I can’t stop freaking out about my dissertation, and I’m starting to enjoy that fact.
Some of you may have noticed that postings on our blog have been a little scant recently. We sincerely apologize for that and are continuing work on many awesome projects. The reality of the situation is, however, several of us have just finished thesis writing or are currently in the throes of dissertation writing, and for me at least, this has led to some strange occurrences in my life. I mentioned in a previous post how I had become convinced I needed to shunt health and sleep to the side in order to finish the dissertation. I have to admit that as much as writing that blog post did help me get some perspective on what I’m doing and why, I still have days where I feel like I’m not doing something right if I haven’t had at least one nervous breakdown. And that has led to another problem: I’m starting to enjoy this process.
Please don’t misunderstand me! I’m only developing the kinds of masochistic tendencies that I think all academics have: we love learning things, we want to get what we know right, we want to share things with others, and we want to have just all the ideas! These are good and noble goals, but my dissertation can’t have ALL the ideas. And I’m finding I am enjoying figuring that out. I’m starting to notice that, rather than berating myself for spending an afternoon writing down ideas, notes, and even whole sections of the dissertation that I’m probably not going to use, I’m recognizing that “writing through” these things is helping me get a better perspective on what does need to go into the dissertation. A good friend and colleague once encouraged me to free write if I ever got stuck during a paper or project. I’m not sure that’s exactly what I’m doing, but there absolutely is value in the act of getting your thoughts on paper. I’m finding it easier to stay focused because I can better recognize when I’ve gotten off on a tangent. The tangent might be fascinating! But I don’t need to beat myself up if it doesn’t fit. It might fit later, or not at all. It might be the basis of an article or chapter, or it might be something that I read through later and cringe. All of those things are ok!
I still worry that my writing is feeble, and I absolutely know that imposter’s syndrome is real, but I’m also finding many worthwhile things to learn in the process of dissertation writing. These lessons are all the more powerful because I’m having to work through them and discover them on my own. They’re teaching me that, yes, I’ve still got lots to learn (and a ton left to write) but also that I still love learning. The joy of discovery hasn’t worn off, and I think that’s really important. The dissertation is the last step on our road as students and is, potentially, the door to years more academic involvement. Even if it’s not, it’s very important to retain the sense of wonder and joy of learning that got us into this mess in the first place.