Here’s the next iteration of my dissertation proposal, a big step up from the first version. By “big step up,” I mean that it’s written in complete sentences (I think!) instead of bullet points, actually references specific pieces of literature, and (maybe?) even describes the project in a way that’s understandable to someone who’s not on my committee.
That having been said: not done yet. Good grief. The process of getting through my prelim is a grueling one that I am glad for, because it’s exposing so many structural weaknesses in my practice as a scholar. These are highly related to what Ignatius might call my “disordered attachments” as a person — that which leads me away from being the best Mel I could be. I did not expect my prelim to be a spiritual exercise, but there are some definite connections. For instance, as Robin said, “you tend to hide out when you are really struggling.” Yup! Escapism! Because the best way not to disappoint the world is to hide from it until you can prove your worthiness All By Yourself, right?
Right. So I told her that, look, I don’t want to squeak through this exam with a paper produced by a crappy process (of running away, and slipping deadlines, and late-night work sprints with terrible ergonomics) even if the paper itself might squeeze itself over the bar. (I’m not convinced this paper does that in the first place.) I want to pass with a good process, a way of working professionally with my committee, a way of working in a steady and satisfying manner on scholarly writing — none of which I have right now. (I’m so sorry, committee.) It won’t be a perfect process, but I want it to at least be one I’d be ok using (and improving on) for the remainder of my dissertation — a baseline habit I can build on for my career as a professor. That good process should produce a good paper and a happy, humanely rested and non-anxious Mel.
So, what things need to improve for the next version? Freewriting below.
On a mechanical level: the typesetting is wonky; I want to fix that by finishing my implementation of a workflow that will automate its beautiful creation. For this round, I experimented with github, tex, and Scrivener for writing workflow, which works much better than writing in one giant LibreOffice document. However, I didn’t fully finish creating that workflow, so this version’s typesetting/references were ultimately done via the method of ”argh I don’t have time to figure out these formatting configurations so I’m going to copy-paste into LibreOffice and edit inconsistently in WYSIWYG.”
Side bonus for finishing that workflow (which should not take me more than a day to finish up): a better implementation of “release early, release often” that automatically pushes my daily edits to github. I’m trying to get away from my habit of hiding my scholarly work, which is really misaligned for someone who gives talks and teaches workshops on “release early, release often” and the importance of transparency in research.
Also on a mechanical level: my references section is undisciplined. Zotero continues to be a Very Good Idea despite its suboptimal search functionality, and I’d like to get in the habit of inserting and cleaning up every reference I put in a paper. I almost always do this, but sometimes I use the Magic Import Tool and live with whatever capitalization, punctuation, missing fields, etc. it populates until it’s Time To Ship A Paper, when I need to go back and fix what I didn’t fix before. But mm, citation/notes management. Such a good thing to be comfy with, and I am proud that I am. Freewriting, reverse-outlining, and shuffling around index cards for outlining are also a comfortable part of my workflow now, which is awesome.
On more than a mechanical level, I get a little vague. I need to not look at this document for a little while before I can answer that question. Actually, I need outside feedback. So I’ll rest and let that happen for a bit. But I suspect I could benefit from another round of reverse-outlining, pruning, re-outlining, and fleshing-out to structure my ideas into a more logical flow of support. And I suspect I could use the literature better as support structures, especially for the sections on existing faculty development scholarship and change. Currently those sections are “hey, here’s a paper/book on this, and now I wave my hands around!”
I do want to say that I am really proud of myself for making work lower priority this semester. More important than work: consistently nurturing my physical (exercising, sleeping, eating well, stretching and bodywork), social (taking dedicated time to really be present with friends and family), and spiritual (prayer, Mass) selves. When those things are in balance, I do better work, and I learn more from the work I do (and the mistakes I make while doing it). My intellectual side is healthier when it’s not overemphasized.
If I ever have graduate students myself, and they are reading this post in the future, I just want to say: working on this draft involved a lot of angst, frustration, late nights, and more than a few tears, and I’m not done yet. I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’ve been avoiding the people who could help me with it because these are my professors! and I love and respect them tremendously and don’t want to waste their time! And I want to show them (and myself) that I am Really Good At Stuff and Worthy of Existence by producing perfect work via a perfect process, and boy is this output and process totally not worthy of anyone’s time, and… well, it’s hard to capture the thought patterns in words, but if you picture me slouched in bed at 5am desperately swigging water from a massive gallon jug as a nervous tic while alternating between writing Yet Another Passive Voice Sentence and going “aaah aah it’s not done yet aaah,” you might get a bit of the jumbled picture I’ve been feeling like. I’m writing from an agonizing sense of knowing what it’s like to be midway through this apprenticeship, fumbling in a fog, repeatedly dropping my sense of direction and self-confidence only to have it dusted off and handed to me again by some very kind colleague or mentor in the middle of a panicked hour.
Someday I will be on the other side of that dynamic. Right now, I’m on this side. And right now, here’s what I’ve got.