Chasing Rabbit Holes

by Eric Longman

Saturday night, 11:30 pm. A soft thud, absent presence in my lap—stir, pick up a splayed copy of The End of Books from the bus floor, and watch the bleary yellow flicker of passing light posts along the highway outside of Ottawa. I haven’t written the presentation yet; I don’t really think I intended to write the presentation today, anyway, despite the ten uninterrupted hours suddenly made available to do so. Reach into my jacket, hit the button for light on the ceiling (a muffled groan from the jacket beside me), and look at the day’s spoils: an orange cardboard bookmark, a single TTC token, a receipt from Big Fat Burrito, and a notebook with the cover missing, first page reading “Freshest Prose: F**k Everything.” $120 dollar souvenirs from a free one-day event, 4am to midnight round-trip. Why the hell did I go to Toronto again? But I knew why, as I began to flip through the pages of the notebook—I went because I had to know more.

Some of you who are reading this, I suspect, have at one time or another found yourself so engrossed in a topic that you abandon all considerations of time, responsibility and propriety. A short break to read an article in the afternoon ends with a browser crashing multitude of open Wikipedia tabs and a setting sun. All of your conversations become extended monologues about the average weight and unit price of Bluefin tuna, or Canada’s role in LSD’s military history, or the length of Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt’s sideburns.

Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt (1805-1875), Archeologist, Discoverer of the Ottawa Ossuary. Image taken from: http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/archeo/ossuary/ossuary-figure1e.shtml

Dr. Edward Van Cortlandt (1805-1875), Archeologist, Discoverer of the Ottawa Ossuary. Image taken from: http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/archeo/ossuary/ossuary-figure1e.shtml

You clear out library shelves without remorse, and seethe when you get an e-mail recalling even one item from your temporary collection. Your partner watches you with grim forbearance as you ignore them from a fort of opened books lit by the glow of a laptop screen, occasionally puncturing the silence with an unbidden “Want to know something interesting?”

You, my friend, have traversed the rabbit hole. And it was glorious, wasn’t it?

Graduate studies, if nothing else, affords students the opportunity to dive deep into an area of interest, rewarding them not necessarily for the dive itself, but for cogently presenting the artefacts they’ve gathered along the way. Some of the best concepts and ideas never make this final cut, and much of the information gathered in the course of research remains filed away for some other project to which it is better suited. But the very act of pursuing hunches, digging deeper into a topic, chasing after rabbit holes—if I were to ascribe an essence to the scholarly enterprise, which I have been warned numerous times against, then this experience would be it. Immersing yourself in an environment that spurs on this kind of inquiry, with people who will (by and large) understand and appreciate the endeavour, is as rare and rewarding an opportunity as you could imagine. You never quite know what you’ll find out, or where it will take you.

A sample case: I was preparing a seminar on interactive fiction. After a prolonged period of playing with several iterations of the genre and reading several articles on the topic, I found myself scouring the internet for a short, straightforward text which the class could get easily complete to get some idea of what IF is all about. It was at this point that I found Jim Munroe’s Gilded Youth, a text adventure about an early online forum, a group of teenagers and their explorations of an abandoned house in Toronto. This is perfect, I thought. As I played through it, I began wondering: What is it like to write for something like this? Why would someone choose to write something like this rather than, say, a novel or short story? What counts in this genre? Does anyone actually play these things aside from grad students looking for something to talk about? I finished the game and went back to the creator’s website, and was about to send a link to my classmates when the following message in the page’s sidebar caught my eye:

This Saturday’s WordPlay Speakers and Schedule.

WordPlay, as it turned out, is an annual IF showcase in Toronto, replete with curated pieces from the genre, speakers demonstrating their newest work, and workshops on how to use the tools which power these texts. I looked at the clock in the corner of my computer: Thursday, 10pm. My partner’s birthday was on Sunday. I had to work on Friday, my presentation (prepared for, but as of yet unwritten) was due on Wednesday, and there were still a number of texts I needed to read for the next week’s classes. Moreover, I had $200 dollars until the end of the following week, and a Greyhound ticket bought this close to departure would be a serious blow. I can’t go, I thought, lingering over the event details and pictures of the venue, I’ve got too much stuff to do. Time passes. I haven’t closed the page yet.

