Archive for the ‘dissertation’ Category

Long ago, around the time I was starting graduate school, or maybe even when I was still just considering it, I recall someone telling me something to the effect that you finish graduate school once you reach a point where you hate your dissertation. Or being a graduate student. Something like that. The upshot was that it’s once you’ve had your fill of being a grad student and writing a dissertation that you hunker down and finish.

Well, I think I’m about at that point.

Essentially, I took a whole year off from working on my dissertation. I finished the first full draft at the end of January 2009, and while I read through it a couple of months later to do some proofreading, it was only in early February 2010 that I sat down to start making revisions.

I was fortunate that the comments I had from my readers were extremely positive and indicated that there weren’t major problems. There were some things that I needed to fix, a few points that needed more explanation or development, but it was all relatively minor.

Anyway, earlier this month, after I finished writing lectures for the quarter, I finally got around to starting the revisions. I looked through the comments I received on my drafts, made a list of corrections, pulled out the relevant books, and got cracking. It took a little more than a week to get through the initial pass. The worst of it was the beginning, since the biggest revision was rejiggering the introduction and first chapter, mostly to shift sections around, but it also required me to reshape Chapter 1 slightly.

I submitted the revised Introduction and Chapter 1 to my writing group as my quarterly contribution and got some helpful feedback. Today I finally got down to making those changes, though I probably didn’t do justice to all the feedback my colleagues offered.

I’m just finding it hard to summon the motivation to make substantial changes. A large part of it, I suspect, is that I’ve known I could more or less coast on the initial draft I finished writing last year. And I’ve certainly improved upon that, based on the comments from my committee and my writing group. But I also feel like I’m at a point of diminishing marginal returns, where it would take an obscene expenditure of time and effort to generate minor improvements in quality.

On some level, I’m telling myself I can get away with what I have because it leaves something to revise if and when I publish my dissertation as an honest-to-goodness book in the next few years. But I’ve also been writing my dissertation like a book manuscript to minimize the amount of work I’d have to do down the road. And my committee members have commented that they’re impressed that my dissertation reads more like a book than a dissertation.

Anyway, I just feel more and more like I’m ready to throw in the towel and run out the clock. The sooner I decide I’m finished with revisions, the sooner I can give it to my committee and schedule my defense. And the sooner I defend, the sooner I can advance to goofing off until graduation.

It’s just odd, because in a lot of ways I feel like I have senioritis, even though I’m a (theoretically) responsible adult and on the cusp of receiving my doctorate. It’s also odd because I don’t think I really suffered from senioritis in high school or college.

Of course, I still have the important task of deciding whether to change the title of my dissertation. I’ve been using the same boring descriptive title I’ve been using ever since I had to list a working title on grant applications several years ago. But more recently I’ve been toying with the idea of changing to something quirkier or cleverer, or at least resurrecting the informal title I devised long ago: “Springtime for Dubček and Slovakia.” I haven’t decided.

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Well, I managed to finish writing lectures and other course preparation for my class this quarter, with about two weeks to spare. I still have to deliver the last four lectures, and hold office hours, and, most tragically, grade the second set of papers and the final. But, I consider all that fairly easy, even if grading tends to be tedious.

I also managed to rework the epilogue to my dissertation last night, which was mainly  a question of chopping sections and adding about a paragraph at the end. It probably took me less time, it turns out, than I spent creating a section with all the illustrations and images in my dissertation. The pictures are getting relegated to a separate section at the end, mostly because I don’t know Word well enough to figure out how to insert images into the chapters in a way that doesn’t look awkward or leave ugly sections of white space at the bottom of pages. It’s inelegant, but at this juncture it should be sufficient for the purpose of giving a full draft to my committee.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to get the course prep and dissertation stuff out of the way so I can shift to other urgent tasks, chiefly writing the twenty lectures I have to give in my monthlong European survey that starts about a month from now.

I’ve been dreading having to produce enough content to fill five two-hour lectures a week. I’m making it a bit easier on myself by integrating regular discussions into the course, and there’s one film, plus the exams are both in class. But, even with all that, I’m still on the hook for about thirty-four hours of lecture. For comparison’s sake, I’m going to end up giving about sixteen lectures totaling twenty-three hours this quarter.

I’m at the point where I’m trying to start writing lectures for the summer, since I don’t want to have to write eight and a half hours of lecture a week during the summer, particularly since I’ll also have plenty of grading to do in a compressed period.

And really, that’s at the root of the challenge, trying to teach a course that would normally span eleven weeks in just four and a half.

It’s pretty daunting, I’ll admit, but I can’t allow myself to get overwhelmed since I’ll almost certainly have a similarly onerous teaching burden at my first job, where I can expect to be teaching three or four courses a term. At least by then I’ll have the advantage of having a few courses and several lectures in the can, but it’s similarly unattractive as a prospect.

