Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A belated and happy conclusion

After recently discussing this long lost blog with a friend in the depths of writing her dissertation, I realized I never posted the finale/conclusion to my own dissertation writing adventure! That November of 2011 I was finally victorious! After a challenging and constructive defense, I anxiously sat outside while the committee deliberated my fate.  Then my co-chair, MC, came out, called me "doctor" and received my enthusiastic hug (which nearly toppled him over).

My chapter on Thackeray & India was published that spring, I presented on Thackeray & America at NAVSA in Pasadena in October (a venture which my fulfilling tenure track job at DCCC funded) and am set to present on Thackeray & Ireland at the MACBS in Atlanta this fall.  

As I sit in this coffee shop, the familiar position of latte at my right elbow and neck crooked over my laptop keyboard, and I churn out a whimsical paper on Frances Trollope and her reflections of America for the upcoming British Women's Writers Conference, I wanted to note that it was worth it.  My adviser smartly "advised" me that while pursuing your PhD, you'll wake up one morning and wonder what happened to your 20s.  She was right, but the academic/career destination to which that PhD delivered me in my 30s is rather fantastic.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Set back...

So, we've hit a setback and have bumped back the date a few weeks.  Trying not to get too bummed out... as long as I walk in December! Chin up... kind of...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sign Sealed and Delivered!

Holy Hallelujah Batman! The dissertation is done! God bless Kyle and Jax for formatting it for me--I mail it out tomorrow and await the defense.  I didn't think I was going to be able to address all of the edits, write an intro, write an abstract, but it's done, really done!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Worst Week

This has been the hardest week of my life, and it doesn't end until Thursday afternoon when I mail out hard copies of my dissertation two weeks before the defense.  I've been revising my chapters according to edits and recommendations from my adviser and co-chair, which are spot on by the way, and made the whole thing so much stronger! But have yet to attend to my introduction and conclusion! Must push forward though, as my adviser is flying in from her new University--rescheduling is just not an option.  It's come down to just working as much as I possibly can and accomplishing what I need to accomplish.  It's unreal what you can make yourself do when you simply have to!

Poor Craig has been reduced to errand boy (driving the hour into U-Penn where his student ID grants me access to all texts Ivy League) and my grad assistant, looking up historical data I need to back up my claims regarding Thackeray's perceptions of Jewish and black citizens in Victorian London: not sure which role he prefers... It's frightening how much he knows now regarding all thing Victorian.  Ask him not only who wrote The Prime Minister but how it ends and what this reveals about nineteenth-century Antisemitism, I dare you!

He goes back to work tomorrow, so in this regard I'll be on my own.  But I have incredible IT savvy family and my brother and father are ready to help me format the monstrosity, currently 220 pages and counting.... Onward and upward.....

Sunday, August 28, 2011

48 hrs to submitting Chapter Four...

I should get back to writing! I have about 10 pages to go and Chapter Four (of four) will be complete.  I submit it to my adviser on Aug. 31, then have two weeks to rework my intro, write a five page conclusion, edit chapters three and four, and format the whole thing! On top of this, I'm teaching at two colleges (four sections; two courses), but when you have to accomplish something, you just do!

So to motivate myself, here are a list of things I look forward to upon defending:

  1. Never paying another semester bill at SUNY Binghamton
  2. Returning 100+ books to two different libraries 
  3. Seeing the surface of my dining room table, coffee table and nightstand
  4. Watching bad TV without feeling guilty
  5. Going for a hike without feeling guilty
  6. Going out to dinner, a movie, a friend's house, a bar, a road trip, or Vegas with my girlfriends without feeling guilty!
  7. Joking that I'm the kind of doctor that is of absolutely no use in an emergency situation
  8. Having my students call me "Dr. Ray" for one class, then going back to "Susan"
  9. Telling my husband it was worth it
  10. Thanking my family for supporting me through this and actually coming through
  11. Having this tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders

Okay! Sufficiently motivated, now back to work!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Still in the Game!

So a friend has reminded me that I haven't posted in 6 weeks and I'm horrified at how quickly time passes! We're established at the new place in Blue Bell and really happy here; it just absolutely feels right! Even the dog and cat seem pleased, though less enthusiastic about being permanently reunited.  I start teaching Composition & Business Writing at two colleges nearby and they have been amazing as well, both the people and the facilities and I look forward to meeting the students next week.