But damned if I’m not curious.

Fast-forward to Saturday morning. Alarm at 4, bus station by 5, en route by 6. I’ve brought a number of books to read, but I am mostly interested in a text I originally only skimmed for immediately relevant material: Jane Yellowlees Douglas’ The End of Books—or Books Without End?: Reading Interactive Narratives. Hours pass. I arrive in Toronto around noon, cautiously find my way to the subway station at Dundas, wait for three stops, and disembark. I eventually find the Toronto Reference Library, and I’m in love: red carpet lining the floors of an enormous atrium, wood panelling at the far wall, and a medium-sized stage with a screen bearing the words WordPlay 2014. I sit through descriptions of a new cross-platform work called Hadean Lands, hailed as a major step in bringing IF to iPhones; participate in an interactive play called Coffee: A Misunderstanding, setting off a feigned assault with coffee in front of a bemused audience; play a number of games that stretched my conceptions of what IF could be; learn a little bit about making these games myself; and watch as the top picks from the event were given awards. Near the end of the event, I pick out the fellow whose site had brought me there that day, and said “Hey, I played your game the other day, and that’s why I’m here!” He looks suitably confused, but was very friendly anyway. Stepping back out onto the street, I reverse my course, grab a burrito for sustenance, and get back on the bus. As it starts moving, I open The End of Books, promising myself that I’ll read another chapter and then get started on the presentation—then promptly fall asleep.

I can’t say if the trip provided any information which strengthened my presentation—arguably, its content was exactly the same as if I had not gone in the first place. But that drive to learn more about the topic, to fulfill my curiosity, and to have such a convenient alibi as “It was related to my project” all underscore the opportunity that study at this level provides. As it stands, this was just one of the rabbit holes I have explored in the program thus far, and the experience has made me eager to keep seeking them out.

Advertisements

The top ten things I’ve learned about surviving graduate school

by Zoe Costanzo

  1. There is a lot of reading. Seriously. Lots. Schedule time each week at the beginning of your term to get through the week’s readings, and commit to not spending more or less time on these readings.
  2. Do not be afraid to go to your professors and ask for help with theories you do not understand, or questions about your papers or seminars. Often I felt like I didn’t know enough, or that the areas I felt I needed help/clarification with were areas that – as a graduate student – I should already know; realistically, everyone is struggling with some concept or question and often people are worried about similar/the same thing. Do not be afraid to speak up—chances are your question will answer five other peoples’ questions.
  3. Always go to doughnut day. There are doughnuts and coffee, as well as healthy fruit and cheese. It is sometimes the only time I actually eat breakfast, and certainly the only time I eat fruit at breakfast time.
  4. If you are a Teaching Assistant (TA), make sure that you communicate with your supervising professor about your schedule and course commitments, so that they can then keep that in mind when they are assigning your duties. There are times of the year that you are going to be busier than others, and if the professor (for example) wants you to give a lecture, you can work together to organize it for a part of the term you are not as busy. Keep in communication throughout the term with your supervisor about your duties as well; if you find you are struggling with a specific task (such as marking) they can probably help you figure out why and how you can improve/feel more confident.
  5. Participating in seminar classes can be intimidating at first; I found it especially difficult in September when there were PhD students in the class who seemed to know so much more about the topic than I did. I found it helpful to write a few key points I found interesting about the class readings, so that when they came up it was easier to join in. If you have questions about the reading(s) or topic, this is a good place to vocalize these, and get your questions answered while simultaneously participating in the class.
  6. Try not to pull all-nighters too often. Sometimes there is no other way to get an assignment done than to suck it up, stay up, and write. But too many all-nighters can lead to anxiety, illness, and difficulty thinking straight in class. I found a really good alternative to staying up was to go to bed by 10PM, and then get up at 4AM or 5AM and work then instead. It can be difficult at first, but I found it got easier after a couple times and my thinking was much clearer after a few hours of sleep.
  7. The Junction Café, in the Tunnels by the library, has excellent coffee that is significantly cheaper than Starbucks or Second Cup, and I have never seen a line of more than two places. They also carry soup.
  8. On that note, soup is a cheap and delicious option at the University Food Centre, as well as Junction Café, Loeb building, and Roosters Café.
  9. Keep realistic expectations regarding what you can accomplish in a specific amount of time, and don’t beat yourself up if you cannot achieve everything you want to in every reading response and every class. Do not try to write a 25 page research paper in one day, and then feel terrible if the paper is not written as well as you would have liked; don’t feel bad if one day you find it more difficult to participate than other days. You will not perform at 100% all the time, and it’s ok to prioritize certain assignments or readings over others, as long as you make sure there is a balance over the term that you are happy with.
  10. There is no such thing as time management. No matter how many times it gets brought up in ENGL5005, you will still struggle to balance readings, papers, response assignments, readings, TA duties, marking, office hours, readings, showering, sleeping, and seeing your family. Just keep swimming. You’ll make it through.