Anyway, the other task I’d like to get done in the not-too-distant future is revising and polishing a paper I’ve been working on based on work I presented at a conference last fall. I had a request to submit it for possible publication, and it’s an open-ended thing without a firm deadline, but I did say I was hoping to have submitted it last month, and I’d really like to get it out of the way before long so I can actually take off the two months after my summer course and relax for a long while.

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Doctors think a minor league novelty, the “Fifth Third Burger” on sale this season at the home of the West Michigan Whitecaps, is worthy of its own warning.

A 4,800-calorie burger offered by a minor league baseball team this season has been branded a “dietary disaster.”

The 4-pound, $20 burger features five beef patties, five slices of cheese, nearly a cup of chili and liberal doses of salsa and corn chips — all on an 8-inch bun.

Staff dietitian Susan Levin of the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine sent a letter to the West Michigan Whitecaps on Tuesday. She’s asking that the monster burger be labeled a “dietary disaster” that increases the risk of cancer and heart disease.


Still, the more amusing thing was seeing CNBC’s business reporter, Darren Rovell (who, incidentally, was the sports director the one quarter I worked for the campus radio’s sports division at the beginning of my college years), trying to eat this monstrosity.

(Video of Darren attempting to get two and a half days’ worth of calories at the link.)

Perhaps the best part of the video is when Darren tries to eat it on “Stop Trading” with Jim Cramer as Cramer and some other talking head discuss stocks, but at one point Cramer digresses from his snake oil pitch to remark on how “I find that somewhat disturbing.”

So, there you have it. Cramer doesn’t get outraged about his role in egging on the bubble and manipulating the stock market, but a behemoth burger disturbs him “somewhat.”

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For some odd and illogical reason, I decided this week to tackle the unpleasant job of sifting through all the footnotes in my dissertation to make sure I had my citations entered according to the proper citation style and hadn’t accidentally given multiple full citations for the same source.

It sounded like a simple task, the sort of thing I could hammer out in a couple of hours.

Boy, I was way off.

As you can see below, here’s what the actual task looked like:

Prologue: 17 pages, 18 notes

Chapter 1: 19 pages, 27 notes

Chapter 2: 46 pages, 89 notes

Chapter 3: 50 pages, 97 notes

Chapter 4: 46 pages, 93 notes

Chapter 5: 39 pages, 69 notes

Chapter 6: 38 pages, 67 notes

Chapter 7: 46 pages, 88 notes

Chapter 8: 33 pages, 67 notes

Epilogue: 8 pages, 9 notes

In case you didn’t bother counting, that’s a grand total of 342 pages with 624 footnotes. I converted them to endnotes and just printed the notes pages so I could edit them more easily, and wound up with forty-five pages of single-spaced text. I actually only counted up all this stuff after the fact, which is probably a good thing, since it might’ve been too daunting to know in advance exactly how deep I was getting myself.

Of course, this is probably one of those cases where I’d have been better off using Zotero (or EndNote, the commercial equivalent) to create my actual footnotes. But for reasons described on the “Tech of Diss” page on this blog, I decided it to pass on that. I doubt Zotero would’ve saved me much time when it came to creating the footnotes originally, but it probably would’ve spared me the hassle of having to fix individually every instance of a single source. Live and learn.

It also didn’t help matters that I’d pick up on one thing to correct — say, truncating the subsequent references to a single archival source —  halfway into my editing, which meant I’d have to go back to the beginning to make sure I caught all of them. So, I wound up having to make multiple passes, which is why it took the better part of three days to get it all done.

Still, I’ll probably have to do this again later on, once my committee reads the whole thing and gives me recommendations for changes. And I still want to rewrite the Prologue and Chapter 1. Plus, I still have another chore of a task ahead of me in inserting the images into my text. Right now a lot of notes have reminders that I need to insert the picture in question.

Oh well. That’s a task for another (three) day(s).

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Apologies to all three of you who read this blog for not posting much the past several days, but I have a good reason.

I managed to finish drafting Chapter 8 last night, then wrote the Epilogue (by which I mean I mostly copied the introduction to an article I published last month that served the purpose) tonight, which means I’ve completed a full draft of the entire dissertation!


It’s still a rough draft. I’ll probably have to revisit the last couple of chapters or so and beef them up a little so that I hammer home one of my big arguments all the way to the end. And I haven’t even reread Chapter 8 or the Epilogue, so there are probably typos and other random errors, along with prose that doesn’t make sense. I also think I might need to add a bit of a summary or recap to the end of Chapter 8 or somewhere in the Epilogue, because I don’t think I sum up the dissertation well enough as it currently stands. And even more importantly, I still need to give the lion’s share of the dissertation to my committee, since two of my committee members have only seen the first three chapters, and the third (I did secure a third member this week) has seen none of it. So I can expect to need to make plenty of changes and revisions once they’ve gone through it.

