Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Advice for Dissertators

Stumbled on a very informative page about dissertations on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when I was avoiding the writing pact I had made with myself.

The page is a great resource for tips and techniques on how to manage life after ABD to keep yourself on track to write your way through to the end of your dissertation. Check it out here.

The UNH page also has some fun stuff - here is a list of dissertation idioms from their page. I've added a few more from our Boot Camps.
  • A good dissertation is a done dissertation.
  • What do you call a grad student who barely squeaks a lousy dissertation past her committee? Doctor.
  • You ain't painting a masterpiece.
  • It's not the last word on the topic; it's the first word.
  • Dare to be adequate!
  • Life happens ... and sometimes so do dissertations.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Here's an informative and entertaining website. The person it belongs to seems to be a statistics or math professor who is generously sharing his experience getting his Ph.D.

He has a really comprehensive website - here are just a few items from the list of posts/articles:

The Illustrated guide to a Ph.D - really puts what we're doing in perspective. I think I will print this series of drawings out to reinforce the idea that a good dissertation really really is a done dissertation! There is an entire world out there waiting for us to continue exploring.

Other posts that look intriguing:

There are also TONS of links to statistical methods and short cuts for those interested

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Writing Journeys & Goal Setting

Here’s a way to think about goal setting accountability.

I like to think of a long piece of writing as a nice adventurous trip (comes from my fondness for road trips and hiking I guess – best way to see any country). As with an
y kind of journey, there will be stops and starts and you may find your goals need revising, re-routing etc.

So our Monday meetings are just great opportunities along the way where you meet fellow travellers and share where you’ve been and where you’re going. It’s not about reporting a perfect arrival at a goal, and therefore feeling guilty about route changes. Don’t get stressed out by shifts and changes. It’s just the process of logging the journey with fellow travellers, which really helps you navigate.

You learn a great deal about your writing process when you pay attention to the kinds of goals you set, your patterns of revision, the distance between your milestones etc. If you keep with the practice of goal setting-reflecting-revising, you’ll find yourself getting better and better at moving happily along your writing journeys.

Dissertation Boot Camp June 26th & 27th

Slide show from Boot Camp on the weekend of June 26 and 27. This was a quick, put together Boot Camp, but we had 10 people who showed up to writewritewrite and we all managed to get a lot done.

Take Aways From This Boot Camp

Make Goals Visible - write them out, put them where you can see them as you work. WRITE THEM LARGE. They will gently nag in a most friendly way, especially if you use colours - crayons or markers. We had 'pure colour pencils' - imagine only the inside of a colour pencil without the wood!

Write Mini Goals - on the way to the main goal for the day. If you want to complete a chapter, you might want to write some interim milestones to get to that goal like the different sections for the chapter. That way you can track your progress to the end of the chapter through the day. This also makes the writing process more concrete and gives you specific writing tasks to work at. Do them, one by one by one ... and voila! Suddenly you're at Chapter's End!

Cross Goals Out along the way. As you meet each mini goal, what satisfaction there is in crossing them out with a big fat marker! DONE! .... on to the next.

Hydrate. Remember to drink water as you work. When you're feeling tired, more often than not it's a lack of water. Keep a large mug or bottle of water next to you so you can take large swigs from it as you work. Coffee's ok, but really .... your body desires water.

Breathe. You'd be surprised how often you stop breathing when you are really focused on writing. Take Breathing Breaks: Stop - Sit up straight - Focus on your breath - Breath in and feel your ribcage expand - Hold - Breath out through your mouth for a count of 8. Close your eyes through this process to give them a rest from the screen/paper. Repeat a few times. This takes just a few minutes, but can re-energize your body and mind to work again with renewed focus and energy. Especially if you have a drink of water before you resume work.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Partying On is such Sweet Parting!

No party is complete without the cake. Attention dissertators: there IS cake at the end of the tunnel. Our co-travelers, co-captains and co-miserators have shown us the path. It's up to us to hold up the tradition. Keep up the writing. Keep the coffee coming. Keep on keeping on!

The summer is short but life is long. Take the long view by making small steps every day.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Greetings from Boot Camp / Writing in the Summertime

Dissertation picnic

Our recent Boot Camp was a great success and we welcomed several new first-timers to the dissertating ranks. As we all head into summer, that long stretch of even-more unstructured time, with even more tantalizing things to do other than write your dissertation, here are a few things to keep in mind to help you keep writing (using photos from the most recent Boot Camp!)

