Thoughts on life after the PhD
I think I’m beginning to understand why it takes some people ten years to complete their dissertation. It’s not necessarily writer’s block (though that ‘s certainly a factor), or a constantly changing topic (praying that won’t happen to me), or even advisors who leave when they get jobs elsewhere (*really* praying that won’t happen to me). For now, at least, the primary stumbling block is that that there’s just so much other stuff to do. Some of it’s very relevant and productive, and some of it is just a welcome escape from a project that even on its best days feels as overwhelming as a tidal wave. A tidal wave of really long books.
So if anyone else is looking for ways to delay the completion of their dissertation (a tactic I really don’t endorse), here are a couple of strategies to get you going.
1. Get a fly infestation. Granted, this one isn’t pleasant, and it certainly wasn’t planned. Two days ago the boyfriend and I noticed a fly or two in the kitchen. Yesterday there were half a dozen in the bathroom, and a dozen or so on the living room window sill. Not as bad as cockroaches or mice, I suppose, but I felt like I was stuck in a bad horror film, and also took the whole thing as a personal insult because I take pride in keeping the place clean. Didn’t sleep too well, and a day that was supposed to be all about work instead became half-full of calls to the management and the pest control company, who have hopefully solved the problem by dumping some very toxic-smelling chemicals down all the drains. Flies 1, dissertation 0.
2. Focus on your teaching. I’m guessing this is something that a LOT of advanced PhD’s–and maybe even profs–do to avoid their current research projects. In reality I should be spending about five hours a week on my teaching prep, with an extra few hours thrown in when I have papers to grade. Instead I end up poring over potential paper assignments and trawling the Internet for any interesting and provocative video clips I could use in class. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being an effective teacher, but it’s a little too easy to lose yourself in it at the expense of your research.
3. Cook. This one’s damned addictive. A much-needed creative outlet plus something delicious to eat when it’s all over. It’s amazing how you can convince yourself that spending two to three hours preparing beef stew makes perfect sense even when you promised yourself you’d have a second prospectus draft done by the following morning. Hey, the draft can wait–I’d rather stand over a steaming pot all evening!
4. Volunteer. All right, so good stuff comes out of this one. I finally made things official with Writegirl, a wonderful organization that teams women writers up with young girls to teach them how to use poetry, fiction, and song to empower themselves. The minimum commitment is only three hours a month, but it’s really easy to just go to all the events they plan and spend tons of time in their office making copies and sending out emails. Along with cooking, though, this one brings up some sneaky doubts: am I really doing what I love? If the PhD was really what I was meant to do, would the dissertation really be this hard to write?
5. Clean. The house gets dirty. For me it gets dirty way too quickly. So when I should be reading Foucault and Fanon, I’m cleaning the toilet bowl. But if it prevents future fly infestations, maybe it actually creates more work time for me?
6. Walk everywhere. Inspired by folks like No Impact Man, I’ve been making a concerted effort to do more walking and less driving, shop more at the farmer’s market, etc. At the very least I try to walk to Trader Joe’s, now about twenty minutes on foot. But the forty minutes two or three times a week really adds up. Plus, when it’s hot you’re tired when you get home, and a short nap never hurt anyone’s dissertation…
I suppose I should add blogging to this list, since I’ve just spent half an hour writing this when I could have been reading or editing a grant proposal draft. That’s it, back to work. But all those little fly carcasses really need to be cleaned up…
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