Still, I am rather pleased with myself for managing to draft an entire 343-page dissertation — a prologue, eight chapters and an epilogue — in seven months, even if close to half of it was cribbed almost wholesale from papers I’ve written previously. I suppose if you take those parts into account, it’s taken me, well, close to five years to write it, since there are very small portions that have their origins in a couple of papers I wrote my very first quarter in graduate school oh so long ago.

At this point it’s a very long shot for me to end up with a job starting in the fall, which means, almost certainly, that I’ll be sticking around another year. That’s fine on one level, since it means I have plenty of time to really polish my dissertation, to get it in lean, mean, fighting shape. But it also means another year of life on hold, another year of spinning my wheels, another year of being some place I no longer want to be.

Still, tonight’s not a time for gloom and doom. There’s all of next year for that.

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I really want to get cracking today on Chapter 8 in the hopes of finishing the first full draft in the next couple of weeks or so.

My motivation has been lacking, or distracted, as I’ve been spending a lot more time of late preparing for the classes I’m teaching, whether it’s been reading ahead for this quarter’s seminar or doing some of the reading for next quarter’s lecture and trying to figure out how I’m teaching a European survey this summer.

It’d be good to be in position to throw myself into course planning full tilt, but that requires me to have the dissertation at a point where I can safely set it aside indefinitely.

To my credit, I have spent a little time thinking about Chapter 8 this past week, roughing out the component sections and organizing my sources accordingly. If I really push myself, I can get the rest of the prewriting out of the way and start writing today.

Assuming, that is, I don’t follow the path of least resistance as I’ve been wont to do lately, which means watching lots of TV when I should be working.

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It’s probably not a major concern, especially since it’s looking much more likely than not that I’ll be sticking around an extra year (to my chagrin), but I’m still trying to put together my dissertation committee.

The first two members were easy. My adviser is chairing the committee, and I asked my second committee member months ago, as she was an obvious pick as someone who does Soviet history, which makes her pretty close to my field.

When I began thinking about a committee back around August or September (mostly with an eye toward requesting recommendations for job applications), I was initially trying to decide between a couple of profs.

Prof A, toward whom I was leaning, didn’t supervise a field with me, but he did teach the European research seminar I took my second year and oversaw, in a way, my first seminar paper, which became my first article as well. He seemed like a good choice, even though his specialty is British history, since he had actually seen some of my research previously, but also because he’s the sort of strict grammarian who would be valuable for making sure my prose was really top notch.

Prof B supervised my third field in comparative nationalism. He’s not a Europeanist, and has told me on several occasions that he enjoys reading my work mainly because he knows nothing about my field. For that reason, I was less inclined to go with him, though he’s good for all the abstract theory that’s admittedly not my favorite thing.

When I asked my adviser at the time, he suggested Prof A, so I asked Prof A back in September or October. He agreed, with a “but,” namely that he was on sabbatical until the summer, and between teaching and travel commitments wouldn’t really be available more than a month or two until later this fall. I told him I could work with that, especially if I stick around another year, but I’d stay in a holding pattern until I had a firmer sense of my job prospects for next year, which will dictate when I defend.

Well, I happened to see Prof A last week during one of his rare campus visits this year, and he told me he’d given it more thought and named about three other faculty he thought would be better since they knew something about East-Central European politics and he didn’t. So, there went that.

Earlier this week I decided to go with my original backup, and talked with Prof B about it. I told him about my dissertation, and he recommended finding a Europeanist and suggested about three or four different names.

I e-mailed my adviser about this, and apparently he talked to Prof A to see if he could persuade him to change his mind, but evidently could not. He’s suggesting I ask the adviser from my fourth field, which I’m yet to do.

The real problem is that no one, beyond the two members I already have on my committee (and really beyond my adviser), is going to be a very close fit, since there are only two faculty members in the department who work on my half of the Iron Curtain in the right era.

Plus, because of that, there aren’t that many faculty with whom I’ve worked, which means I feel like I’m now faced with asking faculty I only kind of know, and who don’t really know my work, to read a 350-page dissertation and sit on a committee. I mean, I can ask Prof C, the fourth-field adviser whom my adviser recommended, but I think she might be on leave at the moment, and I think her work and my work don’t have a lot of overlap.

And this doesn’t even begin to take into consideration who might be on leave at whatever time I do defend my dissertation, which could pose a whole new set of complications at some point down the road.

It just feels like there’s all sorts of pointless obstacles to finishing. And I’d kind of like to finish soon.

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