Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Best laid plans....

I meant to be productive today, I really did. It truly is not my fault that circumstances conspired against me.

See, today was the first self-proclaimed official dissertation study day. I dutifully went to the library, picked up some books, sat down and engaged in some serious cogitation and reading.

And then the electricity went out. Over half of campus. And there was a tornado warning for the county.

It is January, people.

So my husband and I ran some errands--I went to the bookstore in search of Darwin, ugh--then went back to the library and checked out the books I had meant to check out, and I will work a bit more on them tonight, I think. In the meantime, I have the very first homemade pie I have ever made in the oven. We'll see how this goes.

In any case, despite the rather abortive attempt at studying (and yes, I know, I shouldn't give up entirely, but after sitting for an hour in the dark in the University Writing Center--because, hey, if you're going to die in a tornado, you might as well do it with friends--I decided to postpone some studying until this evening), I do feel like I got quite a bit accomplished. I've checked out a book called Destination Dissertation. It's much better than a book I just read called Writing the Doctoral Dissertation--my copy was very out of date and much more directed toward quantitative dissertations.

While Destination Dissertation is still skewed toward the sciences and social sciences, I really do feel that its ideas for working on your dissertation are much more adaptable to a dissertation in the humanities. Part of this starts with coding the literature.

I've already put quite a bit of effort into thinking about my dissertation--this was necessary as I was working on my Fulbright application. Today, I managed to get some things narrowed down. What exactly am I looking for in the poems I'm reading? How does this relate to a larger Victorian era? Just being able to look for places that can be categorized later is going to be really helpful later, especially when I'm trying to find something that I read on this subject in this book. Part of what this book recommends is that you read in front of a computer, and any time you come across something (at least in secondary literature), you type the passage out with a brief, easy citation--just the title and page number, for example. Then later, you print all of this out, and you can cut the passages up and rearrange them into relevant piles to help you organize your thoughts.

It's a lot like the way I suggest to my students that they work on organizing their papers--splitting up paragraphs into points and using the scissors to work them around, but I'd never considered putting it toward the research process before, and I think that this might also be a really valuable way to teach my students about what they need to do to research as well. So this book has helped as both a student and a teacher! Check it out, guys. (There's a copy in the UWC--I have the library's copy right now.)

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