Friday, July 13, 2012

the state of the dissertation

About a month ago, I hit a bump in the road regarding my dissertation topic. The bump came in the form of my likely adviser suggesting that my proposed topic was not focused enough and/or had probably been sufficiently researched already. So, whereas I had begun the summer fairly certain of being on a steady track, I have been progressing more in fits and starts since then, at times just spinning my wheels. I have some general ideas, in the same neighborhood as the original (preaching in the early church), but I haven't yet determined their viability or been able to commit to a single one. I've effectively backtracked to a point I should have passed several months ago, and I can't say that's not demoralizing.

Of course, no matter the scale of the project, figuring out what my ideas are, what it is that I want to say, has always been the most agonizing part. I am okay at researching and love actually writing, but getting to the point where I can write is often an anxious process. So it doesn't come as a great surprise that I am sitting in the idea phase and feeling stuck. The same thing happened with my undergraduate thesis and with virtually every paper I have written since professors gave me the freedom to choose my own topics. In the end, most of that has turned out pretty well for me. Still, it's not the most fun place to be sitting. And it could become problematic if I don't get un-stuck within a week or two.

I know it isn't helped by the fact that I've been asking questions about my sense of my vocation, which is probably a healthy thing to do, but might be getting mixed up and conflated with the topic-search in unhelpful ways. I mean, it just doesn't work very well trying to discern a dissertation topic while discerning whether I see myself thriving in academia in the longer term. So I'm trying to lay the latter piece aside, for now, and focus on the task that's given to me right now. (And don't worry. I'm not thinking of dropping this program. That isn't even on the table.)


  1. I'll pray for you. I know it's not even the same thing at all but it reminds me of sewing with really expensive fabric. I'm always petrified to cut it. I check and recheck and put it off. Once it's cut it's harder to fix it, but once it's cut and done right- a sigh of relief. (Until the next snafu! LOL.) I know you'll get it figured out and be able to move on to the next step soon!

  2. Thanks, Becki. I actually really love the sewing analogy! That does sound a lot like trying to find a dissertation topic. :)