Monday, January 26, 2009

Q + A with a recent CGU grad

This week we had a special guest speaker, Stephanie McKinney, a Ph.D. in History who specializes in modern war, history, and genocide memorialization. She finished at CGU in December. Her dissertation is titled “Speaking of the Dead: Reconstructing Identity in Post Genocide Rwanda."

Here are some of the questions from the group that Stephanie answered.

Q: Is there any advice you wish someone had told you about the process before you began?

A: “The final stages are really hard," said Stephanie, "I wish someone had said, 'It is not pretty and it sucks and it will be the most humiliating thing in your life.'"

Tanya mentioned how she's noticed that many people she's talked to about their dissertations are all in therapy. The room quickly chimed in about how great the free therapy at Monsour is, and how everyone should be going there.

Stephanie also related a story about attending a recent Halloween party for her kids. One of the other moms said, “I just finished my Ph.D., so of course my self-esteem has never been lower.” Stephanie said she wanted to say, “thank you!” to the woman for expressing the exact same way she felt.

CGU Flame Pumpkin Courtesy of Alexandra Dove, MA History 2006

Q: How long did it take you to write it?

A: “My husband says I wrote the whole thing in five months,” Stephanie said, “ But I had spent about a year and a half researching.”

Leading up to her defense, Stephanie encountered many obstacles. Her initial dissertation advisor left CGU for a position elsewhere. After she returned from research in Rwanda, her youngest child became seriously ill with salmonella poisoning, requiring surgery and a week in the hopsital. Stephanie juggled adjuncting at different universities, raising two children, and trying to power through her dissertatation. And she did it!

Q:Is a 4th reader a CGU requirement?

A: "No. However, the rules about outside readers depends on your school."

Because CGU doesn’t have any European history specialists (Stephanie’s field), she had to look for outside readers to help her through the process. She made connections at conferences and ended up having a few top genocide scholars willing to read her dissertation and help her polish it.

Paula noted that only CGU people are allowed to serve on your quals committees, you have to petition (as she did) if you need an outsider member. Aris noted that in SBOS, you won’t know who your 4th reader is.

Paula also reminded everyone to hold onto the CGU Handbook from the year you were admitted. That is a legally binding contract. As a student at CGU, you have to abide by the rules laid out in the Handbook, but so do the faculty members. So if you find yourself getting caught up in some kind of red-tape nightmare, it wouldn’t hurt to check the handbook and make sure you’ve fulfilled everything they originally said you had to, and that they fulfilled their end of the deal.

Q: Can you defend in summer?

A: The general answer was: Yes. You can defend whenever you can get your committee together.

Q: Was formatting it a problem?

A: "Formatting – so, so important." Stephanie noted that when you’re ready to file, they ask for three copies. But she recommends saving yourself a lot of money and frustration by only printing one copy first, making sure its good to go, and then making the other copies.

“These are consecutive pages, not chapter pages,” Stephanie explained, “You

don’t want to print out three copies of the thing only to find out there’s an error on page 2. Bring in one copy, get it okayed, fix it if needed, and then go to Kinkos and get the next two copies made.”

Q: Did you have to make an appointment with Edris to file?

A: "They sent an e-mail and said, 'This is when we’ll be available.' So I dropped in then."

Please note: Edris Steubner, the Assistant Registrar, is going to be your main contact for filing. She will be coming to the Dissertation Workshop on March 23 to discuss the rules for formatting and submission. Stay tuned!

Q: Are they particular about the margins?

A: “She does take out a ruler and she does measure,” laughed Stephanie, “Serious as a heart attack. Always be nice to the secretary and the registrar, they’ll work for you.”

Q: What do you do when you’re not hearing back from your committee members or you feel like you’re in limbo?

A: “Act like it's happening and keep shoving it forward,” Stephanie answered, “If you don’t, who will?”

Q: What was the sequence of your revision?

