Monday, February 16, 2009

Nihilism and Dissertation Writing

I have eight weeks to finish a draft of my whole dissertation.

For you non-academic types out there, that is the equivalent of having 24 minutes to do your taxes from beginning to end. (Did I mention I am filing for an extension this year?).

It would say that it is overwhelming, but that would be an insult to "overwhelming."

I am faced with an age-old problem that afflicts all dissertation-writers, especially towards the end: To read or to write?

I have written drafts of 4 out of 5 chapters of my dissertation, and I just started drafting the fifth chapter. I also have to write an introduction and conclusion. On the one hand, that is not very much, but on the other, it is massive and life-consuming. I could write the whole thing without reading more than 10 books (reading doesn't really mean reading--it's more like consulting or skimming), and then it would be done, but it would kind of suck. Or I could go to the library and take out the 30 books on the list I spent the morning compiling, consult those, make another list, consult those, and never finish. Obviously, I will do neither. I am leaning towards taking out only the most important books and reading as little as I can until I have a draft of both the fifth chapter and the introduction. Then I will beef up my autobiography.

On another level, though, who cares? I don't know for sure, but it looks increasingly likely that I will not have any kind of academic job next year, unless I can scrounge up some adjuncting. TF and I won't starve (to supplement his income, I can tutor snotty rich kinds in a panoply of snotty subjects), but it's pretty humiliating for me. The job market has crashed, and who knows when it will recover? On one level it's not my fault, but I never hold myself up to those kinds of standards if I can hold myself up to higher ones.

I hear that people who get jobs just finish their dissertations in a rush and worry about them later, since the dissertation is meant to get you a job, not the other way around. But now I see it is really not that different for those who probably won't have jobs. This is especially the case if the job drought has the potential to be long-term. Who will ever read my dissertation if there are no jobs? I may publish some articles, but I won't try to publish a book if I don't make it in academia. So a few people who work on the same abstruse sh*t I do may look at it on an internet dissertation database. I doubt they care whether I have 2 or 4 sources in footnote 17. (Can you tell that I was up for a ritzy postdoc and didn't get it and am now bitter? Then you are very observant).

You also might say, "But, Katrina, this is just a defense mechanism. You are worried about finishing, so you get all nihilistic and convince yourself that how you finish doesn't matter. In doing so, you free yourself from your perfectionism enough to finish, march in the funny hat and robe, get married, move in with TF, make him dinner, have babies, etc." To which I say: "Duh."

But this wasn't what I had imagined for my life.

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beakerkin said...

I empathize as writing papers is one of the few times that my girlfriend and I have some tension. The nervousness and perfectionism of papers make compartmentalization difficult.

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