March 31, 2005

Do You Deserve a Ph.D.? The Answer is "Yes!"

The response to my newsletter has been great -- I can't believe how many people have filled out my self assessment: "Do You Deserve a Ph.D.?" So many people feel insecure when they are working on their dissertation, despite a long history of scholastic success....

I meaan, think about it. If you're writing your dissertation, you must have done well, most likely quite well, in high school and college. Furthermore, you have the kind of motivation, interest in your subject, and intelligence that would cause you to apply for, and be accepted to graduate school.

Compared to most of the population you're way above average. But you're working and studying in a place like the mythical Lake Wobegon -- all the people are above average. So you begin to lose sight of your own greatness.

It's not a normal human condition to work, produce and create without feedback. Of course, authors and artists do it for a long stretch of time -- but they're crazy half the time. I'm just kidding -- don't write to me about your mother the author. Mine is an artist. Oh... never mind. Anyway,it is not a normal way to live.

Have you read Sartre's Huis Clos (No Exit) Three people are brought to an elegant room to await going to Hell. Soon they realize that being locked up for eternity in a room with each other IS Hell. They are dependent on each other for feedback or the lack thereof. If you simplify this further, you end up with the dissertation process, particularly in the humanities, where you float out there, with little feedback.

The answer, of course, is to seek out feedback. It helps you know you're alive, you exist. Although Sartre decided "l'enfers c'est les autres" (Hell is other people) -- if you seek out feedback from helpful advisors, or in their absence, sympathetic shadow advisors, peer grous, buddies, or editors and coaches, you can take out some of the crazy-making process. "Hell is other people" only applies when you are grouped with the wrong people.

Whatever you do, don't stay holed up in your room thinking that you're the only insecure, dumb one. Everyone feels the way you do. Just seek them out.

March 22, 2005

Feedback on Software?

I'm starting to look into various kinds of software that are useful for doing footnotes, bibliographies, etc. I wondered if anyone had recommendations. Some people I've worked with have used Endnotes. I've noticed a few people who think that this particular software is too hard to learn, although they haven't really tackled it. A similar kind of software is called Citation.

There's another kind of formatting software called StyleEase, and a few others. I've noticed that some of the informal reviews on the web are out of date.

This is a plea -- if any of you out there has made use of this software, comment here and let me know what works and why you like it or don't like it.

March 17, 2005

Darkest Before the Dawn

I've noticed that as grad students reach the end of the chapter they've been slaving on, or as professors are just getting over the hump in writing an article, they feel the most discouraged.

I'm not sure why that happens. Does that happen to you?

Perhaps it's the fact that you've been immersed in your writing so long that it ceases to have any meaning. The lack of perspective makes it look insipid and trite. People often say they feel like they're going in circles.

Probably that's the time where you should set your work aside for a day or two, and work on some other project or chapter. Even better, give it to a trusted colleague to read and get their input. What you need at that point is some perspective.

I've experienced this: I put something away for a while, feeling that it was mediocre. When I picked it up a week later, I think, "That's really not so bad!"

Whatever you do, don't delete what you've written! In the light of day, it actually might not be so bad. If there is something wrong with it, you're probably too close to it right now to make the changes. Give it a rest and the solution might jump out at you.

I'd love to hear about other people's experiences with hating their writing and then coming back later to find out it's not so bad. Comment here or write me back channel.

Finishing is the Best Revenge

How do you channel the frustration and anger that you have towards an unresponsive advisor or less than helpful committee? How do you deal with the fact that one grad student seems to have the ear of your advisor and she won't return your phone calls?

Simple! To paraphrase that exclusive department store phrase: "Finishing is the Best Revenge." Get it done, get a great job and get out of there! No need to burn any bridges or go out in a blaze of glory. Just make the unpleasant situation a distant memory.

March 12, 2005

Paranoia Pre-Publishing

If you've done research, you know what it's like to be paranoid. It takes this form: "Right now, somebody is doing the exact same research or writing that I'm doing, only they're doing it better and faster."

You may have experienced this phenomenon when the newer graduate students copy some of your procedures, or tackle the same subject. Or somebody mentions that they think so-and-so is doing similar research. What follows is usually sleepless nights, hair-pulling days, and breathless investigation into the truth of the rumor.

What I wonder is: how often does this actually happen -- that someone gets scooped? My guess is that it is very rare. Most new research moves the field forward a little at a time -- what chance is there that someone is doing exactly what you're doing?

If you've heard of this happening, please let me know, or respond to this posting.

In the meantime, my suggestion is that you should not worry about being scooped. The person who is doing similar research to yours will probably be a colleague someday, and you can co-author a paper. The most important thing is not to hide your work from others for fear of being scooped. I have found that those who fail to talk about their work with others have a much harder time finishing their dissertation, writing up their articles, and getting known in their fields. Let your light shine! OK, trite. But true.

March 4, 2005

The Magic of Accountability

I'm constantly amazed at the power of accountability to allow or even compel people to do the things they don't feel like doing. I see this in my own life -- when I'm expecting guests, it's a lot easier to straighten up those messy piles on my kitchen desk. When I commit to writing a certain number of reports to my own coach, I get them done as promised.

That's one reason that coaching groups work so well. People feel accountable not only to me, their coach, but to the rest of the group members. After all, they were witnesses to the promises made the week before.