Tag Archives: writing

Guest post: “Unexpectedly Dissertated!”

Stephanie Bell is a PhD candidate in the English department. She contributes this blog post about her experience nearing the end of her program. Her dissertation is titled “Under review: Source use and speech representation in the critical review essay” and is supervised by Dr. Catherine Schryer.

I didn’t anticipate feeling like I had made no progress whatsoever until my dissertation was in its final stages. Maybe it’s just who I am as a student (that is, anxious and self-doubting), but I didn’t realize that I was actually making headway until last March when I realized that I had a draft that needed polishing and some re-working but not substantial re-thinking.

The process felt perpetually stagnated because it was so recursive. With the insights I gained when writing new chapters, I had to go back to earlier chapters to rethink and revise my initial discussions there. In a way, the more I wrote the less progress I felt I had made. It was a terrible experience with any sense of accomplishment from making daily writing quotas and draft deadlines being constantly undermined.

Just last winter, feeling like I had made no progress on the dissertation and suspecting that I might be happier with “real” job that might pay well and provide a clearer sense of purpose, I was seriously considering leaving the program. I had big plans for quitting the PhD and finding work upon my return from a month-long vacation to Australia.

I think a combination of the mid-winter sunshine on Australia’s Gold Coast and the relief I felt at having decided to quit the program allowed me to gain the kind of critical distance I needed. When I returned from Australia and reviewed my dissertation work in an effort to tell my supervisor about my plans to quit, I saw a substantial body of work that I wasn’t able to recognize before. Moreover, I had new and exciting ideas for how to make sense of it all.

Instead of bringing my supervisor a defence of why my dissertation was worth abandoning, I ended up presenting her with a plan for finishing. It was the first time I’d felt confident since the proposal and it was the moment I took ownership over the project. I guess you can say that I didn’t really decide to do this PhD until my dissertation was nearly finished.

I’m interested in hearing what everyone else’s writing experiences are/were like. Are there any faculty who had a negative dissertation-writing process but then went on to really enjoy an academic position?

Where we write

Research means writing. We all do a lot of writing, professors and students alike. Writing is a fundamental aspect of our jobs. Of course we might also do more than write as part of our research (i.e. make websites, make art works, design digital things, and so on). I have been working for a  while on an article, and I have become increasingly aware of how my own work habits have been changing over the years. Not only how I write is changing but also where I write.

I remember being an undergraduate student, writing in my bedroom in my parent’s house on a tiny white particle board desk–that matched the rest of my bedroom furniture. Self disclosure coming….I am so old I wrote by hand and then typed my essays on a small (but electric!) typewriter–not even an IBM! No, I longed for an IBM Selectric.

In my Master’s program I wrote everything by hand and then typed it into computers in the university library. Yes, on those computers that had big floppy disks (I can just hear some of you…what’s a floppy disk?). When I was a Master’s student I had an office in the library. Man-oh-man I felt important.

PhD: shared office space with other grad students in the department and now my very own PC–a Tandy that came from Radio Shack and which I bought second hand. I wrote in my tiny apartment. I wrote my dissertation in my apartment all day, printed off what I had written, went to the cafe to read and revise, then returned to the apartment and my computer to do the revisions. I lived in fear of computer crashes and bad floppy disks. Yes, still had floppy disks, just smaller ones.

Finally, big tower PCs when I got my job here at uW. Eventually, Macs of all kinds. [RIP Steve Jobs; you changed my life]. Now I write mainly on a laptop (PowerBook or MacBook Air) and I write in all sorts of places in my house and in cafes. I have a perfectly good office in my house. But I don’t write there. I have a perfectly good office at the University. But I don’t write there. No, I write on my kitchen or dining room tables.

And then I wondered: where do others in the English department write? So I asked my colleagues and grad students to send me photographs of where they do their work: reading, thinking, writing–pulling their hair out trying to find the words.

Here are a few images to be getting on with. Please send more if you want a part 2 of this post.

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A new term, a new departmental blog

Welcome to the new blog written by the department of English Language & Literature. Of course, it is not written by the department, but by me, Linda Warley, associate professor, teacher of Canadian literature, researcher of all things having to do with life writing, student of aboriginal literatures in Canada, immigrant to Canada from England; ‘mother’ to my cat Shirley; and newly appointed “Alumni co-ordinator.” This blog is for everyone: students, faculty, staff, members of the university community. Of course, it is public, but it is also about us, the English department in all of our many guises and iterations.

If you are an alumnus, please know that the English department wants to stay in touch with you, and I’m hoping this blog will become part of your routine reading. Because you are still reading, right? Aren’t we English types the perpetual, obsessive, compulsive (oops! that makes it sound like a disorder) thoroughly committed-for-life readers? Weren’t we the kids in our rooms on summer days with a book in our hands? These days we might be reading from e-readers or iPads or laptops, but I bet we’re also still reading in print. And reading a lot in all media.

And we are writing, too. Whether or not we have to write for our jobs–do you write for a living? is writing a big part of you job?–we are word people. We process words. We live words. We are words. And it’s important that words are in the right places and that our meanings are clear. We’re good at that.

I love blogging. I began writing a blog only very recently when I was away for a term, teaching as a visiting professor at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. If you are interested, please check out Lady Professor in the Balkans.. Now I’m writing another blog that is more focused on my research. Lady English Professor  has a new home.  You are welcome to join me in that virtual place as well.

Here at Words in Place I’m writing from the perspective of home. My work place; your former (or present?) place of study. I suspect you might also think of the department of English as some sort of home. We certainly hope so. The learning environment is such a comfortable place for most of us, and our degrees connect us to particular enclaves within the larger space that is the University of Waterloo. I think of the department of English as the mother ship; the place from which you launched into the world as more mature, better educated citizens. But like all mother ships, this one wants to keep you close even while we proudly watch you move out into the larger world.

So, please bookmark this blog. Check it out whenever you have some time. Pass it along to your friends who might also be UW English alumni. Comment if you feel like it. Email me with requests for specific stories. I’ll try to post something every week. And guest posts are also most welcome.

The new term is about to begin. It’s busy in the department these days. The printers are spilling out syllabi; the photocopiers are spewing paper; the campus is a buzz with orientation activities; professors are checking out the bookstore and their classrooms. Students are sharpening their pencils. Well, metaphorically, anyway. Happy Fall 2011!