Many thanks once again to Nancy Sassaman, helping us make time for Vitamin D.

So much of the writing process happens indoors, cramped over a desk, carpal tunnel extravaganza. Make time for getting outside for brief walks and stretch breaks. You can continue thinking about your work. You can hop on the cell phone and call someone who is supporting you in your writing efforts. You can even bring a draft with you and look over it as you go. But it is important to make time to get outside. It may not seem like much, but it can recharge your batteries.

At the start of each reading / writing /editing /dissertating session, determine what your goals are for that day and write them down.

Choose reasonable, doable goals. Prioritize them. Then start chipping away at them. In the beginning, you'll pick goals that are too ambitious. Everyone does. Don't worry about that. Do your best, and over time, you'll start to refine your sense of what can be achieved in a given period of time. A lot of the process of writing your dissertation is discovering how you work - what you need, how long it takes, what you can reasonably expect. Make goals and fake deadlines, do your best to stick by them, and adjust them as necessary.

Take each day at a time and step by step, you'll finish the diss.

The advice that nutritionists often give to people trying to lose weight: If you have a day where you just blow your diet and go to town, you might feel like you've just lost all the ground you've gained, ruined your diet forever, and should just give up. But it's just one day. So what if you have a bad day? You can start over the next day.

Dissertating is the same way. Have a weekend where you fall of the wagon and get absolutely nothing done? Have a whole week that you just blew off? A whole month that got by?

Then put it behind you and when you wake up the next day, begin again. You can't control the time you lost last week / month / semester / year. But you can control what you do with the time you have left. So don't continue to beat yourself up - it isn't productive. Instead, focus on what you can do NOW.

Dissertating...the universal language

Write your goals in whichever way speaks most clearly to you. Use whatever language, colors, words, images etc that best helps you to directly and clearly motivate yourself. Do you like checkboxes? To Do lists? Rewarding yourself with bits of chocolate? Now is the time to find out.

Whiteboard ode to Stuart Smalley: You're good enough, you're smart enough

Remember when you were younger and a Ph.D. just sounded so grandiose, so intelligent, so far away? And isn't it nuts that you are now about to get one? It can feel so surreal. At times, it helps to play it down in your head, so that the doctorate feels more normal, more doable, because everyone else around you is doing one too. At other times, it's nice to just take a moment and take it all in...what you are doing is incredible. Very few people actually get this far. It's amazing! It's wonderful!

Dissertator, Thou Art Loosed!

Take a moment to take it all in. You're doing this!

Catherine typing on a laptop balanced on a bag, balanced on a sidedesk chair.

One of the great things about the image above is what you can't see: that Catherine here began her day at the Boot Camp by typing on a cardboard box. That's right, a cardboard box. On the first day of the Boot Camp, we had more people than desks, so Catherine was a good sport and found a long box that, when put on end, was just about the right height for a desk. So she balanced her laptop on it and began typing away. Later, she graduated to using another chair with an attached desk as her mobile laptop desk.

This is great for two reasons. One, it shows you that really, when you have to, you can write anywhere. And two, it shows that having a sense of humor and being flexible can help shake up your patterns and keep your writing interesting.

If you feel like you're in a rut, try shaking up your routine. Write in a new coffee shop. Find a different part of the library to make camp. Try your bathtub. Lie on the floor. Take a draft to the gym and read it on the stationary bike.

The next time you find yourself making excuses for not working on your dissertation ("Oh, I can't write now, I don't have my favorite pen"... "Oh, I would work on my dissertation now, but I forgot my laptop".... "I can't actually work now, because I forgot my iPod") Just remember: Cardboard box.

Encourage your friends to make you "dissertation music" mix CDs and playlists!

If you concentrate better with wordless background music, here are some sample "Writing Music" albums that dissertators have recommended:

The Piano Soundtrack- Michael Nyman
Gattaca Sountrack - Michael Nyman
Last of the Mohicans soundtrack
The English Patient soundtrack
Lost in Translation Soundtrack
The Essential Yo Yo Ma
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik - Mozart
Philip Glass
Bond (violin group)
African Suite - Abdullah Ibrahim
One Cello x 16 - Zoe Keating
Creating Pandora stations based on instrumental songs you like

And remember....even though it may feel like it, you're not alone

So the summer is here! You've got good weather to write in. You can do a beach day of research (Six words: To Do List in the sand!) There are so many opportunities to make headway on that dissertation. Go for it!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"I'm graduating...so now what?!"

