Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Inevitable Dissertation Post

So, here's the thing about my dissertation. I would really like to write it in two years. This seems reasonable to me, and is in keeping with my department's time-to-degree expectations. Theoretically, this is supposed to be a five year program: two years of coursework leading to an MA, and one year of specialized coursework leading to a dissertation proposal and subsequent advancement to candidacy. I've managed to stick to this timeline, although the constant bureaucratic hurdles have not made it easy.

But that then leaves you two years to write your dissertation. Which sounds fine, but I have run into a complicating factor: ideally, one would like to have a fellowship for their last year of dissertation writing, so that you don't have to teach while you are finishing up and applying for jobs. For me, that would mean getting a fellowship for next year. However, fellowship applications are due in the fall and winter of the preceding year, i.e., now--the first one is due November 15. And these applications all require you to submit at least one completed chapter. To summarize, in my mind this means that if I want to finish in two years, I need to have completed a dissertation chapter by November 15, and it needs to be Good.

I am somewhat optimistic that I will be able to do this. I've done a lot of research, and have written a good chunk. I've given myself a November 1 deadline at which I need to have a fairly polished draft to distribute to committee members for revisions. I have two more research ends that need to be tied up, both of which will be hopefully solved next week with a quick trip to Chicago and a even quicker trip back to the Getty.

It means, though, that I need to write. A lot. And I am finding this difficult. The subject of this chapter is a topic that I have been working on since I was a junior in college. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on it. I have written several seminar papers on it. I have given several conference papers on it. I have published on it, I have been cited on it. I know this topic.

And yet, writing everything I know about this subject down, in the form of a dissertation chapter, is extraordinarily difficult. I am pulled in two different directions: on the one hand, I despair at fitting everything into one chapter, and mercilessly cut down excess points that seem tangential. On the other hand, I find myself questioning every single little point, checking every fact, re-thinking every argument, knowing that this time, above all, everything I write needs to be right in some fundamental way.

Phew. I can do this. I just need to stop thinking, and start writing. My goal is to write ten pages today. I'm hoping that by blogging this goal, I will have to stick to it!

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