Friday, October 28, 2011

not cut and dry

I have dissertation news (or non-news). Let me preface this by saying that I really need to learn to stop stating cut-and-dry deadlines. If you would have asked me earlier this week (even yesterday morning), I would have told you that I'd know by Monday whether or not I was graduating in December. Not true anymore. Things are never that easy with me.

My situation reminds me of a scene from Futurama, when Fry says something like "Can't they just hurry up and destroy humanity already? It's the waiting I can't stand!" Not very logical. (Why would I want to know sooner, if the news is bad?)

Two paragraphs later... the actual news. Recall that I turned in my draft last Thursday,and my advisor had not been super positive about whether he'd get to it quickly. Well, by Wednesday afternoon (two days ago), after I had checked my email an estimated 10,000 times, I finally received something from my advisor. I was SO HAPPY because seriously, my goal date to turn the thing in to the committee was TODAY and I thus far had received nothing.

But, oh snap. It was not a full draft with revisions. Just revisions for the abstract and the first chapter. Which are great, but they're only about 10% of the whole paper. He explained that he's been busy and did not know when he'd get to the rest.

At this point, I was so hyped up! FULL of adrenaline, caffeine, and anxiety. I was very much on edge and having trouble keeping calm. Even so, I went home early from work, took a hot shower to calm down, and worked on the changes he had sent. I had them done by Thursday morning (yesterday), at which time I called him to ask if he wanted these changes returned to him now. He did not answer.

I was a bit disappointed too ("a bit" might be an understatement). I had thought/hoped for sure that by the time I finished these changes, he'd have sent me the rest. That's why I bothered to leave work early on Wednesday--to get a jumpstart. Instead, here I was at 10:30 AM on a Thursday, un-showered and wearing my sweats, done with my changes and with no more to do. So I washed my face, put on some fresh deodorant, got dressed and went to work. No sense in wasting the vacation time.

I really felt like that was it. If I didn't get those suggested changes from him back on Thursday (yesterday), I was done. Out of the game. (For this semester.) Sad to just sit and watch it slip away.

He called me back in the mid-afternoon though. He said he did not want the changes yet--not until the rest of the draft was changed. "So," I inquired... "I will be getting that back from you...soon?" Nope. Not until Monday. He simply hasn't had time with everything that's been going on lately, including the latest: his home internet access was not working. He would also be out of town for the weekend, so unable to work on it then either. But he said he WILL work on it Monday. Not 'might' and not 'try to get to it,' but WILL.

Still though. Crushed. Goodbye, dreams of of an intimate December ceremony in the college auditorium, like the one in August that Mr. N had (and I had as well, for my Master's a few years ago. Sigh.

Still on the phone, my advisor was promising that he had blocked off the editing time for Monday. I sucked it up and asked "Do I have a chance at December anymore?" He said he didn't know.

We discussed the Preliminary Approval process--that's the form the committee has to sign by the 17th--and he said that if the committee didn't have to find time to meet to discuss it (i.e. they will individually make changes, not have to get together about it at this time), it was probably still do-able. Instead of getting the paper to the committee today, or by Monday, he thought I should aim for Wednesday or Thursday. This would still give them about 2 weeks to read it, a timeframe they had all suggested was do-able before.

This means that if he gets the changes to me Monday night--and he said he would--I will have about 1.5-2 days to turn it around and get it back to the committee. I can do it, though it will be tight. (Pressure does crazy things to me, but one of the positive ones is my ability to churn out quality work pretty quickly. I have never been so glad to have that skill!) Originally, he wanted to read it again after I made the revisions, before I turned it over to the committee, but he will no longer be doing this. He will trust my changes. This also means my husband and I will have to put an extra-great effort in to reading the revised paper and making sure it is sound. We can do that!

Provided that the committee thinks receiving it Wednesday or Thursday is OK, we might still be in business!

Here are the next steps, then:
If they like the work and sign the form by the 17th, I will need to schedule a defense date at the very end of November. The deadlines are very tight: I am required to allow 2 full weeks between Preliminary Approval and Defense, and I also must defend by December 1. Given that the Approval is due Nov. 17, that gives me about 2 possible days to defend! Between them signing the Preliminary Approval form, and the defense date, I would need to make any changes they request and provide them with a true final copy to read as well. So it's going to be a busy month for me.