Do you find that everyone thinks you're supposed to be super happy now that you're done....but you're too freaked out about the future?

Today's post is dedicated to all of you dissertators, past, present, and future....who finally reach The Big Day and all you can think about is how you're going to answer the next person who asks, "So what are you doing next?"

Here are a few nitty gritty details to help you navigate your immediate future if you're graduating or about to graduate from CGU:

What happens to my library privileges?

The good news: you can purchase an annual alumni card for $35 a year.

The bad news: You can't access databases off-campus. You can't use ILL or Link+ any more. Might be a good time to make friends with a fellow CGU student who isn't graduating...

What happens to my health insurance?

The good news: if you paid for it already, you're on it until 8/27. (source: Nusha in Admissions)

The bad news: After that, you're on your own.

What happens to my cgu e-mail?

The bad news: They cut you off 6 months after graduation.

The good news: You can forward your mail through Outlook.

Who to contact for more information: The Dean of Students office, carol.toscano@cgu.edu

Can I still use the Writing Center?

The bad news: The CGU Writing Center services are only for current CGU students, faculty, and staff.

The good news: The Writing Center maintains a list of editors and proofreaders in the area who can offer all kinds of help for pay. Rates vary, so you must contact the editors to learn more. One recommendation: TWEED editing, which is run by CGU Writing Center tutor and CGU doctoral candidate Katrina Van Heest.

What if I never get a job?

The bad news: the economy is really, really bad, and everyone you know will just love to forward you articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education talking about how you'll never get a job.

The good news: You can stop reading the Chronicle of Higher Education. You can stop opening those forwards. And you can know you're not alone.

The Writing Center may be offering a CV workshop soon to help students network and continue polishing their application materials. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Getting Your Dissertation Bound

Pretty, pretty books

After all that work, you finally finish...and you might be surprised that you don't get a copy for yourself!

(unless you are in SBOS, which will pay for you to have your own copy. Nice!)

If you want a copy of your bound dissertation for yourself, or to give as gifts to family or committee members, you have two main options. You can have it bound through ProQuest when you turn in your forms for the dissertation to be filed, but it is costly and the turnaround time is very long.

If only my bookshelves were this intersting

Another, local option, is to take your dissertation to the same place where the library gets its copies bound: Kater-Crafts in Pico Rivera.

Tucked away on a side street just off the Whittier exit on the 605, the marvelous 1950s design of the Kater-Crafts building.

It's a local business, has a fast turnaround time (4-6 weeks), and has a really amazing office about a 30 minute drive from campus. (10 West to 605 South, take exit 15 towards Whittier, take a Right on Whittier, a Right on Gregg, and Kater-Crafts is at 4860 Gregg Road). There are also ways to submit your dissertation to them digitally.

After spending $300 on photocopying my dissertation at Kinko's, I might as well have bound the thing in dollar bills!

I went on a little field trip to Kater-Crafts this week and fell in love with their custom book displays:
I don't know what a Whiskey Bible is, but after a year of dissertating, I think I need one.

They also do custom faux-book fronts for cabinets and shelving, which is way cool:

With the 100+ Honnold library books all over my workspace, my apartment almost already looks like this...

Walking around their front office reminded me of how very much I love books. Which is a rare feeling, after having felt completely overwhelmed by books for the past year. Maybe that is a side effect of finishing the dissertation... remembering the things you loved that got you started on this crazy process to begin with.

Oh yes. If *only* my dissertation were titled "Crawly Things From the Deep"

I wish I could say that I had my dissertation bound in something truly awesome and weird, but alas, I just went with the standard library binding, in deep blue Buckram, with gold foil lettering.

Speaking of weird....Darwin's Origin of Species bound in (I hope faux) monkey fur

The Tournament of Roses bound in football leather

I also ordered a copy for the Writing Center, so future CGU dissertators can take a peek at a sample.