T’was a month before Christmas, and all through the MA

by Michelle Murphy

T’was a month before Christmas , and all through the MA

The students were worried: Oh please let’s delay!

With papers and books all lined up in row

We cringe at the sight, want to play in the snow.

We students hide out, we run to our beds

While visions of finals just loom over our heads.

Only three hours of sleep! Boy could we use a nap,

Instead we must settle for another night cap.

Then at 3am, boom there’s our idea!

Zoom to the library for the encyclopedia!

Oh no! Where’s our book? Is it on reserve?

So much anger and panic! This we do not deserve!

Thank God for computers, we can find what we need,

Though this paper is due soon, so we must search with speed.

When what to our groggy old eyes should appear

But a brand new idea! Our thesis is clear!

With pen in our hands, we scurry to name

All the theorists who will lead our paper to fame!

Thank you Eve Sedgwick! Foucault and Ms. Butler!

My paper is brilliant; my heart is a flutter!

We type and we type till we can type no more

Can’t make it to bed, we’ll pass out on the floor.

A few hours later we head for the coffee

A shot of espresso, a flavour of toffee

Then back to our essay, the end finally in sight

Wait, what is our argument? Who cares, it is right!

We continue to type till the deed’s finally done

Yes! Thank God we have finished! Now we can have fun!

We review, then we print, then we hop on the bus

So happy it’s over, now there’s no more fuss.

Our prof will be happy! We know what he likes…

Congratulations to all; I will see you at Mike’s!

Graduate Studies: What to Expect and What to Do

by Erin Skitch

China_GreatWallMarathon2013_062

During my very short time in the Graduate program thus far I have learned a lot. Instead of focussing, however, on what I have learned about my discipline, I think it would be far more beneficial to delve into what I have learned about life from this experience. Perhaps in this way my experiences in and outside of this program will help others help themselves on this journey they have chosen to embark upon.

Graduate Studies (GS), in general, is a supremely stressful time in one’s life. The expectations are surreal at points; read this 400 page book by tomorrow…and then lead a seminar discussion on it….don’t forget that 10-pager that goes with the seminar…and then attend this lecture and this function and then write up a response and work and then eat, sleep, and breathe in between. It can be overwhelming and, at times, it seems like it is all just too much for one person to handle.

Having said this, though, there are three things that I have learned to do this year that have quelled the urge to pull out my hair or huddle in the corner, rocking back and forth to the wailing “why me?”: embracing the word “no”, finding equilibrium or, in other words, that oft-sought balance, and the dismissing of the fear of university afterlife, aka the future. All three feed together, but I will try to separate them as much as possible and turn to myself and my experiences for some examples.

