Thursday, February 25, 2010

Smartest thing I've done while dissertating

Hiring a statistics grad student to run my numbers. You know, the ones I've been struggling to figure out since SEPTEMBER? The ones that could've been done then, if my husband I hadn't been so reluctant to hire them out, and therefore potentially have been done writing this thing by now?

I didn't do it earlier because this is part of getting your degree, you'll need to know them in the future, yadda yadda yadda. Guess what? When none of the professors know it, that's a sign that you won't actually have to know it. And when you aren't familiar with research methods and setting up an experiment so you know what stats to run ahead of time, you end up with much more complicated tests to run. Complicated things that even your psychology committee member, who teaches a stats class himself, can't do.

Then it's time to bring in the big guns. Well, not the really big ones - I checked with an online company that wanted to charge me $2400 to do it. $2400! What a joke. Then of course they said they could do less for half price (which is what I wanted them to do anyway - I don't really want someone else to write my results chapter), but that was still way over the top. Enter stats grad student - smaller guns but the bullets are just as effective.

The happiest day of my dissertation so far was when she emailed me the results.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Writing dreams and writing desperation

I read a literary agent's blog for fun. I daydream about a time when I can write just for fun and become a published author, writing about things that are completely unrelated to this dissertation.

I've wanted to be a writer since grade school (yup, I was that cool), and it wasn't until I got my first B in college in a creative writing class (taught by a teacher that absolutely appalled me) that I thought it might not happen. I promptly gave up my dreams of the next great American novel, eschewed the literature part of my English degree in favor of linguistics, and moved on. And in the process of grad school, discovered something: I really like writing non-fiction. I'm also probably better at writing it than fiction. I love learning, I really like sharing what I've learned, and I've learned how to do that clearly. Score!

How did I get on that tangent?

Anyway, the other day the agent wrote a post about not writing for money (which I don't plan to do), and I was surprised at how much it resonated with my dissertation writing. Of course I'm not making any money off it, but I am approaching it with an almost palpable sense of desperation. She notes:

I've found that when the writing is all mixed up in your mind with a financial need, especially a need that's fraught with anxiety, the writing suffers. Not only that, but the joy is diminished, because the goal has changed (maybe without your even knowing it) from "write a great book" to "pay off my MasterCard."

How do I relate to that?

I've found that when dissertating is all mixed up in your mind with finishing, especially when deadlines are extremely close, the writing suffers. Not only that, but the joy is diminished, because the goal has changed (maybe without your even knowing it) from "write a great dissertation" to "finish the stupid thing."

I imagine most grad students feel this type of desperation at some point or another, and it's a rare grad who is able to balance the desire for perfection (feeling that their dissertation must be their masterpiece) and the desire to move on (feeling that their dissertation is just another hurdle to pass). Most of the time, I'm afraid my desperation shines through to my committee, and I fear that this is a little insulting to them. It's time for me to remember that I can find joy in writing my dissertation.

So today's goal is to rediscover the joy in dissertating. There is some there: the satisfaction of a well-written paragraph, an eye-catching chart, a brilliant point. Today I am focusing on that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nothing like a snow day or two

Today is snow day number two. On Saturday we got a good foot, last night we got 5 inches and another 8 inches is predicted for this afternoon. This is the best time of the year to be in Houston (i.e., the worst time of the year to be someplace besides Houston!). But if it's going to be cold, I do like having the snow along with it!

The good thing about snow days is that you're confined inside. Thanks to the trash on tv, you're more specifically confined to your computer, which allowed me to finish my revision of chapter 3! I don't actually think it's that great, but it's great that I finished it!

That means I've now sent revisions of chapters 1-3 to my adviser. Cross your fingers and say a prayer that she gets around to reading them at some point!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Now taking bets...

On whether my adviser will read the drafts of my first two chapters by the end of the month.

Specifically, by February 26, the degree conferral deadline. If she gets back to me and says they look good, there is hope for actually getting my degree in May! If she doesn't get back to me or says they need more work, I will likely not defend until April - therefore still finishing this spring, but not technically getting my degree 'til December. Either way, I will finish by May, but I'd really like to push and be completely finished by then.

The plan is to call and email my professor every other day, starting Monday. Literally. I contemplated giving her the weekends off, but she might be more likely to read it then, so I probably will continue pestering her. She's told me to do it so many times that I'm really going to take her up on it for the next couple months!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's the point?

I am having a hard time putting together the opening paragraph of my dissertation. I realized this afternoon it's because I have no idea what point I want to make. I barely knew it before, but now that I've reorganized I'm having to think even harder. What is the overarching goal? What's the big question I'm trying to answer? (Do I even have one?!)

Hm. Is it a bad thing to be writing a dissertation when I don't know what I want to say?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Put the scissors down

I may be getting a little happy with the "cut" command. I have now deleted so much from my first chapter that it's a little over half its original length. I keep telling myself I'm just making it tighter? (Even though my adviser told me to pad it...)

Usually I can't bear to part with these major cuts. So to make it easier on myself, I made a second document, where I'm pasting everything that I cut, with a sentence above saying why I cut it. Just in case my adviser says "What about where you talked about X? Why'd you take that out?" Then I can just paste it right back in. Better safe than sorry!