A: “I revised it chapter by chapter,” answered Stephanie. “I had one chapter out in circulation and one I was working on. The sequence was: first I’d send a draft to the Writing Center, then I

’d make corrections before sending that draft to my committee, and then I’d make revisions and have my revision draft.”

Stephanie reiterated how helpful the Writing Center was in getting feedback on her writing. As a reminder: you can send up to 50 pages a week to the Writing Center, with a 1 week turnaround, up to 8 times a semester. For more info about the Writing Center's services for dissertation reading, click here.

Q: What happened going into the final weeks before your defense?

A: Dec 12 was the paper signature deadline for January graduation. Her committee told Stephanie, “These are the problems in your dissertation…can you fix them in 4 weeks? Here are the problems. These are what you’ll have to fix for us to sign off on this.” At her defense, Stephanie laid out her strategy for addressing remaining problems in the work.

Q: Do you have any advice about writing proposals?

A: “The proposal saved my butt in the end. I had a chapter that had to be two chapters. But one part wasn’t that good. It wasn’t in my proposal…so that allowed me to take it out completely. I’d added a chapter that was underdeveloped, but it wasn’t in the proposal, so it was easy to pull it. Your proposal changes, but it can also save you.”

Margaret noted that in some fields, there is no wiggle room in the proposal. In other fields (particularly the Humanities) it is quite common to have a final dissertation that isn’t that close to its original proposal.

Q: Did you use Endnote or Refworks?

A: Stephanie answered, "I think you have to start that from the beginning. I wish I’d know about it before I started, but I didn’t, so I just typed my own footnotes and such. It’s easier that way when you know how to do it already. I did get a new laptop during my dissertation…and it did all kinds of things more easily!"

Q: What were your methods of backup?

A: "CGU gives you a free webpage – I put it up there. You can e-mail it to yourself, even the copy you send to the Writing Center will be saved."

Lynda reminded everyone to keep a backup flash drive, but don’t keep the drive with your laptop (if the laptop is stolen or damaged, the flash drive could be as well).

Margaret mentioned SuperDuper, a system recovery resource that makes a mirror image of your hard drive.

Q: I’m writing my bibliography, and it has 500 books! And there are more being published. How do you make it manageable?

A: "You hit the point where you decided you’re done. You know, 'our library doesn’t have it, I can’t LINK + it, it’s $127 on Amazon…I’ll let that one go!' At some point, you have to figure if you get something wrong, your committee will let you know. At some point, you just make an executive decision to stop," said Stephanie.

“My bibliography is about half of what it was at the proposal,” noted Lynda. “The same, same things kept showing up in everything I was reading. I decided that those texts had to be my foundation.”

"You hit the point where you have to throw it out there and see what happens.”

“There was a day when I realized I was done reading,” said Lynda.

“It’s like on Thanksgiving, deciding when you’re going to stop eating.”

Q: How do you decide what goes in the footnotes and what goes in the main text?

A: "That’s where your readers come in," replied Stephanie.

The group brainstormed places to get a quick glimpse of the current work in your field:

Wikipedia (no one will cop up to using this, but there it is)

Amazon lists ("very up-to-date")

Google Scholar

Dissertation Express ("You’ll say, well, if they got that published, I can get mine done.” "You’ll look and be surprised by the ones that aren’t very good. Makes you feel better.")

And remember, no matter how careful you are, small mistakes are bound to happen. “After I turned mine in,” Stephanie admitted, “I realized I forgot to print out the appendix. The dissertation refers to an appendix that’s not there. Oh well, that’s there for history.”

