Foundational Changes

Last week I prepared and delivered a preliminary version of my proposal defense to the Lab I work in. It was awful. This whole time, I’ve felt like this project was unwieldy and unconstrained. I’ve been fighting to put boundaries on it and make sense out of it. I’ve spent 6 months putting this project together. It showed in the presentation – I was all over the place and it took WAY too long. I went into my advisor the next day and she suggested that I start from a completely different premise. OK… A completely different premise, object, direction.

I went straight from that meeting into my writing group meeting. I wasn’t the only one who had gotten this kind of feedback this week. We were both a little dejected – it was hard to hear that the work I’ve done the past 6 months led me down a garden path. The suggestion was a good one, and my project will be far better for it. Still, I’ve found myself wishing that we could have come to this realization earlier. Like, you know, 3-5 months ago. But, that’s just not how learning works.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about time to degree, graduate education, funding, etc. Until actually starting the dissertation, I was on pretty good track for 5 years. I’d made some missteps (made some major topical shifts, etc.). But, the unwieldiness of this project definitely increased my time to degree (still planning/hoping/pushing for 6 years). In retrospect, I see the kind of structure I needed to put into the project, and what good, observable, concrete project planning looks like. The first and second qualifying projects simply do not prepare me for multidimensional project planning that is needed for this.

I read a lot of “how to write a dissertation” books, and am aware that, just like everything else, this project is largely what you make it. Which is to say that I’m not sure that a course on dissertation development would actually prepare us for writing one… I’m not actually sure what would prepare us for it other than just doing it and learning by trial and error. And, there is is… The errors have become clearer and I am heading back up the garden path to find that last fork in the road. At least I’m not the only one on this meandering journey.