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?