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 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/'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!