As for the dissertation! Chapter Three has been submitted, but I find myself struggling over Chapter Four, the final piece.  I've been told that things click towards the end, that you clearly see it as a cohesive whole and everything falls into place, yet I find myself struggling.  Also, I've decided I need to read one of the Thackeray novels I've somehow overlooked (all whopping 720 pages of it) in the next to days to incorporate a fascinating character... Having created a day by day breakdown of what needs to be accomplished by Aug. 31 to submit this chapter before September (thus leaving myself two weeks for editing) I'm trying to remain positive, but all of those middle-school anxieties and self-doubts persist.  But admittedly, I see the light at the end of the tunnel and am reminded of Tom Hank's quote in  A League of Their Own: "If it was easy everyone would do it" and my dad's comment "You don't have to be a genius to get your PhD, it's about diligence.  I actually know a lot of stupid people with PhDs..." or something to that regard ;-)  More soon...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chapter 3: A Deadline and a Schedule

Well, peeps, I'm finally working on Chapter 3...or something similar to working. After I struggled for a while to get this chapter started, I decided one day to just pick a thing and start working on that. So far I have rewatched West Side Story and reread Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. At the moment I am reading Hansberry's informal autobiography, To Be Young, Gifted and Black, in search of leads for my chapter. In other words, I'm not sure what I'm looking for, but I continue to read in hopes that I'll find whatever I am looking for.

In other news, I put together a concise outline for my dissertation for the rest of the academic year. My goal is to be Dr. S by May 2012. I am two chapters in, and I have two more chapters left to write. I also have to work on the intro and a conclusion, but these sections don't worry me as much. Honestly, I think I could sit down and write half of the intro this weekend if I had to--operative phrase being "HAD TO." When my advisor saw I planned to hand in my draft of chapter 3 at the end of September, she suggested I be more ambitious and submit it at the end of August. I'm too proud to back off from a challenge, so I agreed to September 3rd. That's the date.

Of course, after I emailed her that date, I panicked. Now I have to write it before September 3rd! Because I work best with deadlines and guidelines, I put together a mini-schedule.

The physical process of me trying to figure out how to write a dissertation chapter in 7 weeks.

This looks a lot better...

Last week was Week 1 of my schedule. During Week 1 I was supposed to put together a work plan and do some research (aside from the writing and reading that are supposed to happen anyway). I have yet to dive head first into the research. I'm not sure why I'm postponing it (does looking for one book in my library's database count?), but it's Week 2 of my fantabulous schedule and no research yet.

Frankly, I'm having trouble focusing and staying on track. I think part of the problem is that I'm not sure what I want to say yet. I have written plenty of ideas, things that I could delve into about both texts: Cold War urban politics, violence against minorities in cities, white flight to the suburbs, Broadway...I know, I know: wasn't I supposed to be looking only at New York City in my dissertation? Yup. But I feel that Hansberry's play is crucial to this conversation about urban space and home, even if I am focusing on New York City in my dissertation. And even though West Side Story is not written by Puerto Ricans, it represented Puerto Ricans in urban space and propelled these representations to a mainstream audience.

So where do I go from there? Sometimes I feel like I don't have a clear focus yet. Other times I feel like I shouldn't even be writing about these texts and I should just start over. (I have written and presented on West Side Story before. It's something I can talk about at length. But for some reason I feel like I am at a loss for words right now.) So I come here to share my ideas and get feedback. I need a sounding board for the thoughts inside my head...

My bigger problem is that I am worn out and feeling more and more anxious every day. Instead of moving my chapter forward, my daily writing just reminds me of how aimless I feel and how I have no clue where this is going. My writing so far has consisted in me talking out ideas and questions I have, but nothing that I could use to start writing chapter 3. Also, I'm starting to feel constrained by the research. I'm avoiding doing the research because I don't know where to go. I am avoiding the writing because I haven't done much research. It's a vicious cycle, as you can see.

I'm hoping by this time next week I am in a better place and that the gears are in motion. So far I've had two suggestions offered to me (both via Twitter):

1) Just sit down and write the chapter (or at least a bulk of it). Do research and insert quotations AFTER you write. (via my tweep @readywriting)

2) Take a short break from dissertation work (a few days? a week?) to stop feeling anxious and reboot my energy level. My tweeps @jovanevery and @escapeivrytower suggested I don't see this break as me being lazy but rather me recharging my batteries.

(Thank you, ladies!)

At any rate, I'm hoping to finish reading Hansberry's autobiography this week and write an abstract of what I think my chapter is going to do. I'm hoping it helps me decide once and for all what direction I'll be taking this chapter in, before I take my break from dissertation work.

Any other suggestions, dear readers? Am I the only one who gets anxious when starting a new chapter? How do you tackle the writing? What's your writing process like?