Firstly, saying “no”. That was the best thing I did for myself this year: said “no” and put myself, not school, first, especially in terms of my health. For the longest time, being a teacher, it was meals when I could grab them in between classes and letting social life and active lifestyle lapse due to marking, or constant lesson plans that were never perfect enough (and most of those lessons never actually happened anyways). Unhappiness and stress abounded living off of soju and jinbao and smoggy air. Coming to the GS program, I decided I could not do that to myself anymore and stopped. Full stop. This is not to say that I do not “freak out” alongside the people that populate the GS program. I do. I do get stressed. I do have anxiety over my research papers as they come due and I find myself getting a late start. I worry that things won’t go well or that I am underprepared for what I am supposed to be an expert on. But I let it go. I put health first. Yes, I still have fifty pages to read for tomorrow’s class, but it is gym time and I have that marathon I am training for and that is important to me, too. Yes, I still have to edit this seminar presentation, but it is 3 am and I need sleep to function. Yes, I’m running late, and grabbing a coffee as my meal for the day is quicker…but, since I’m late already, I might as well slow down and make myself something decent to eat and save the $3.62 from Starbucks (It’s an evil yet yummy franchise anyways).

Obviously, this flows right into balance. The people that are floating around the GS program seem to have one passion: school and doing well in school. Their friends are other GS students who share the same passion and the same classrooms and, unfortunately the same stresses. What I have found to work well is keeping ALL of my hobbies and passions OUTSIDE of the classroom alive and well. And I mean keeping them like a date with a 6’2 olympic swimmer from Argentina; you just don’t miss it for the world. Luckily, my hobbies are active: running, some creative writing, hiking and kayaking, and randomly exploring new places and new things (like cage fighting 😛 random, I know, but you never know when you’ll find a new something to love). I also found that cultivating friends from other disciplines and/or other schools helps hugely. When people are not involved in the same stresses you are, they become an outlet for that stress as opposed to someone that will heighten it. You vent to someone that is calm about the situation because they are uninvolved and then you move on.

And move on, everyone shall. And that seems to be a huge issue, and the last issue I will deal with. THE NEXT STEP. Dun dun duuuhhhhhh. People are already, even though they are not even halfway through the degree, worried about what will happen after GS is all over. All I can say is don’t bother. There is no point. I have worried for the better part of the last five years of my life. Where will I go? What will I do? How will it work? Who will I be? What does it mean? And guess what. They are still questions in my mind; the worrying has done nothing to stop those thoughts from forming and the worrying has certainly not made anything about life crystalline. In the end, there will be no end to that worry unless you stop it and just let it be what it is, trusting that life will move forward as it should and change as it should. It’s one big ride that you simultaneously control and lose control over along the way. Life is not as soul-sucking as it appears outside of academia. There are things wrong with the world, but there are things wrong with the university system as well; problems wherever you go. Those that stay in studies out of fear or lack of decision-making skills, need to be shaken awake and set off in any random direction so that they can survive and arrive alive and happy. There is so much out there to do and experience. Climb Everest. I did. Run marathons on the Great Wall. I did. Do a pilgrimage. I did. Teach. Laugh. Love who you are and who you’re with. Just do it. There is so much more. Trust in the process and go forth.

CFP: Failure–Interruptions, Confrontations, and Silences

Call for Papers

10th Annual Communication Graduate Caucus Conference
March 5-6, 2015
River Building, Carleton University, Ottawa

“Some of the chief dilemmas of our age, both public and personal, 
turn on communication or communication gone sour” (Peters, 1999)

From blackouts and security breaches, to misrepresentations and disconnections, failure is a crucial component of communication. Our 10th annual conference, Failure: Interruptions, Confrontations, and Silences, invites explorations into the ways communication is impeded, shaped, and even enabled by forms of failure. As an articulation of conflict, degradation, and misunderstanding, failure is intimately tied to ideas of success and change in political, socio-economic, and cultural spheres. In the wake of broken and silenced speech and actions, failure undergirds the drive for improved forms of communication — motivating revisions to public policies, networks, media representations, and everyday practices. The idea of communication is intimately tied to varied forms of fallibility, and in this multivalent vein, we invite scholars to envision failure as communicative interruptions, as provoking confrontations, as inducing silences, and as undergirding successes.

Our conference offers a collegial and supportive environment in which to present your work, receive feedback, and compete for a student paper prize. In addition, you will hear a world-class keynote speaker and have the opportunity to network with colleagues from across the country. 

