Posted by: Jenn Deering Davis | May 1, 2008

dissertations are hard

Here’s an unoriginal thought: writing a dissertation is hard! It’s not because this paper is conceptually more difficult than other papers I’ve written, and it’s not because my people are expecting so much more from this paper than others. It’s because I’ve got a year stretching out ahead of me (that’s after six months of prospectus writing and first round interviews) and that kind of time starts to make this project seem ginormous.

But it really isn’t that big. It might end up being a few hundred pages, but it’s not like I’m Tolstoy, penning the great Russian novel that weighs in at more than 1,000 pages. So why does it feel so big?

It probably has something to do with the solitary life of a doctoral candidate, at least when it comes to this particular project. The candidate is off in her own little world, left to her own (usually woefully unprepared) defenses to navigate through the process. Sure, she has a committee and colleagues and friends and family to help her through this, but no one really wants to talk in much detail about someone else’s project when they have their own things going on. It’s hard to not have an intellectual companion with whom I can traverse this vast terrain. I would never start a company without an enthusiastic, energizing and motivated business partner, yet that’s basically what happens with a dissertation.

So maybe we should write dissertations in pairs? No, of course not! So it looks like we’re all left to fumble our way through this. It’s been done thousands (millions?) of times before, so it can definitely be done. It’s just a weird feeling to stare at my calendar and think that I have a year (a year!) to write this paper. That seems like so long. It must be quite the paper to take so long to write.

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