Zotero’s a great tool for note-keeping, reference-gathering, and citation generation, but there’s something about punching a hole in a notecard that makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.
Yesterday, my adviser called me and told me to do two things. First: don’t cock up the conference paper I’ll be giving in March at the American Society for Environmental History; apparently, my panel’s chair/commenter does not tolerate shit work. Okay, my adviser didn’t say that exactly, but that’s the gist of it. Second: make a dissertation schedule and work diary. This is fantastic for at least three reasons:
1) My adviser seems to have a pretty good feel for what I need in the way of direction. Just the other day I was musing about how to proceed as ABD, and then BAM!, a phone call telling me what to do. I suppose there’s an off-chance that my adviser reads this blog, but I’d rather think that my adviser (a) knows me well enough to give me a push when one is needed and (b) has seen enough ABDs treading water to know that an adviser’s intervention can be very important at this stage. In short: my adviser’s advising, which is excellent.
2) Turns out that maybe I do matter to my adviser. Nice to get the attention.
3) I get to make lists and schedules and calendars! I have a perverse affection for to-do lists and the like, and my adviser has basically given me license to schedule to my heart’s content. In addition to creating a calendar for finishing the dissertation and making a schedule that builds in dissertation time every day, my adviser also wants me to write a work diary, to keep track of what I do (and don’t accomplish) each day. At first I thought to put that on this here blog, but (a) how mind-numbingly boring would that be! and (b) I’ve come to see this blog serving a different function for my academic development, extra-dissertation-wise. Plus, it means I get to buy a cool notebook. Bonus.
About a month ago, I became/went ABD (All But Dissertation, for those fortunate to have avoided such a silly acronym). I did so before the official beginning of my fourth year in the PhD program, which puts me right on track with the norm. In our program, you’re meant to be done with your coursework, minor field, comprehensive exams, and dissertation prospectus by the end of your third year, and I just made it. So hoo-ray for that. Since then, I’ve been busying myself with teaching two classes (African American history is going quite well, thank you for asking), occasionally looking through microfilm for an article I’m revising, and playing Civilization, one of my favorite video games of all time. What I haven’t been doing is my dissertation. I’ve read a few books, spoken with some people in the field, and put in a few billable hours of “thought” or “conceptualization,” but I haven’t done any real research. Nor have I looked into fellowships and grants, which I’m pretty sure I should be doing.
Today, I make a concerted effort to do what I should be doing. But what should I be doing, exactly? The last three years have consisted of identifiable hoops through which to jump. Now I’m on my own, equipped with a vague sense of what I need to accomplish–get fellowships, write a dissertation, get a job–but little idea of how to do those things, exactly. There are some more experienced graduate students whose example I can try to follow, but (a) I’m frankly unimpressed by much of their work and their (lack of) progress; (b) no one provides specifics on what they’re doing, exactly; and (c) everyone’s case is different.
So off I go.
In an effort to actually get through some of my reading, I’m going to try what aspiring marathoners are supposed to do: tell people. The idea is that if you tell people you’re going to run a marathon, you’ll feel accountable to those people–“Hey, how’s that marathon training going?” Or something like that. Maybe it’ll work for me; I also hope that I’ll get some feedback on what other people think of what I’m reading. So: today’s list.