We welcome 250-word abstract proposals for individual paper presentations that consider, amongst other topics, questions related to:

  • Technological malfunctions and infrastructural breakdowns (e.g. security breaches; planned obsolescence; grid blackouts; emergent effects)
  • Economic and political failures (e.g. financial breakdowns; failed corporations; failed competition, failed states; disaster politics; failed uprisings, wars; political downfalls).
  • Failure and Communication theory (e.g. debates on dialogue; the public sphere; mass media; social (dis)connections; language and meaning; unrealized expectations and ideals; success and discipline; the fallibility of communication)
  • Politics of miscommunication (e.g. failed campaigns; revolutionary mobilizations; apologies and disclosures; failed forms of witness and (re)cognition)
  • Silenced and/or misrepresented identities and histories (e.g. invisible/inaudible individuals and groups; silenced testimonies; lost and revised histories; the censored and unnamed; tactical/subversive silences; (mis)recognitions of gender, race, ethnicity, ability, class, sex, age)
  • Popular forms of failure (e.g. fan culture narratives; #fail and social media; ‘live’ event failures; comedic fallibilities; failure as an aesthetic and political tool; how failure influences mainstream, countercultural, and subaltern texts)

Please send your 250-word abstract proposals to cgc@carleton.ca 
no later than DEC. 19, 2014
Include
 CGC conference submission in the email subject line.

Upon abstract acceptance, students are encouraged to submit their 10-12 page papers to the student paper competition. Papers are due Feb. 2, 2015.

Follow us on Twitter @CGC_Carleton

CFP: Public Intellectuals Lecture Series

Call for Papers

Public Intellectuals Lecture Series

Presented by the Department of English and Literature at Carleton University and the Ottawa Public Library

The Public Intellectuals Lecture Series aims to create a bridge between scholars in the Arts and the general public. While the complex ideas these scholars help develop have important, real world applications to the way we understand and interact with each other, they are often couched in jargon and confined to the journals and lecture halls of the academic sphere. This lecture series will offer a venue and format in which scholars can present these ideas to the public in an accessible manner.

Each lecture will use a popular culture example to explain a critical term, question, or controversy. These pop culture examples could include a bestselling novel, a TV Show, a pop song, a celebrity controversy, or a social media phenomenon. The examples will give the audience a frame of reference, allowing it to better understand the ideas the scholars are presenting. Presenters will avoid academic jargon whenever possible, and will rely heavily on paraphrasing, rather than quoting from dense theoretical texts. The goal of each lecture is to help the audience understand the critical ideas using a popular culture example and everyday language to describe those ideas.

For example, a lecture titled “Agency and Game of Thrones” might examine the way scholars use and understand the term “agency” using characters from the popular television series as examples. Likewise, “Is Fifty Shades of Grey a Feminist Novel?” could use the popular novel as a way to introduce different feminist perspectives. Finally, “Roaring Fireworks: Katy Perry and the Neoliberal Self” would use Katy Perry’s music to examine what neoliberal values are and how they influence everyday decisions.

This series is more than a novelty. It offers members of the general public a chance to continue their pursuit of lifelong learning by connecting them with scholars and complex ideas in an accessible, non-threatening forum. These ideas have the potential to transform the way individuals think about themselves and their community. It also allows scholars an opportunity to share their work with a wide audience and become part of the broader community in a meaningful way.

Lectures will take place at the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library at 120 Metcalfe St. The initial series will be four lectures, the first taking place in mid-March, followed by two lectures in April, and ending with one lecture in mid-May.

Proposals should be 300-500 words and introduce both the critical term/question/controversy as well as the popular culture text that will be used in the lecture. Proposals should also use the same simplified language that the lecture will use. A short biography of the presenter (50 words) should accompany proposals.

Send proposals to the series curator, Andrew Connolly (aconnol1@connect.carleton.ca). The deadline for proposals is January 2.

The Open-Minded Imposter

Being a Serious Grad Student Doesn’t Have to Mean Taking Yourself Too Seriously

by Jaclyn Lytle

ComicAlmost immediately upon entering graduate school, students are introduced to the concept of Impostor Syndrome. We are informed that we will often be unable to eschew the sense of being intellectual interlopers with no real credentials or experience to legitimize our presence in this department. But we are not impostors, we are told. We belong here, we have earned this, and we have every right to discuss the works we read with a sense of studious authority—or so our well-meaning professors insist. Any yet with every seminar presentation, in the planning of every assignment due, and in the midst of every class discussion, the shadow of Impostor Syndrome lurks behind us, whispering self-doubt into our ears.