Rainbow over Harper Hall

Deadlines, Real and Imaginary

For those of you planning on a Spring Degree:

  • Last day for students to file their “Intent to Receive a Degree” form in the Office of Admissions and Records for a Spring degree - February 20 (Friday)
  • Last day for scheduling final oral exams (dissertation defense) - March 23 (Monday)
  • Last day for final oral exams (dissertation defense) for Spring degrees - April 3 (Friday)
  • Final date for completion of all requirements including payment of any fees for degrees to be awarded for Spring. Final date to file dissertations final approval forms in the Office of Admission and Records. - April 17 (Friday)
  • Commencement -- awarding of Spring degrees - May 16 (Saturday)

For those of you planning on a Summer Degree:
  • Last day for students to file their “Intent to Receive a Degree” form in the Office of Admissions and Records for a Summer degree - June 18 (Thursday)
  • Last day for scheduling final oral exams (dissertation defense) - July 10 (Friday)
  • Last day for final oral exams (dissertation defense) for Spring degrees - July 17 (Friday)
  • Final date for completion of all requirements including payment of any fees for degrees to be awarded for Spring. Final date to file dissertations final approval forms in the Office of Admission and Records. - July 31 (Friday)
  • Awarding of Summer degrees - August 31 (Monday)

To see the full list of deadlines/ CGU Academic calendar, click here.

For those of you planning on a Degree Sometime Before You Die:

  • You need to start making fake deadlines for yourself.
  • Try asking a professor, "So, what would you like to see next time we meet?" or " much time do you think I should give myself to write x?" Then when they answer, make that your deadline. For reals.
  • Look for Calls for Papers for conferences in your field. Use the CFP abstract deadlines as deadlines for yourself. That way, you have to write something by that date, and if the paper gets accepted, well, it looks like you're writing that chapter! The conference becomes your new deadline (and helps you make connections for outside readers from the conference, etc.)
  • The CGU Dissertation Workshop...workshops work! It's a ready-made set of deadlines: We're meeting February 9, February 23, March 9, March 23. Pick one of those dates and say, "By this date, I'm going to submit x!" Then do it.
  • Make an appointment at the CGU Writing Center, weeks in advance. You don't have to specify what you're working on when you make the appointment. But you know that date is coming up, and you'll have to show the tutor something, so you'll have to write something. You can also say, "I'm going to send something online to the Writing Center in two weeks!" Then do it. Rinse and repeat.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Semester, New Faces

Welcome back, everyone!

The CGU Dissertation Workshop is starting up again for the spring. Whether you spent the break sleeping, feasting, or reading, now is the time to get back on track!

For our first meeting of the semester, Monday, January 26, we will be having a guest speaker, Stephanie McKinney (CGU Ph.D. in History). Stephanie will come and share her experiences of cobbling together a dissertation committee despite several hurdles, researching in Rwanda, and completing a whirlwind dissertation and defense.

We'll also pass out...get ready....the infamous GREEN CALENDARS!!!! It's that exciting, people. How can you resist?

The first meeting may be larger than usual, so we're waiting to get a final headcount before assigning the location. The CGU Writing Center is also in the process of moving out of the Harper Basement into the above-ground world - a blue-grey house up on 12th street, across the street from the old CGU dorms:

Eventually our workshop will be held here, but the house may not be ready in time for our first meeting. Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Winter Boot Camp

Knows what he's talking about, Yoga does.

Hello dissertators! Long time, no hear! The advent of job application season really threw a wrench into my dissertating, so I followed our group's advice about protecting time for the dissertation and took a break from the blog. However, the apps are mostly in, so now it's time to do some catching up.

Our latest Dissertation Boot Camp was over two very rainy days in December, and we all got a lot of work done as the rain came down!

Sam not only came back from the edge of the abyss after having to do some major changes to his data set, but he also fixed the Writing Center table at the start of the Boot Camp.

As usual, for two days the CGU Writing Center was transformed into Dissertation Central, where people set up camp in the various rooms, spreading laptops, papers, books, and files all around them.

Safety in numbers, Dissertators!

Dissertators used one of the white boards as a reminder to avoid the individual time-killing temptations that usually sabotage their work.

No, "World of Kittens" isn't actually a real website, although it should be. And the Academic Job Wiki is pure evil. If you don't know what it is, pretend you didn't see this. It's for your own good. Trust us.

