Below, is part one of a five-part series on the dos and don’ts of thesis writing by PhD Candidate Eric Jardine.
Part I. The Lulls
I have now submitted the final “draft” of my dissertation, which will be sent out to my committee and my two external examiners. It has been a long haul. I have been in the PhD program at NPSIA for five years now. Since I have the next several weeks to sit on my hands and wait for my defence (should one go ahead), I decided to briefly put down my thoughts on the dissertation process, particularly how to get from a prospectus to a finished draft.
My first thought on the matter involves what I would call the milestone productivity lulls. As the name implies, these lulls in activity can happen every time you reach a milestone, and there are many in a project the size of a dissertation. For instance, a completed prospectus, a completed draft of a chapter, a finished theory section, finished fieldwork, coding and so forth are all significant milestone that, once completed, give you a sense of satisfaction that can lead to a decrease in your efforts.
In my dissertation process, I faced two milestone productivity lulls. The first occurred after my prospectus defence. I found that the buildup, effort, focus and excitement of drafting a prospectus (and successfully defending it) produced feelings of satisfaction and completion. Both are warranted, but both are dangerous. I defended my first prospectus in November, wrote a second one that was approved by December and then I just stopped. My focus drifted and my dissertation research was put to the side. It took until April to return to my research. A celebration and a break are certainly deserved after a successful prospectus defence. But, I would caution those that are now embarking on their dissertation research to mind the milestone productivity lull that can sneak in between their prospectus defence and the start of the “actual” research. It is tempting to tell yourself that you have taken a good step down the road towards completing your dissertation by defending your proposal. I know I certainly felt that way. Now, at the other end of the project, and my project stayed more in line with the second prospectus that I wrote than I suspect most do, I find that the feeling of having completed something significant with the successful defence of my prospectus was kind of silly. Do enjoy your success, but don’t rest upon your laurels.
For me, the second milestone productivity lull fell after I completed the theory development portion of my dissertation. At that point, I had a pretty good theory developed, in my opinion, and I was confident that I could test various parts of it in a way that would be compelling enough. Here again, I stopped. This time, while I was happy with the theory that I had developed and proud of what I had accomplished thus far, the main reason why I didn’t jump right into the testing was that I was nervous (not quite the right word) about having to start a new and significant step of the dissertation. The best way to sum up the feeling, I think, is to compare it to cleaning a really dirty kitchen or undertaking some other large task. Where do you start? Sometimes the job just seems so big that you don’t want to start anywhere, so you rationalize and convince yourself that you can start later. In the end, the job needs to get done, but how quickly it happens is up to you. I cannot recall the exact length of break that I took during this second lull, but I know it was a couple of months at least. In the end, it was just wasted time.
Part II. The Value of Putting Words on a Page: To be posted April 09, 2014.