As the semester wears on, we attempt to find at least temporary cures to banish this spectre reminding us of our masquerade. Perhaps the best solution for Impostor Syndrome, though, is not to attempt to eliminate it, but to embrace it. In many ways, we are impostors. But is this necessarily a terrible thing? Or is our unavoidable trespass into a level of academia we are not fully prepared for a blessing in disguise?

You Do Not Know Anything

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.

―Socrates

The current nature of humanities education at the undergraduate level results in a great many people graduating with a general knowledge of a great many subjects, but an expertise in nothing. This is the advantage and the curse of holding a bachelor’s degree: You know just a little bit about a lot of things, but presumably you can move on to graduate studies with at least some understanding of your desired area of research. We lament that we did not enter grad school with a more developed knowledge of our research topic, but our lack of knowledge can be a true advantage. We are at an age where many of us cannot commit to a hair colour or a favourite beer, let alone 5+ years of dedication to a sole research topic. The point of attending grad school is to engage with authors, works, topics, and ideas which we know nothing about—to consider that which we have not yet considered. Our lack of knowledge is why we are here, and if we are able to leave our degree program with an awareness of a great many more things which we know very little about, then we have accomplished something. We have proven that the humanities are not an empty mine nearing closure, but a massive untapped reservoir with many an untravelled research path to take.

You Do Make Mistakes

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes—then learn how to do it later!

―Richard Branson

As serious students, we are not accustomed to learning from mistakes. A mistake for us could mean a drop in GPA and the jeopardization of our academic goals, and so we take little comfort in the knowledge that there are lessons to be learned from our errors. But graduate school ought to be in great part about errors, making them and learning from them. As grad students we learn to research effectively, argue logically, speak eloquently, and develop ideas creatively, but we do not do so entirely in the classroom. We learn and refine these skills by pursuing wrong paths, writing full papers based on a flawed argument having to start from the ground up, or desperately trying to force theory to work with our ideas when it simply doesn’t. Blindness to our mistakes is what results in failures, while acceptance that you may need to start from square one three days before the due date is what will garner you success in the end.

You Do Need An Open Mind

“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.”

— Frank Zappa

Some grad students make the mistake of eschewing Impostor Syndrome by asserting their intelligence and superiority at every turn, building walls between themselves and self doubt. The shadowy spectre of Impostor Syndrome knows how to seep through the cracks of these walls, but the community that surrounds you may not. Grad school is an opportunity for learning and skill-development, but it can also be a chance for massive self-growth if you keep an open mind about where these opportunities can come from. The people around us have made their own mistakes and have lessons to impart, and the community of which we are a part contains many options for professional and personal development if we are open to taking unexpected routes to learning.

CORAL Event: ‘The Jew that Shakespeare Drew’: Unintended Consequences of Representation and the Call for Authorial Responsibility in Depictions of Jews during the Long Eighteenth-Century

Please join in the fun on October 24, 11 am, in the Gordon Wood Lounge (DT 1811), as Carleton alumnus and current University of Ottawa doctoral candidate Aaron Kaiserman discusses his research.  October is a busy month, but you have a particularly strong reason to come to this talk – it is a fantastic opportunity to hear from a fellow graduate student as he prepares to defend his thesis.  As a further bonus, refreshments will be served!

Here is a little sneak peek from Aaron on the talk itself:

This talk will demonstrate how self-conscious efforts to rehabilitate Jews in fiction during the eighteenth century and the Romantic period provide insight into how the responsibilities of authorship were being reinterpreted at the time. To instruct and delight alone seemed no longer enough when a novelist or playwright could be accused (sometimes by him or herself) of unintentionally promoting harmful ideas about the Jewish people through thoughtless caricatures, and recognition of the problem of stereotyping in turn forced British authors to think more carefully about interfaith and intercultural politics in their work.

