All But Thesis

I sat down to work on my thesis introduction at 1:00pm. Two and a half hours later, I have reviewed the feedback from my last thesis meeting, typed a table of contents, and listed some points I want to make in the intro. My other two hours were spent updating my profile on airbnb.com, coordinating a trip to Chipotle, and finishing an episode of American Dad.

Why can’t I work on this?! Never before has a project felt so daunting that I cannot start. It’s not even a matter of not knowing how or where to begin, but the fear that when I resume, I’ll realize how much work I have left to do.

A professor was telling our class that Ph.D candidates experience something similar – they do not finish because they either feel their work will never be done or…I forget the second reason. When the option is officially available, the standing is ‘Ph.D (ABD)’ – All But Dissertation. Does Haverford have B.A. (ABT) – All But Thesis?

Have you ever felt paralyzed by a project? What strategies do you have for beginning (and persisting)?

*When the introduction revision is due tomorrow, I’ll be back with a more triumphant post, and some strategies, if any, that I use to get me there.

Today I lost my thesis draft

You hear about it happening every year, and each year you think, “That will never happen to me.” You think lots of other things, too, like, “I bet s/he started the draft the night before and conveniently lost it.” Or, “How can you still be stupid enough not to back up your work!” And, when it happens to your friend, you may even tease him for not backing up his draft. Sorry, Bertram…

Then you realize why people sometimes call Karma by that ugly name of hers. You lose your thesis draft the day it is due. You also sit in the library and curse and cry, running from computer to computer trying to find one that will open your document. Each one mocks you with the same message, “Windows is unable to open your file because it is corrupted.” Corrupted? CORRUPTED! You pass from desperation to becoming irate because a computer-generated message is making you feel incompetent. You laugh to keep from crying. You cry anyway. People may begin to stare…

Today, I lost my thesis draft. I saved it every three seconds to my computer, my flash drive, and, when I finished, my email. Only the initial version was saved, and I lost hours of work. My computer didn’t crash; I didn’t forget to save it in several places; I started well in advance I didn’t save it all for the day it was due. And there it went…

After I stopped dry heaving (I kid), I realized that I was most upset that I’d never get back what I wrote. (Um, duh!) The content was still fresh on my brain, but do you know how sometimes when you’re writing there are moments  when you convey the information in a really fine way? Where the words and ideas are perfectly ordered? I lost the product of when mechanical academic writing becomes fun! Playing with ideas, playing with words, making work into play! That is what thesis has been, at least some of the time. (I’ve been learning a lot about this in an aesthetics seminar with Professor Kathleen Wright, rolling my eyes on the inside whenever she tried to get us to see how writing essays can be play. I get it, now.)

Although I am bitter that I lost my work, I am also grateful that I have time to explore a topic that I enjoy. I am also curiously pleased that I have been initiated into the scores of lowly seniors who have lost theses. I may have lost my draft, but I have gained imagined solidarity and a funny story… (Thesis – 1, Candace – 0)

Have any of you ever lost portions of your thesis or other important work?

Writer’s Block

Okay, okay! Maybe laziness isn’t quite the same as writer’s block. I’m home in beautiful North Carolina, struggling to pick up my thesis books.

The senior thesis is a capstone project that allows seniors to pursue an original research project under the guidance of a faculty advisor. While it is a semester-long or year-long process, many students use research or coursework from previous summers/semesters. My own essay, on the ethics of resentment, grew out of a short essay from a course with Professor Jill Stauffer.

I sometimes work in Magill Library with a friend who has been translating interviews from Spanish to English for use in her work on street children. Another friend and I chatted over lunch about whether he could secure funding for expensive software for a thesis on the correlation between GPA and physical attractiveness. Another friend finished her thesis on Ghanaian music in December. Me. Jealous? Never.

Here are some things I’ve enjoyed about thesis:

  • I’m re-reading a work for the third time, and I’ve taken something new from it each time. It’s nice to (re)read a work closely.
  • Meeting individually with my advisor reminds me of Oxford’s tutorial system, which I really enjoyed.
  • It’s nice to be self-directed.
  • I’m glad I’ve been forced to write a little each week, because I’m further along than I thought.
  • Subject librarians are INVALUABLE! (Shout out to James Gulick!) He has found more resources in an hour than I could find in a week. He raised questions that I’ll need to grapple with in my work, and also pointed me to sources that may help me tackle them.

The following things are not so great:

  • I don’t usually have the time to read things as closely as I’d like.
  • I hate to write a little each week, because…well, it’s work.
  • I hate to present rushed writing to my thesis advisor each week!

Let’s hope this “writer’s block” let’s up soon!