I’m officially done!

Well, really, I’ve been officially done for a while now. Somehow not everyone got the message that November was supposed to be a restful and rejuvenating month for me. Life went on. And all the many, many things I had neglected in the past year needed attention. I finally got a week of full rest (read: we stayed at my parents’ and my mom took care of all of us) after Christmas. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The defense

The defense itself was wonderful. My primary advisor was encouraging and steady as always. He made a point to say that the dissertation had really come together in the three months before the defense. My third reader, whom I had not previously met, was lovely and very enthusiastic about my work. My secondary advisor managed to miss my defense altogether. He had it written down for the next day. We had the defense anyway–a 45 minute discussion–and my advisor reported that it had gone “very smoothly.”

The following day, I met with my secondary advisor to have an informal mini-defense and to have him sign my signature page (which I then dropped off in my advisor’s box on my way to the airport, which he got signed, and which his assistant sent over to the graduate school). We had a good chat, helpful to me and to him, I think.


My family picked me up post-defense so we could have pizza before trading off–my husband had meetings all afternoon, and I had the kids. After lunch, I took the kids to the local library to work on their school work. I think someone forgot to tell them that I had just become a doctor of learning. They both ended up on the floor of the library crying and refusing to do their work.

Post-library-fiasco, I had a great meeting with the jobs person in our department, and we created a plan if I should want to go on the job market any time soon. Post-meeting, the family and I had a lovely dinner out with friends to celebrate.

The final stretch

I managed to stall out and neglect my final changes for over a month, but turned everything in by the deadline. In retrospect, I wish I had plowed through the final editing quickly; having the last bit hanging over my head was more stressful that I imagined it would be.

The final panic

Just to check, and because smart people who graduated before me said I should, I called the graduate school a few days before my final deadline to make sure I had everything taken care of. Words of doom: “Everything’s here! Except. We just need your signature page.” WHAT?!?!? I’d had an email at the end of October that the signature page had been submitted.

Fortunately, our graduate department admin is amazing. She ended up walking over to the graduate school (they weren’t answering phones) to find out that the signature page was indeed in the office, but hadn’t yet been scanned. Phew! Disaster not real!

What now?

I’m taking a sabbatical. (My sabbatical committee of one (spouse) suggested it and requires no documentation.) My sabbatical project is to figure out what’s next. But first, as in all good sabbaticals, I’m ignoring my project and recovering. I’m still sorting through all the neglected things from the past few years. Today, I’m bravely entering my office to try to make it more habitable. I’ve been doing some writing, playing some music, knitting some sweaters, watching some movies. But mostly, I’m reconnecting with my family.

They all have carried some of my stress. My husband bears it willingly and well. My son has had a hard six months–he’s an external processor, and I all but stopped talking about important things with him. Winter break with him was very good. We stayed up talking late into the night many nights. He’s calmer and braver these days. My daughter has missed me. She’s a project girl, and while I have little patience for her projects on a normal day, dissertation days didn’t allow for any. So we’ve been baking brownies from scratch, knitting, sewing, stretching tiny rubber bands on the Rainbow Loom, and singing the songs from Frozen at the top of our lungs. All of which I’m actually enjoying. Except the Rainbow Loom.

I think it will take me a while to feel like I can look at my dissertation again. It’s not as far from a book as it could be–my secondary advisor really pushed me to make it book-like before the defense. But I’m weighing carefully whether I can make the effort in a way that doesn’t overtake the rest of the things in my life. I’m considering trying to teach a class here and there–it’s been a while since I’ve been in a classroom–but the idea of having to be somewhere at a certain time right now sounds terrible.

I’m thinking I need more time. It’s a season of resting and waiting–tending to the weeds that have grown up and planting some cover crops–ones that grow quickly to protect the soil and will be tilled into the soil to restore it.

The defense approacheth

Step one on the way to the defense: we (my little family) made it all the way to the East Coast. We’ve been enjoying some sights, struggling through the kids’ school work, and sort of adjusting to the time difference. Mostly we’ve ended up at Chipotle and the hotel pool.

What else I’ve been doing to prepare: I’ve read William Germano’s From Dissertation to Book to help me think through the inevitable portion of the defense that focuses on this topic. I mostly can’t imagine wanting to touch the dissertation again. I’ve imagined gritting my teeth and faking my way through that conversation. But Germano’s book helped me think through some ways that I might approach a revision of the manuscript and gave me a framework for re-reading my dissertation before the defense.

What I still need to do: (1) re-read the dissertation. I’ve got five days, so a chapter a day seems reasonable, though I might want to read it faster to have more of a sense of the continuity (or lack thereof). (2) prepare an “opening statement.” The first soft-pitch question will ask how I came to such an interesting topic. My advisor suggested that I can also use the time to bring up questions I hope to discuss in the defense and to head off some issues I’d rather leave alone. (3) read two reviews of a book I cite that I don’t have a great handle on. Clearly, this is not the time to do more research. However, I cite a big text by a big author, and I can only describe in the broadest terms what the book is about. I little review reading will put my mind at rest, I think.

So, dear readers. Any advice as I head into the final days before the defense? Any preparation tips? Advice for the defense itself?

Turned In!

I finally submitted my dissertation to my committee late last night. My six-year-old daughter has been looking forward to my finishing for a long time, and I keep promising to be done and not actually being done. So last night she requested that I wake her up when I finished. She smiled with her eyes closed, gave me a hug, and went back to sleep. This morning we had pancakes to celebrate, and then she and I made sugar cookies for a little party that was supposed to include a Hoedown at which we danced the Macarena, but it got too late and we forgot. So we danced the Macarena in her bed. (Btw–just read a translation of the lyrics–not really kid appropriate!)

Do I feel relief? Kind of. I’m definitely getting more rested. Today I got to swim and do yoga without rushing to get to something else. But the rest of life hasn’t suddenly gotten easier. My house is still Clutter Central, my fridge desperately needs cleaning out, my son still cried for a portion of the afternoon (this year has been a hard year so far), and I’m behind on my copyediting homework.* And I still feel like it’s not quite over. I do have the defense in two weeks, and I’m sure I’ll need to make some more changes afterward. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to change a few things, especially since my abstract is pretty sucky at the moment.

I am grateful to have relief from the pressure of a big deadline. And I’m sure as I uncoil over the next few days and begin to relax more, I’ll notice how much lighter I feel.

*Yes. Somehow I thought it was a good idea to take a copyediting class the semester I finished my dissertation. And then I got a B- on my first assignment. I’m rethinking that choice a little bit.


I’m finally scheduled! For mid-October!

There is exactly one hour and fifteen minutes when all of my committee members are available during a given week. So we’re making the best of it. My third reader may have to leave early, but she shouldn’t miss much.

So now I’ve bought plane tickets, booked hotels and rental cars, made arrangements to stay with friends, and asked for school work for the kids to take with us. I still have to make arrangements to miss things (soccer games, farmbox pickup).

The dissertation itself is nearly ready to submit to my committee. I have two chapters left to proofread, one chapter’s worth of figures to make, and two chapters to tweak for 2ndary advisor. Then I have to type in all my changes. My goal is to be all done by Friday. I’d better get working!

Checkpoint: Conclusion approved

This morning I got notice from Primary that my conclusion was perfect (his word). So I made some copyediting changes and sent it off to Secondary this morning. I’m now for real, officially, all the way approved by Primary. I’m going to get to graduate!

Secondary has been quick to respond this week, and he’s been very positive about everything so far. He still wants some changes to Arc, but they seem minor. Primary is advocating for me to be able to schedule before Secondary sees my final changes to Arc.

Meanwhile, I’m working on making figures and proofreading and keeping my fingers crossed that Secondary re-reads FQ and reads the conclusion tonight and emails in the morning enthusiastic about scheduling the defense.

We’ve got some celebrating going on here at Chez Str!

Almost there . . .

It turns out my secondary advisor is aiming for “the strongest dissertation possible” one that’s “nearly ready to publish,” while I’m aiming for “I’ve spent ten years on a PhD and I’m ready to be done can you please me pass please.” There seems to be a disconnect.

Luckily, my primary advisor is planning that it will all be smooth sailing from here on out. I’m still holding my breath.

Work-wise, I have one more pass to go on the conclusion. Then, just proofreading and a few minor changes to strengthen the arc of the project and make secondary happy.

Checkpoint: ER chapter really, really approved

It turns out my secondary advisor’s promise to get back to me in “several weeks” turned out to mean about two. Glory Be! And to top that, he called my ER chapter “superb.” I’m thinking of creating a blurb page from his comments on my chapters. Three out of five have gotten the most positive comments he’s given on dissertation chapters, according to Primary.

And now the bad news. He wants even more revisions to Arc. I have revised this chapter more than 10 times; many of those times it was significantly rewritten. It has changed shape more times than I care to count. I knew my revision was risky–I don’t think I changed the argument as substantially as he desired, but I did frame the argument to justify its place in my dissertation. Alas. And to sink even lower, he’s mailing his handwritten comments, so I can’t know the damage yet. But–glass half full, now–I can use this time to polish up the other chapters so I’ll have everything else done and ready to go. And I still have twelve days to work things out so I can have my dream defense date.

Speaking of polishing things up, I should get started. (Note to self: Just keep thinking, “superb!”)

Progress update

I was on vacation last week, but before I left, I sent a full draft to my editor for proofreading and my advisor for a formatting check. Unfortunately, I still have a few revisions left before it’s really complete, so this week I’ll be revising the Intro, Titus, and Conclusion. The Intro and Conclusion will be challenging; situating my work within existing scholarship and explaining my contribution takes deep thinking and a boldness I rarely feel. I think more about what I haven’t read than what I have. I’m typically not one to worry too much about what scholarship I’ve missed–I figure there’s always something, and if I’ve covered the major works that get referenced in everyone else’s introductions, I at least have a good idea of the lay of the land. But this time, I’m worried there’s some key text I’m missing that would make my dissertation shine. Really, I need to keep in mind that it just needs to be good enough. I’m not publishing it at this point. I’m just showing that I am a competent scholar.

After the revisions are done, I’ll get to do my own proofreading, and I’ll be using OmniGraffle to make fun figures. 50 or so fun figures. Which will take way longer than I want them to.

thank goodness my kids start school on Tuesday. I need to be wary of being lulled into complacency by the thought of six interrupted hours of work time and start working early.

Checkpoint: ER chapter approved!

I heard back from my primary advisor that I should make a few tweaks to the chapter to signpost my argument, and then I should send it off to my secondary advisor to give him plenty of time to read it before I need to schedule my defense for my preferred dates.

Goal: revise chapter summaries in my intro, last pass on ER chapter, fix the last 4 things in Arc; send these three items to secondary advisor Tues or Wed. Then I’ll have two more days to clean up everything else for proofreading. It’ll be tight, but I think I can make it.

Checkpoint: ER revision complete!

Finally! I’ve been sitting on this chapter revision since mid-June. I finally figured out that I needed another writing retreat. Grandparents to the rescue! I had three days of (mostly) uninterrupted work and got almost done. The last couple hours of work got done in the car on the way to camping. It’s off to my advisor, and I should hear back this weekend. If all goes well, I’ll get to send it and Arc to my secondary advisor early next week. Once he approves, I’ll be able to schedule my defense.

Next deadline: August 23–whole dissertation to advisor and editor for proofreading.

This week, I enlisted the parentals again, but at my house this time. So I’ve had another three (mostly) uninterrupted days. So far, I’ve gotten lots of final checks done, and I finished the bibliography. The bibliography feels like such a big deal that it deserves its own blog post title.

I’m starting to slow down a little, so it might be time for a walk. Onward!