As with our previous boot camps, this boot camp offered sushi, coffee, snacks, stretch breaks, and opportunities to just talk with other students who feel your pain.

Once again, the bendiest yoga master of all time, Nancy Sassaman, donated her time to come and lead the group in a much-needed yoga break. Thank you, Nancy! Because of the rain, we practiced yoga inside the Career Management building. (Thank you, Career Management!)

Whether you call this position "happy baby" or "dead bug" probably depends on how your latest chapter is going...

Our next Boot Camp is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, February 6 and Sunday, February 7. The boot camps are free, but a $50 deposit is required to hold your space. Keep an eye on your cgu e-mail for sign up dates!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Teaching Myself Zotero

When we discussed formatting / info gathering software such as EndNote and Zotero in the group, several people said they thought using one of these programs would have been helpful...but now that they're knee-deep in their dissertations, it's too late.

I dabbled in RefWorks years ago for a project, but after hearing Aya singing the praises of Zotero, I thought I'd give it a try.

I'm still in the buying-and-hoarding-and-sorting books phase of my dissertation, and already I'm starting to forget which copies of what I've bought online. I decided that I could start learning Zotero by creating a list of books that I've purchased for the dissertation.

I began by going to the Zotero website and downloading the newest version. It requires Firefox 3.0, which I have. I also watched the very helpful demos on the website.

Right off the bat, I couldn't get it to work. I couldn't see the "Zotero" logo at the bottom of the screen, the key point for accessing the thing. So I searched on the very helpful forums on the Zotero site, and sure enough, within a few minutes, found the solution to my problem (for me, it was simply going up to the "View" bar and selection "Status bar.")

Once I figured that out, I began going to and the Honnold library site to find the books on my shelf. It's so easy to use Zotero for this - you find the book you have, then click on a little blue book icon next to the web address in the browser. And Sha-zam! It's sent to your Zotero folder.

I made a couple of mistakes where I uploaded the right book but the wrong edition. It was easy to fix. I also uploaded a few dissertations on my topic that I've printed out (and gloriously 3-hole-punched one night).

So far, so good. I also began adding notes on each of the books describing the covers of the actual books. Because so many of my books have the author's name as the title, it's helpful for me to remember, ah yes, this is the one with the peacock on the cover, this is the one that's orange, etc. I'm very visual.

It's too soon yet for me to know how well I like Zotero or how easy it is to use, but based on the helpful forums and my initial forays tonight, it looks promising.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Parodies of Job Letters

Welcome to 2009! This is the year you're going to write your dissertation!

I've just come back from MLA (the Modern Language Association's annual conference and job smackdown) in San Francisco. While I was there, I noticed several job postings that somehow didn't look quite right...and upon closer inspection, I realized they were marvelous parodies by

For a little sampling:

"Unfortunately, my dissertation chair has decided that her perverse amusement is more important than my professional advancement. I agree that it is, mind you, but I would still prefer to have defended this semester."

- Anita Gedaclu

Even if you're not in English, Languages, Literature, or Cultural Studies (the target audience for these letters), you can still get a kick out of how these letters poke fun at academia, boiler plate cover letters, the desperation of job seekers, and the overall stress of writing a dissertation and looking for jobs.

"I feel confident that I could offer classes at the lover-division, upper-division, and graduate level in Homoerotic 19th-Century U.S. Critical Writing, The Fireside Poets, and transatlantic hemispheric New Jersey Literature. Techncially, I do not feel confident about anything, but I'm told that is a standard phrasing."

-Anita Gedaclu

There's this applicant to Riverdale University, who mentions writing his dissertation under the influence of Juan Valdez and Captain Morgan:

Click on image to enlarge

There are letters from Riverdale University, the Yemen Institute of Polytechnicality, and the State University of New York, Yonkers. Go to to see all 5 letters. Enjoy!

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