Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On April 23rd, EGSA hosted a great Dissertation Roundtable, facilitated by a wonderful group of men and women. As a group, we came up with a number of great tips for working on the dissertation. 

Dissertation Roundtable Topics for EGSA 2015

Graduate Students present:
Erin V, Sam, Allison, Haylie, Sreyoshi, Leigha, M, Liz M., Kim, Sukshma

24 Tips for Writing a Dissertation:

Category One: For Yourself as a Writer

  1. Get a writing group! Make it a group that will take the work seriously and will hold all members accountable.
    1. Things to consider when devising a writing group:
i. Decide as a group what the goals are
ii. Think of ways to incentivize the group members (reward system? etc)
iii. Make  goals that are realistic and  achievable (and that is decided as a group)
iv. If there is a supportive faculty member, have him/her facilitate a session occasionally
v. Make sure a habit is created!

  1. Find something that you are passionate about; this is your dissertation and it’ll be yours forever.

  1. Foster a Relationship with your advisor that works out for both parties. That being said, don’t be afraid to change your committee. As your work evolves, your needs may also change. Be open and honest with both yourself and committee members. They want to succeed.

  1. Make an annotated bibliography of everything that you read. The notes will save time in the long run.

  1. Know what kind of writer you are. Can you begin from the middle and work out? Do you have to start at the introduction and move forward?

  1. Also know that you WILL never be “finished” with researching. Know when to stop reading and start writing.

  1. Reread Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird “Shitty First Drafts” and just write.

  1. Write in chunks, but write as often as you can in the week. Posts such as are useful in rethinking what “writing” means.

  1. Don’t try to wait until you know how it’s all going to fit together before you start writing. It’s not a 20 page seminar paper, it’s a multi-year project. You don’t need to have it all mapped out. It will change. Embrace that and put down on paper what you’re ready to put down in the moment. Having those drafts is what allows you to craft a cohesive argument later.

  1. Always be working towards a deadline. Set your own. Ask your committee for deadlines. Have an incentive in place for meeting it, anything from a conference to a weekend away to a haircut.

  1. Start writing with something that either:
    1. You are super passionate about and desperately want to start writing about
    2. Whatever may come the easiest to you
Either way, it’ll help get you motivated and set the pace for a good portion of your dissertation.

Category Two: For the Dissertation

  1. When organizing your dissertation and the chapters within it, it’ll be good to have thematic key terms, words that will help guide your work and keep your dissertation focused. The architecture of your chapter has its foundation in the key terms. Other metaphors: 1. Key terms are the string that connect the arguments in your chapters; and 2.) Key terms can serve as an anchor, so when you feel like you’re drifting, the key terms can reorient you.

  1. Decide on a filing system. Use it.

  1. Keep track of sources. If you read it. If you checked it out of the library but didn’t read it. Anything. You should probably use reference software.

  1. Use conferences/seminars/symposiums big & small, actively as jumping off platforms for your chapters. Include them in your dissertation timeline planning. So, if you plan to work on your Chapt.2 Jan-April 2016, submit a paper proposal for MLA 2016 that could potentially be part of your Chapt. 2. That ways you will get 6 pages done under some pressure and will already be in the groove for the rest of the chapter once you’re back with feedback from the MLA.

  1. Set regular hours for work so  you don’t feel guilty during your “Free Time.” Treat your dissertation like you would a job. Don’t compromise your writing time to do other tasks. Make your dissertation writing a selfish act.

  1. Follow productivity blogs, twitter feeds, etc to help you stay motivated. Don’t just make a “to-do” list, make a “to-done” list as well. When writing a “to-do” list, don’t write it in the abstract (write chapter one); make a manageable list that is broken down into tangible parts (summarize the plot of novel to segue into analysis)

  1. A dissertation need not be a ready-to-be published book of critical scholarship. Fabulous if it is but mostly it’s a FIRST STEP towards that. Helps to read blogs/ articles/books such as Demystifying Dissertation Writing by Peg Boyle Single to take the pressure off and create space to think and write and enjoy the process as best you can. It is not the end point of your scholastic output.

  1. The ETD format requires 1.25” margins on left and right and page numbers centered on the bottom of the page. MLA format requires that block quotes have to be indented by 1”. Doing this at the beginning will save formatting annoyances later. For complete formatting guidlines:

Category Three: For You as a Person

  1. Do not hesitate to get therapy! (Get therapy.)

  1. Know that you WILL have a moment when you ask yourself “what the hell am I doing? What the hell is this all for?” - embrace it so you can move past it

  1. Find a space where you can write. Find a space where you can read. Go to those spaces when you need to get things done. It’s a great signal to your brain.

  1. Do not give up sleep, food, family, friends, hobbies, fun. You may have to give them up sometimes to meet deadlines, but denying yourself these regularly will make everything harder in the long run.

  1. Twitter is another great resource for finding an academic community while dissertating. You can remote work with friends, follow people doing work in your field, and find lots of tips and articles on writing and productivity. Tweet lines from your work out into the twittersphere. Follow #dissertation.

    If you're interested in listening to the roundtable, click below to hear it recorded via Dropbox: