Thursday, December 10, 2015

December 10 dissertation notes (Week 16): A risky proposal?

What ended up happening this week was an interesting exchange of emails, raising the possibility that the dissertation could get back on the track I wanted. It's too early to tell, but...

Yesterday my advisor wrote, wanting to know where my new project outline was. I briefly despaired at this, because (as I've mentioned to you all) I'd come to the conclusion that the suggested new direction was a likely dead end. Finally, I decided to just say that (though I still attached the work I had done). But, I also suggested an alternative way forward. I'd been looking over some of my earliest dissertation work, including my original prospectus, which was approved in October, 2013, and deemed "excellent" by the whole committee. Especially compared to what I have been fiddling around with recently, it's a solid piece of work, and it was encouraging for me to read it again.

Then it occurred to me: Everyone agreed that I had a sound research question and argument at that point in the process -- or else the topic wouldn't have been approved. Granted, my early dissertation drafts are kind of a mess (because . . . they're early drafts?), and my argument isn't coming through as consistently as it needs to. But why are we trying to solve that problem by having me rethink my entire topic, instead of having me revise and polish what I've already written, so that it adheres to what my prospectus laid out (which, let me say again, *everyone liked*)? Does that make sense?

The other advantage of reverting to the earlier outline is that, as Kevin pointed out, it lets me jump back into writing. There will be further research needed, of course, but nowhere near as much as I'd need to do for a newly refocused dissertation.

So I drafted an email explaining all this, ran it by Kevin (to make sure it was clear, sensible, and bold -- i.e. free of self-deprecation and second guessing), and I sent it. And the response didn't entirely shoot me down. There wasn't really a response to the reasoning I presented, but he is willing to look at all the material I've written so far to determine if it's a plausible way forward.

He also reiterated that he'd have to be convinced that there's enough analytical work going on, since my work so far hasn't been persuasive in that regard. I think part of the issue here is the way I draft . . . The only way I figured out how to produce pages at a consistent rate last year was to separate the process into three distinct drafting layers: layer one is simply my interaction with the primary texts; layer two is constructing a scholarly edifice around the first layer, including interaction with secondary texts; and layer three is polishing the whole thing into a consistent narrative, making sure I'm reiterating my argument throughout. The fact is that I didn't get much past layer one in my first year of writing. I don't know if explaining this will really help, or change his assessment of the writing I did last year, but I suppose I need to try. (And if anyone has a better method -- seriously, tell me.)

I also said that if I'm able to pull together a mostly completed rough draft by May, then I'll plow ahead; but if I can't, then I'll have to conclude that the project isn't worth salvaging, and move on with my life. Stating that feels like more of a relief than anything. I used to think that I needed to ploddingly persevere no matter what; but I think pretty soon I'll hit a point of diminishing returns, if I haven't already. There comes a point where perseverance might mean finding better uses for my talents.

Anyway, I don't think we're quite at that point yet. I'll keep you posted on how this develops.

No comments:

Post a Comment