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.


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