Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer Boot Camp 2012 ... last day!

What?!! It's over? ....
Phew.... I made it.

On Day 2, the five days ahead of us stretched out. Day 4 ... time began sprinting.
And suddenly we find ourselves at the end of this glorious week at Grove House.

We're sorry it's over. But it's a good stopping place.
(notice we're not talking about endings ... because this goes on).

We're ready to decompress over the weekend, easing back into  messy reality with our multiple roles and responsibilities, unpredictability, and, always, a little chaos at the edges. But we hope with the strategies we've gleaned through the practice and reflection this week, and through the exchange of insights and ideas in break-time and reflection conversations, we are equipped to re-enter our lives with new patterns of action for getting work done.

Lessons learned:
be kind to yourself
write in small chunks
.... and breathe
keep writing
take breaks
laugh a lot
talk about your work
eat beautiful colourful food
keep writing
reflect and sharpen your practice
find your full-throated scholarly voice
keep writing...

for the nutritious, delicious food
so beautifully made and presented

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer 2012 Dissertation Boot Camp Day 4

Today we arrived at the very center of boot camp.

For some it has been a hard day, that middle of the journey low, not helped by the fact that unlike the last three days it's been a little less windy and therefore a little more hot. We're more tired and sleepy.

For others there was a sense of a quickening in time. On Day 2 boot camp stretched out for 5 more days, a whole work-week's worth of time. Suddenly we have just 3 days left till the end.

Our speaker today was Prof. Josh Goode from History.

 He was a great speaker, sharing his own dissertation process, what kept him going. His key point was that the dissertation writing process is often seen as an infantalizing process, but it need not be so. Writing a dissertation is about finding your scholarly voice, taking your place on the stage, putting your work into the world. And critical in the transition to doing is taking control and having agency in the writing of your dissertation. This last - agency - includes everything from not letting dissertation anxiety run your life to articulating your ideas with confidence in your scholarship, what Prof. Goode referred to with his wonderful image of developing a "full-throated scholarly voice".

Some ways to do this:
  1. Have a schedule. Even if it is an hour a day, find what works for you and stick with it. Prof. Goode shared something his friend, a prolific writer, says "Ass in chair!" For the time you are committed to writing, you write. 
  2. Use down time - when you are not generating content, when you are tired - to do "clean up" work like looking for more citations, looking for and correcting documentation glitches, basic editing. 
  3. Keep a notebook handy at all times to catch and write down the random ideas and thoughts about your work that occur to you at the oddest times ... when you're frying onions for instance! This is also useful in your writing time when tangential ideas that belong in other chapters occur to you, or ideas that can be later turned into articles. 
  4. For some people, working on multiple chapters at the same time work; when you get tired or stuck in one chapter, you can switch over and work on another one. This does not work for everyone, but if it works for you, it's a great way to keep writing for the time you've committed to writing even if you get stuck, because there is always something else to work on. 
Prof. Goode also spoke about the job search process. While many grad students look for jobs before they have completed their dissertations, his experience being on search committees is that there is a preference for candidates who have finished. So it may be best to focus on finishing rather than diluting one's focus with job hunting and the massive time and energy it demands. This is especially true if one is juggling job, family, and dissertation. Do we really need to add the stress of job-hunting to our lives?

On the value of teaching experience ... While there will always be faculty who look down their noses at teaching, on the whole a resume that shows teaching experience is a plus.

Should we include student evaluations in our applications? According to Prof. Goode, this is a good practice, but the reality is that many search committees are not really going to read through them. However, given the logical assumption that a job candidate would only include good reviews, including a good number of evaluations shows - through volume - your quality of teaching. Also, in the cover letter one could add something like "included are some student evaluations of my teaching, and more can be supplied if needed"; this indicaates both cirsumspection of not overloading the application as well as the implication of the large number of positive evaluations the candidate has.

Does adjuncting for more than 2 years sound a career death knell? No ... ONLY IF one remains a scholar, publishing, conferencing, and otherwise being active in the discipline. If we do this, then the only difference between us and the tenure track professor is that we've not yet found a job. The important thing in getting hired is the scholarly profile we have and this need not be thin merely because we're adjuncting.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer 2012 Dissertation Boot Camp Day 3

Today was MOTIVATION focus day.

We started the day with a workshop on motivation by Kim Perkins (SBOS). Kim is a 3-time inline skating champion, who is currently a doctoral candidate herself working on the topic of competition.