So there you have it! Contact Kater-Crafts for pricing info. My dissertation, at 377 pages, only cost $25 to be bound. I also sprung an extra $11 for the gold lettering of the title to appear on the front cover as well as the spine. One copy will be going to the Writing Center, so stop by and check it out!

Best edition of Leaves of Grass ever?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Next Boot Camp: April 24 and 25

Feeling stuck in your process? Giant pencils are scientifically proven to help lift writing mood.

Is 2010 or 2011 starting to look like a great year to graduate? Then let us help you reach your dissertating goals!

The CGU Writing Center is offering a Dissertation Boot Camp on Saturday, April 24 and Sunday, April 25. It's free, it's motivating, and it's two whole days to stop beating yourself up and come and get work done with people who know exactly what you're going through!

The Boot Camps fill up fast, so get thee to the Writing Center to put down a refundable deposit to hold your space.

You bring the laptop, the books, the paper, the work: the Boot Camp provides the coffee, lunch, yoga, space, and occasional reminders to TURN OFF THE INTERNET. :-)

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Demystifying the Defense

Tis the season to defend dissertations! Since a number of us are defending this semester, as Tara warmly pointed out, the group's been exchanging ideas and information on defense preparation and strategies, and were lucky enough to have Marc Redfield, Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities and Professor of English, come speak to us. (For previous posts on defense prep, check out the defense tag.)

Planning for your dissertation defense can be an anxious time, but it doesn't have to be the harrowing experience many of us build it up to be. The key, according to Prof. Redfield, is to approach the defense as the last chance to get some quality feedback on your work so you can file the strongest final dissertation draft possible--exploit the opportunity to your advantage.

Remember you're now the expert on your dissertation, so you're in a position to speak confidently about your work and its larger ramifications. At CGU, each school organizes its defenses a little differently, so make sure you speak with your dissertation chair about what's expected of you at each part of the defense. Typically, this is your opportunity to hold a meaningful conversation with your committee about the value of your work--relish it! It's not every day you can sit in a room and talk about your work with people who know about it and are interested in it! Prof. Redfield reminded us that if your dissertation chair allows you to schedule the defense, that's a clear sign that s/he believes it's defensible. At American universities, the defense may seem like a ritual, but you should prepare to speak about your work. This begins as simply as making sure you've read through your entire dissertation at least once. Another great tip is to attend someone else's defense, even if it's not in your field; the experience will help give you a better sense of how the process works. If your department is known for rigorous defenses, practice your presentation and try to set up a mock defense to help you prepare.

So what can you expect to happen the day of your defense?

Typically (and remember, each chair and department is different so make sure to talk to your chair!), the chair will introduce you and talk a little about your work, then you will be asked to talk about your work. At CGU, this ranges from a few minutes to a 20-25 minute presentation that gives an overview of your project. After this, comes the Q&A--possibly the most anxiety producing part of the defense. Your committee will ask you questions that will help you elaborate on points in your dissertation, and expand on what you chose to include or not, and why. As Prof. Redfield reminded us, at this point, it's appropriate to defend your work, and it's also appropriate to acknowledge any weaknesses. If you don't know, say so, don't pretend you do. It's ok to admit you don't know something but that you'll find out--that's how we learn and grow. This is also why it's appropriate to acknowledge a glitch you hadn't addressed--this is all part of the conversational exchange. At this point in the dissertation process, you should know what you set out to prove, what surprises you found along the way, and how your research differs from that of other scholars, so draw on these ideas as you weave together your responses.

Throughout the conversation, help yourself out by taking time with your responses. A good strategy is to write down the questions you're asked, and to ask for clarification on a question if you need it. Jotting down questions gives you the double advantage of helping you remember what was asked, and allows you to direct your responses as you move between questions. Your chair or committee members may also ask you what you'd change about your project if you had to do it over again, or what you're most pleased with, or consider your most original contribution to the subject.

Towards the end of the defense, your chair will ask you to address what future projects you envision developing out of your study. This is your chance to talk about the journal articles, conference papers, and books you have lined up or are planning. More importantly, this is the time to talk about how you plan to turn your dissertation into a publishable book, and get practical advice from the published scholars on your committee about how to best go about this.

