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.


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