Sobriquet 65.3: A Few Parting Words
Note: Since Blogger's free off-site publishing program is about to suspend operations, and because I have completed this blog's goal of chronicling my journey from A.B.D. to Ph.D., this post will likely be the final piece of material published as part of the blog project. b
As a final post, I thought it would be nice to address a few of the more frequently-asked questions I have received while working on my dissertation, so, without any further ballyhoo, here you go:
What is the single most important bit of advice you can give someone about to write his or her own dissertation?
I would have to say that getting oneself into the habit of working regularly is, by far, the most important thing anyone can do when writing a dissertation. For some people, especially those without teaching duties or other vocational or familial obligations, taking a 9-5 approach to the whole ordeal and working forty hours a week works well. I suspect such a schedule would have driven me batty, even if I did not have five classes to teach every semester. For me, I found doing one task each day, whether it be reading an article or a few pages in a novel, transcribing notes, outlining a bit of the chapter, or writing a page or two, worked very well. Now, I worked seven days a week, every day, for over two years, which resulted in a pretty severe case of burn-out, but it did work. If I set out to do it all over again, I would probably work at least one off day into my schedule each week. The key, of course, is finding a schedule that works for you and sticking with it. The ability to delay gratification, too, is very important because you will not finish your dissertation overnight. You have to be able to work every day -- or nearly every day -- with the belief that, even when it doesn't feel that way, what you're doing will eventually result in a degree. I found that limiting myself to doing a tiny bit of work each day enabled me to focus on the step in front of me rather than the whole staircase, or even the particular flight of stairs I was climbing. This often helped keep my stress at a manageable level all the way through.
Why write a blog?
Well, for me, blogging was a motivation for keeping up with my work. I didn't want to fail publicly, so I decided to start the blog. Over time, though, I found that it provided me with a way to organize my summaries of and ideas about various critical essays, so I began blogging about the the Coetzee criticism I encountered in order to help myself stay on top of things. Interestingly, a number of Coetzee scholars have found the blog to be a useful tool in sorting through the vast sea of critical material surrounding the author's fiction, so I eventually found additional motivation in trying to maintain a quality resource for my fellow students of Coetzee.
Are you an expert on Coetzee?
I have written a dissertation on the author, focusing on the fiction of the 1990s, for which I have read a good deal of literary criticism. Whether this fact makes me an expert or not really depends on your definition of an expert. Despite the fact that I have been called "a rockstar in J.M. Coetzee scholarship," I would hesitate to use such a definitive-sounding label. If anything, I would call myself a student of Coetzee.
What is best thing you have gotten out of blogging?
Other than manage to write a dissertation, I would have to say the most satisfying consequence of the whole blog project is having networked with Coetzee critics around the world. As a direct result of my blog, I have been invited to write articles for scholarly publications, been mentioned in major studies of Coetzee, made friends (including the person who ended up serving as the outside reader on my dissertation committee), and become part of a community of readers and writers. Put differently, my blog helped turn what could have been a very lonely endeavor into a social one.
Why didn't you publish anything about your own research?
Well, for one, my dissertation was a work-in-progress, so I didn't want to say anything that I might later want to amend. Furthermore, the amount of time it would take for me to write lengthy, analytical posts simply exceeded the amount of time I had to blog. Of course, graduate students are cautioned against sharing their ideas before their dissertations are published because, unfortunately, plagiarism is a very real problem and tales of graduate students having their ideas stolen by unscrupulous students and even professors echo throughout the halls of Academia, so we're kind of instructed to keep things under wraps anyway. It's a shame, really, because I suspect that blogging one's dissertation or other scholarship as one writes it could actually encourage some truly amazing collaborative work. Maybe in the future, someone will blog an entire dissertation and the comments will become an integral part of the whole document...
What advice would you give a prospective English grad student?
Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Right now, the are far more Ph.D.s than there are professorships and a disarmingly high percentage of brilliant scholars cannot find full-time academic jobs. Unless you get into a school that pays your tuition and provides you with a stipend, you will likely incur a lot of debt and there is no guaranteed employment at the end of the line to help pay off that debt. If these realities do not deter you, then grad school can be a very positive experience.
What is going to happen to the dissertation blog now that you're finished?
It's going to stay right where it is. I am honored by the amount of interest the blog has generated among Coetzee scholars and I will leave it online, in its current form, for the use of any future scholars interested in what I have here.
Thanks again to everyone for reading this weblog and helping me as I struggled to write my dissertation. You may contact me at email (at) sobriquetmagazine.com.