It was a thought provoking, challenging workshop for many of us. However, understanding procrastination not merely as putting off doing something, but going deeper into exploring our procrastination styles was useful. Do I procrastinate because I am avoiding something, being a perfectionist, or simply because I like and am habituated to the thrill of last minute rush?

Kim shared a wonderful image about deadlines from author Douglas Adams (of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy fame) who was brilliant at missing deadlines, and who said how he loved the sound of deadlines whooshing past!

... dissertators know that sound!

So with Kim's framing questions we began thinking about setting deadlines that work. Clearly, this is not a thing to be solved in a morning, or even a week. But it began stirring up the mud, raising questions, feelings, illuminating habituated patterns of behaviour we have, deep seated issues and concerns. I think in the days and weeks to come, if we return to this worksheet a few times, we might begin to get glimmerings of ideas that will work for us.

No short cuts ... just an ever evolving process.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer 2012 Dissertation Boot Camp - DAY 2

As with most second days, we began more slowly. People lingered over breakfast a little and it was 8:45 am (15 minutes later than planned) when we began our first writing block. But this is typical; it is so nice to chat with others who really get it about the dissertation process.But once we got going after setting our goals, it felt like a solid work session.

Like yesterday, time flew by and we got to our morning stretch break with Vanessa really fast.

Vanessa Kettering (SBOS) who also works at the Writing Centre led us through a short but very energizing stretch break on the mounds. At the end, we did a walking meditation and then a group or circle massage (VERY nice!!). There was no time for hammocks this morning ... but more than a few people checked them out. Maybe after lunch...

At the end of the stretch break there was a palpable rise in energy. Some people remarked on how much more energized they felt and ready to write. Someone said, "I felt happier in the middle of the session". I know that lately, I've realized (again!!) the importance of our physical selves as part of any effort to lead a productive life, and how little time I give myself to be outside in natural light and beauty. There are physiological and emotional benefits that really support working effectively. When I remember to breathe, stretch, and pay attention to my surroundings, my mind feels more rested and ready to work. When I immerse myself in work without any physical and nature breaks, I keep working but in a plodding, unhappy manner.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Summer 2012 Dissertation Boot Camp - DAY 1

This summer’s dissertation boot camp is a 7-day camp, and held at the wonderfully-conducive-to-writing Grove House at Pitzer College. As one dissertator said after breakfast and orientation under the natural canopy of the outdoor classroom, “It’s like a vacation…”. Of course, this was BEFORE he had begun confronting his writing! But really, the broad porch, the outdoor classroom, and the old, comfortable-lived-in rooms in the house are great spaces for focusing on writing. It’s totally like a retreat from the whirlwind we call life, into a calm haven that supports writing and the building of good writing habits. 

If you’re curious about this amazing community house, check out this online project about it that was done as a senior thesis by Pitzer student, Leah Wellman Quayle.

DAY ONE: Dissertating at the Grove House
Early arrivals. Not too many got lost. So we got started early and ended up with time for a 2 hour first block of writing in the morning instead of one. YAY!!!
Everyone has a table, covered in the white butcher paper that has become almost iconically connected with dissertation boot camps. Some are in the three little rooms at the back of the house, and the rest upstairs in the poetry room overlooking the front, and the gallery space. But this is early summer in Southern California and we anticipate most people taking their laptops down to the living room and outdoor areas to write. 
...which they totally did! 
First order of business was breakfast and getting to know each other in the outdoor classroom … “just like going to summer camp!” And then to the accompaniment of the sound of planes from the flying school at nearby Cable Airport, we went over introductions, boot camp best practices and rules, and the week’s schedule.

Writing goals for Day 1

We spent some time on group work to share and discover niggling challenges that get in the way of dissertating, and ideas we have for over-coming these challenges, best practices to keep dissertation writing moving smoothly forward.

Overheard: "Wow! We have great strategies ... pity we're not so good at using them ..."

And that's the foundational goal at our week long boot camp - learning to put strategies into practice. This is the week to discover how we work best, and find ways to sustain writing when we're not at boot camp.
I found a nice image in the aeroplane interruptions that I will remember. At first I was a little bothered about having to constantly pause in discussion to wait for the sound to ebb as the plane passed. But then I realized it reminded me of when I write – without pause – and get so lost in detail and thinking with the writing that I run out of steam or ideas or both. Periodically waiting to pause … and breathe ...  creates moments of stillness that refocus the mind. (The extra burst of oxygen doesn’t hurt either).
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You're Not Alone - Here are some of the members of our group!