanks for the link, Margaret!)

Paper, paper, everywhere...and not a drop to drink

During a recent meeting, we discussed ways to corral the billions of pieces of loose paper (hello, journal articles!) that will be infesting your living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen...

Aya highly recommends Zotero, a free download from Firefox that works like Refworks and EndNote, only better. She also uses super-teeny post-it notes that are common in Japan (and you can find them at Huntley Bookstore). The smaller size gives you more room in the book / on the page for flags - and helps you keep your own note-taking down to the bare essentials.

Margaret swears by her system of color-coded index cards with corresponding colored file folders. For example, one folder says "Chapter 1" and what will be in that chapter. When she reads something she thinks should go in Chapter 1, she tapes it to or prints it on that colored paper and files it away for later. This is great for tidbits you don't need now, but you'll want for later. She has also created an Excel chart for all of her literature.

In terms of creating multiple labels for your binders and files, Bennett recommends his trusy Brother Label Maker.

Finally, for extra help getting through the massive organization needed during the literature gathering process, you might consider hiring someone for assistance. You can easily advertise on campus, through the CGU student listserv, or in a local paper like The Claremont Courier. Hiring extra help can be a mutually beneficial experience - many new graduate students would appreciate the hands-on experience of working with a dissertation.

Shitty first drafts

During our recent meeting, we discussed dissertation advice from recent CGU graduates. The following advice is from J.R. Hustwit, CGU Ph.D. in Religion and Philosophy '07:

"I don't still have that timeline, but all I did was print out a MS Outlook calendar (or another calendar) and divided the time up into equal sections, one for each chapter, and highlighted the days a different color for each chapter...it was a good idea in theory, but I took twice as long. My advice is to write a little every day, even if you are doing stream of consciousness or outlining. Also, don't write more than 4 hours/day...you'll burn out. Finally, get a peer group for therapy/bitching, so you have realistic expectations about your progress based on what others are doing (and don't invite guys [who are super competitive]). Also, expect your first draft of anything to suck. You may think it's really good, but it sucks. If you expect this, it won't hurt when it is butchered by your advisor / committee."

Dr. Hustwit's take on dissertating jives with the advice of Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, one of the best books about writing there is. We know, you've got a ton of things to read already. But if you're struggling with writer's block due to perfectionism or the Evil Voices Inside Your Head, take a look at Lamott's essay, "Shitty First Drafts."

The CGU Dissertation Workshop

The Writing Center at Claremont Graduate University offers scads and scads of useful services, including online and in person tutoring, IRB and Literature Review presentations, and many kinds of workshops. This blog has been set up as a resource for students interested in participating in the Dissertation Workshop, a biweekly group that gathers to help students create accountability, get motivation, exchange advice and strategies, and most of all, help each other through this very challenging and unique process.

Because students have very hectic schedules and not all students can attend the workshop (especialy those living abroad!), we have created this blog as a place for you to catch up on workshop meetings and share comments and ideas. We hope it's useful. Remember: you're not alone!

You're Not Alone - Here are some of the members of our group!