Work-Life Balance: Don’t Let Your Dissertation Define You

By Shaun Stevenson, PhD Student, Department of English, Carleton University

The dissertation process can be all-consuming. With constant deadlines, committee meetings, research, writing and endless hours of anxiety-ridden procrastination, tackling your dissertation can easily become the single most defining feature of your life. Do not let your dissertation define you. This article offers a few helpful insights on how to strike a sustainable work-life balance while getting through your dissertation. For the sake of full disclosure, the examples provided do have a Humanities/Social Science leaning, although I do think the tips and tactics discussed can prove useful across disciplines.

Manage your time so that your time doesn’t manage you

In a recent post on the blog Dry-Erase Writings: Teaching in the Humanities, PhD graduate PhebeAnn Wolframe offers her take on how to get through the dissertation writing process in a timely fashion with, “some semblance of work-life balance.” Wolframe completed her entire PhD in four years, but didn’t let the process take over her life. Wolframe attributes her speedy completion time to setting deadlines that she was “hell bent on meeting.” She broke her time down quite deliberately, and while she is clear that time frames work differently for everyone, she ultimately ended up with a strict six-week deadline per chapter. Wolframe credits this stringent time management schedule to ensuring she completed x number of hours a day, ultimately confining her dissertation work to weekdays and freeing up her weekends for social activities.

Make time for other things

My next point goes hand-in-hand with good time management strategies: do things outside of academia! For Wolframe, reading, knitting, hiking, and studying music on weekends helped her feel more rested “and less reluctant to resume ‘thesising’ on Monday.” It is too easy to get stuck at home and your computer. Making time to see friends, going outside, and getting exercise can make thesis writing less alienating. Making room for what non-academics might refer to as “hobbies,” harkens back to a distant pre-PhD era, where we were free to define ourselves beyond the narrow purview of ‘research interests.’ Time management goes a long way in setting and achieving realistic goals surrounding your dissertation, with the added benefit of freeing up time for friends, family, relationships, attention to your physical and mental health – you know, the important things.

Write Something Else

Really? Is a good way to get away from writing… more writing? Blog writing for academics is increasingly championed as a useful means of both developing your writing skills, while also building international networks of like-minded research contacts and followers (Seriously! People will read blogs on just about anything!). The University of London’s online magazine London Connection suggests blogging as an excellent way to enhance your research profile or collaborate with fellow students. The blogosphere has the ability to get you away from the staunch framework of your dissertation, allowing you to explore your research more freely and in less formal ways while also having your research reach wider audiences. It allows you to approach your work with a little more personality and humour.

Publicly posting your thoughts and feelings, let alone exposing the fact that, at least half the time, you’re wondering if you know what you’re talking about may not be for everyone. Our good friend, Dr. Wolframe offers an alternative method to help distance yourself from the sometimes-limiting dissertation writing process:

I found journaling really helped in this regard. Sometimes I would write a journal entry––stream of consciousness, and written in very colloquial language––trying to capture in my own words, however casually, what I was thinking about/noticing in my primary text(s), or what patterns I was seeing across text(s). From this rambling, I find a few key ideas tend to emerge.

Whether blogging, journaling or tweeting philosophical quotes, the trick is to free yourself from what can be a very regimented and stifling academic language. It is important to be reminded that you are a good writer with interesting ideas that other people beyond your committee want to hear about. Putting your ideas out there in other forms allows you to define yourself beyond the dissertation, while also remaining productive in ways that ultimately benefit your research in the long run. If you’re still skeptical about the benefits of blogging about your research, check out this aptly titled blog post: “38 reasons why you should blog about your research.”

These are just a few ideas of how you might break away from a dissertation-centered lifestyle. Remember, your dissertation will end – it must – and you will continue on as a diverse and well-rounded individual, academically, professionally and personally. The goal is to foster this approach throughout the entire process.

Originally posted in Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs’ Grad Student Blogs

MA Colloquium

June 25, 2014

1811 Dunton Tower

1:00-4:30 p.m.

Please join us for the annual MA Colloquium where MAs share their research with fellow students and faculty. To view the conference program, including abstracts of the papers, click here.

Colloquium Poster