That's the basic process! Once the committee confers in private, they'll then tell you whether or not you've passed. It's very rare that a dissertation is passed as it's submitted for the defense, so don't be surprised if your committee passes you with minor or major revisions. Once again, if you've gotten this far, it's because your chair thinks you're ready to defend. At CGU, we have a window of approximately two weeks after the last-most day to defend to file your final dissertation draft with the Registrar. Often, candidates have about 30 days after their actual defense date to file, so don't put off scheduling it!

Congratulations for finishing this milestone! We'll be calling you Dr. --- very soon!


Useful defense preparation tools:

  • "Defending Your Dissertation: Advice from a Doctoral Program Director and Journal Editor" by Mary Renck Jalongo, Ph.D.

  • "Perform Your Best at Your Orals" by Judith Schweiger Levy, Ph.D.
    (aside: the ABD Survival Guide has lots of good tips for getting through the entire dissertation project)

  • Surviving Your Dissertation by Kjell Erik Rudestam and Rae R. Newton

  • The Portable Dissertation Advisor by Miles T. Bryant
  • Sunday, March 21, 2010

    Congratulations to Everyone Defending!

    Just a quick note to send warm wishes and astonishingly astute thoughts to the members of our group defending their dissertations in the near, near future!

    Marie - March 23
    Tanya - March 25
    Fay - March 25
    Tara - March 26
    Sandra - March 26
    Aya - April 9

    Just a note - even though defenses are open to the public, it's always considered polite form to ask the dissertator first if he or she would like the support. Some people would prefer a private or small defense, and others may have small rooms and large families. So if you're interested in attending a defense, just ask.

    And if there is anyone else scheduled in the group, just send an e-mail.

    Congratulations everyone!

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    Drop and Give Me 20 Paragraphs: The Dissertation Boot Camp

    Dissertating: like Les Miserables, only without the singing

    On Saturday, February 6 and Sunday, February 7, the CGU Writing Center hosted its most recent Dissertation Boot Camp! There were a few changes this time around, including booking two houses to hold more campers.

    At the end of the first day of yoga, Marie reminded the class of an important dissertation adage.

    All grad students are perfectionists...to some extent, that's why we've succeeded this far in academia. But there comes a point in the dissertating process when perfectionism will cripple you. You have to let go - dare to be adequate. The dissertation doesn't need to be the best document known to man, it just has to be finished.

    It has been scientifically proven that snacks bring words to the brain

    As usual, the campers toiled the day away fueled by chocolate, coffee, and miscellaneous fruit.

    Harrison Ford made a brief appearance.

    Marie pie-charting the day away

    For this Boot Camp, we booked the Graduate Student Council House as well as the CGU Writing Center. The GSC house has a full kitchen, several rooms, comfortable couches, a relaxing backyard, and great atmosphere. Thanks for opening your space to us, GSC!

    The balancing act... a skill dissertators must use all the time.

    For this Boot Camp, we were graced with not one, but two days of yoga! Marie lead the group on Saturday and Nancy Sassman returned to lead the group for Sunday.

    Fearless leader pose.

    While it rained and hailed outside, boot campers practiced yoga inside the dry comfort of the GSC house. Thank you again, GSC!

    Give the baristas a chuckle! You might even get a free cup o' joe out of it.

    We also have some Dissertator T-shirts left! Come by the Writing Center to buy one. They cost $12.50. They are available in several sizes, in white and red.

    Use a fabric marker to check off the year of your graduation. Surprisingly, this feels like more of a commitment than any of the official forms!

    Once again, the Boot Camp was a great hit! Thanks to everyone who came and shared their experience and brain power.

    The next camp will be in April! If you've passed your qualifying exams and are working your dissertation, come join us!

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    2010 CA Community Colleges Job Fair

    Okay, so this picture doesn't make a lot of sense here. But it's prettier than a C.V.

    For those of you interested in teaching at the community college level, you may be interested in this job fair:

    2010 California Community Colleges Registry Job Fair

    January 30, 2010
    Westin Los Angeles Airport
    5400 West Century Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90045

    It's free, no registration required.

    Colleges that will be recruiting include: Cuesta College (SanLuis Obispo), El Camino College, Highline College (WA State), MiraCosta College,Portland College (OR State), Santa Barbara City College, Santa Monica College, SouthOrange County Community College District, Yosemite Community College.

    for more information, click here.

    If you're interested in carpooling, we'll send around a sign-up sheet at the next Dissertation Workshop meeting.

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