When my advisor and I ended our phone call, I had renewed (though still subdued) confidence. My immediate next step is to just ask the committee if they're OK with the slightly-later-than-expected delivery of the document.

If my committee is cool with receiving the document Thursday (I will strive for Wednesday, depending on the depth of my advisor's changes), and they like it, and they sign the form, and they can attend a defense at the end of November, I might actually meet my goal.

It has been quite the week.

Friday, October 21, 2011

that time when i lost it in my advisor's office

So today, I turned in my final draft to my advisor.

'Final' just means it's complete, as I see it. It's all there, from the title page to the references and appendices, and I couldn't think of anything else to put in it. 'Draft' means exactly that. It's a draft. It isn't really done. Really, "final draft" is an oxymoron, but I couldn't think of anything else to call it. "Full draft," perhaps?

Here's how I got to where I am today. Last Monday or Tuesday, I bumped in to my advisor. That was the first time we discussed that he needs to see the whole thing before the committee does. It makes sense. It just did not occur to me. So instead of just forging my way toward my "turn in to committee" deadline of the 28th, I now had a new deadline, the 21st. (Oh, and I was out of town last weekend for a wedding...)

Bear in mind that this is the 7th draft that he's seen. So it's not like he has no idea what's in it. But it's nerve-wracking because there are only 7 days between the 21st and the 28th. He told me today that 'final drafts' like mine may require multiple back-and-forths between the student and the advisor, before the advisor thinks it's ready for the committee. Why didn't this occur to me? (Then again, we have been working on it together throughout the late summer and fall, so it isn't as though he's never seen any of it or offered any input. We have already started this process, I think.) In my mind, him looking at the final draft was more of a formality. Like "Oh ok, yeah, makes sense, I see this change was made, format looks good, etc." Not like he could really tear it apart, or that we'd volley it back and forth. Hm.

Some of you other Ph.D. students are probably laughing at me right now... but I really didn't know. This is a new program and I'm my advisor's first student to get to this point (at this university). No one told me all the steps... I just keep on going, doing what I'm told trying to figure out the process as I go. I really thought once I turned it in to him, he'd just read it and say "yep" or maybe "clarify this and that, and you're good to go!" Yeah that is NOT how it works.

So like I said, 7 days. I think if I really need them, I can push it to 9 days. I have to give it to committee before the end of October, and well, the 31st is technically the end of October! I was trying to be polite by giving them an extra weekend instead of using it myself to work on the paper.

Now, the problem arises with my advisor too: he has other students, his classes, his own research, personal obligations, etc. So while I'm standing there in his office trying to convey my seriousness and work ethic, he's trying to tell me he's not just worried about my timeline, he's worried about his own. Makes sense. Each revision, he has to read and think about and respond to. I get that (and then the selfish part of me wants to plead "I don't sleep, why should you!"). But seriously. He spends way more of his time on my stuff lately than he probably wants to, likely sacrificing other things to do it...I appreciate it a great deal.

By the way, it's hard to convey one's seriousness and work ethic when is sobbing all over one's advisor's desk. More on that in a sec.

I did try my best to clarify my motivations. Yes, my December graduation deadline is an arbitrary goal. I have my reasons, and they are valid, but still, no great harm will come to me if I do not graduate in December. I just really, really want to. But part of that achievement is doing solid, respectable work. I wanted to make sure he knew that I am REALLY taking this seriously. I don't want to graduate if I'm not ready. But I want to do everything in my power to make myself ready, while still respecting my goal. Achievement of my goal does not equate to me bullying or manipulating him or my committee in to accepting subpar work. It means I did a great job and I did it in time allotted. I'm willing to work really hard for that. I asked him to give me a chance; I hope he does.

But the way it stands, I turned in that draft today. He may not have a chance to read and critique it until Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday of next week. 7 days will quickly become 2 or 3 days. So that gives me...oh... just a couple of days before my committee-deadline to make his revisions and send it back to him for a reread. THEN, he has to read it again and might have more changes. The cycle continues... and all of that has to happen within 7 days (9 at the most) in order for me to make my timeline.

It is going to be CLOSE. I'm anxious as hell.

Now back to that crying thing. I think I hit my breaking point without realizing it. See, I cry randomly now, almost every day. I don't even wear mascara most days, for this reason. I don't feel particularly sad or depressed or anything. Just very tired, and strung out perhaps. I wasn't really exaggarating about my bad diet and sleep schedule: I'm not really sleeping or eating like I should.

The tears mostly come when I think about finishing my degree. It's emotional. But today the terrible no good thing happened: I burst out crying in my advisor's office. Do you know that feeling? When you're crying and you don't want to, and you don't even necessarily feel like you probably look on the outside? I'm sure I looked hopeless, pitiful, whiny, and possibly a little crazy. On the inside, I felt totally sane and normal. I was there to just tell him what I did, and to discuss thetimeline issues a little bit. I really felt fine! Yet--practically as soon as I opened my mouth--my face started leaking. Oh, the betrayal. Maybe it worked in my favor a bit--perhaps it helped to show him that I do care. I really, REALLY want this, and I care about the outcome. My dissertation moves me to tears, you guys. (Hah!) But I felt so embarrassed. I AM NOT A PERSON WHO BURSTS IN TO TEARS. He had to comfort me and such. I am such a girl.

This weekend, I'll be doing some yard work and otherwise trying to keep myself busy. It has gotten cold (20s at night), so there is raking and other winter prep to be done.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

the last month

This month will make it or break it. Before Halloween, I think I'll know which it is.

So instead of doing what my body tells me to do--curling up under a cozy blanket by the fireplace with a good book and some hot coffee--I sit at my computer ready to keep on trucking. My draft was returned to me with changes on Wednesday, and I told my advisor I'd do them by Monday. (It's probably realistically 2 weeks' worth of normal-pace work...heh...but I don't have that time to spare.) I took Friday off as a vacation day--the first time I have ever taken a vacation day to work on school stuff. Sure, I've been sick at home and found myself pounding away at something academic--might as well--but this vacation day was a first. I got my entire to do list for yesterday done as well as one of today's items--go me! Now I just need to keep that momentum going over the weekend and I'll be in good shape for a meeting with my advisor about the next phase.

The next phase makes me pretty anxious because I feel it's outside of my expertise (getting my statistics looked at--and getting advice from a statistician). I'm afraid this person will see big problems with my work and the setback will be impossible to repair in the time I have. All I can do is charge forward though, and hope.

A few things are keeping me going right now. One of them is a quote I found on Pinterest.

She believed she could, so she did.
That's pretty true of me... when I want something, I try to get it. I want this.

The other thing is something my advisor told me. He said that I was one of the first graduates of the master's degree program under his direction (I didn't know that), and he was proud of the work I'd done on my thesis for it. I was also the first in to the new-in-2008 doctoral program and will be the first out, so essentially he has to make sure my work is very very good. Indisputably excellent. Being first means that my dissertation will be more than a culmination of what I can do; it'll be the first tangible evidence of how good this program is. Makes sense when you think about it. So because I'm a pretty hard worker, my advisor essentially told me he's working me to the bone on purpose. He knows I can take it, so he's dishing it out. Um, ok...awesome?

I could whine about how it isn't fair: I've seen several other dissertations (from other universities) in my topic area and none of them were as long and detailed and deep as mine (and I'll be adding another 30-40 pages of literature review to mine today and tomorrow too!). I should receive equal treatment, right? I've done enough. Let me reach my goal. There are other PhDs out there who have done way less than me. (Somebody call the whaaambulance.)

But, I'm instead flattered and rejuvenated. I now understand why I'm being worked so hard, and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed that my work is going to be held up to the department as proof that this program is a strong one. I don't know why my apparent status as an academic martyr didn't occur to me sooner. It makes sense that everybody would want to see what the first grad put out. Especially if the first grad walked the stage 3.5 years after admission. (Not a long time for a doctorate.) I just never thought of it that way before.

And with that, I'm back to work.