Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

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Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Thoughts on dissertating

I'm in one of my not-sleeping periods and have been using it to virtually converse with a friend about the dissertation process and how one ought to tackle it. That, of course, is rather a joke, since I clearly have little idea what I'm doing and am just blundering around in the dark.

However, one of this squidgy little blog's purposes is to create a space in which grad students can talk to each other, in which prospective grad students can get a sense of what grad-student life is like, and in which people who've moved on to the pseudo-Elysian Fields of academic jobs can offer the rest of us their hard-won advice.

So, I will reproduce here part of what I've said to her, in the hopes that it will strike some chords (mellifluous or otherwise) in some of you and get a conversation going about this Glass Mountain some of us are trying to climb, while yet others of us are waving to that first group from bigger, badder Glass Mountains of their own.

"Many others have said what I'm about to say, but I can't repeat it to myself enough, so I'll say it again for both of us:

The dissertation doesn't have to be brilliant. It just has to be interestng, reasonably marketable, intellectually solid, and done. . . .

I am writing a dissertation that isn't what I really, truly want to work on. What I really want to work on is much wackier. But I have been singularly, astonishingly unsuccessful at getting anyone on the faculty to actually comment on the damn thing, even though it's unquestionably my best work. Because many of them think the subject and what I say about it are kinda icky. And I don't think I could form a diss committee willing to read it which would actually still be primarily medieval.

So, I have reconciled myself to writing a dissertation that will knock nobody's socks off, but which is on an interesting topic which makes people (medievalists and non-medievalists) prick up their ears and which will make good fodder for undergrad classes in the future. Furthermore, it's pushing me into new areas about which I know almost nothing and will necessitate my getting some sorely needed training, by hook or by crook. Which is a good thing.

I do not love this project. It does not compel me as much, perhaps, as a diss project should. But I think it's the one I can write in order to actually get a degree and maybe even get my ass a job.

I still intend to publish the other work somehow, somewhere, and I'm planning to work on that just as soon as I get through this last round of qualifiying exams. But it became clear to me that I could not write that dissertation here. It is, incidentally, also true that writing such a Super-Edgy dissertation might have limited my job prospects, but that was a secondary consideration."

What say ye, O Internets? Have I done rightly?

Honestly, it's too late for me to change course now, even if you think my reasoning is wonky. But, if you think I'm on the wrong track, you may still be able to step in and offer other grad students some sanity-saving advice.