Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What a No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Week Looks Like as a PhD Student

Perhaps there's an irony that just as it seems the #DevilDiss is getting into high gear, just as I was looking forward to laser-locked focus, it just all seems to come crumbling down.

I've been feeling pretty good going into comps. I'm prepared. I've written sample answers. I review minutiae with my color-coded flash cards.
I have felt good about where #DevilDiss is. The prospectus I've spent five years on was finished except for last edits. I'm 80+ pages into writing the actual dissertation. I'm at a revision stage, adding notes of where to put outside scholarship and footnotes.

I had two writing projects, one a revision, one to actually write, to complete before comps started in February but I felt good about how I had budgeted my time.

And Monday it all came crashing down. And the week went downhill (mostly) from there.

I received some feedback that sent me into a spiral. Instead of finishing the revision project Monday, and getting some studying done I spent the day wondering if I even belonged in my program. If I just did not have it in me.
There's a fair amount of self-doubt that comes with the PhD process, more so I think if you have no support system to help take some of the edge off or pull you back from the edge. I was lucky enough to have a meeting the next day with my dissertation director who I am infinitely grateful for as we solved two problems on Tuesday- I regained my equilibrium and by talking through the entire dissertation (with the handy use of a picture of my whiteboard) we determined that the best thing to do was to toss the dissertation prospectus and start over.
So I did. I threw the document out. It was chunky and there was no through line. You could see that it was a document I had built in stages since 2010. I could almost mark on the page where additions and revisions had been made. My director suggested writing it from scratch, as a letter, as though I was explaining the project to her.
So I sat down on Wednesday morning and did just that. And it was amazing how easily the argument came together and flowed. The new prospectus is clear and contains a more complete argument.  I sent it off to my director, and am hoping that the notes are for some spots to expand, and minor, but otherwise good.
As a result, I also redid my whiteboard.
And while I'm ecstatic  about these moves, it also means that I've now added another chapter I have to write. And while I think my bad week started on Monday, the stress started Wednesday.
This has been my working timetable:
  • January 2015: CH 1 and 2 to copyeditor
  • February 2015: Comps, get notes from copyeditor, revise
  • March 2015: Defend prospectus, CH 1 and 2 to committee, turn CH 3 from conference paper into chapter and send to committee
  • April 2015: Write Milton chapter as conference paper for MTSU, turn into chapter, give to committee
  • May 2015: Notes on drafts back from committee
  • Summer 2015: Revise dissertation based on notes
  • Fall 2015: Second drafts to committee, revise again
  • January 2016: Defend
Except I've had to stop working on CH 1 and 2 notes in order to get my semester started. So I won't get them to the copyeditor this week. And I still haven't finished the revision and writing project I need to get done before February (and by that I mean this week). And suddenly there's an extra chapter to write and I'm feeling overwhelmed.
Don't get me wrong- this is a temporary condition. I still think this is a good timeline, I still think I can stick to it. I have this week to get the revision project done, that's my focus. I can at least get that finished. The other paper is the Twin Peaks paper for SCMS which isn't until March. So if that gets punted a little, I'm not worried (although I have other, smaller In Focus tasks to do).
One of the things that I said to my director Tuesday was that I needed to cut myself some slack which I'm horrible at doing. Yes, I'm racing through my PhD program. And yes, I've mostly done that by placing a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself. But I need to learn to give myself some credit.
So the revised timeline looks like this:
  • This week: notes on Twin Peaks drafts, Skype with co-editor. Finish revisions on chapter and send to editor
  • February 2015: Comps, finish #DevilDiss notes on CH 2, type up, CH 1 and 2 to copyeditor, get notes from copyeditor, revise. Finish SCMS conference paper.
  • March 2015: Defend prospectus, CH 1 and 2 to committee, turn CH 3  from conference paper into chapter and send to committee
  • April 2015: Write Milton chapter as conference paper for MTSU, turn into chapter, give to committee
  • May 2015: Notes on drafts back from committee, , write pamphlet chapter and send to committee
  • Summer 2015: Revise dissertation based on notes
  • Fall 2015: Second drafts to committee, revise again
  • January 2016: Defend
So, I managed to get my stress level down from going nuclear for the end of the week.
One of the other things that my director and I talked about was connecting chapters one and two to Milton so it didn't read as though Oh Look- Chapter Four Has Milton! The way I decided to do this was to return to the text, to frame those chapters with Miltons' physical descriptions and personality descriptions of Satan in Paradise Lost. So that's what I spent my #DevilDiss Friday time doing and I felt much better. I still have to finish the CH 2 notes and type all the revision notes up before I can send to the copyeditor, but that's maybe a day or two of work, so I feel good about it.

Then the weekend hit. This semester I'm trying two new things. The first is that I am closing work email tabs in the evenings and keeping them closed on weekends. I will not be on the job 24 hours a day 7 days a week. It's exhausting, irritates me, and has no positive returns. The second is that I'm aiming to take Sundays completely off. I can't take the whole weekend off as Saturday is when I lesson plan and do my own schoolwork, but I'm aiming for Sunday.
But yesterday that fell apart.
I am always happy to help people, share things. But I get the feeling a lot (more recently than before) that people think I'm at their beck and call. That I should drop everything I'm doing (because it can't POSSIBLY be as important as their stuff) to deal with their stuff.
And I'm over that.
Social media exacerbates this. Tag someone, mention someone with the expectation that OF COURSE they will drop what their doing because YOU need something. It's the behavior we can't stand in our students, and yet turn right around and do it to other people. 
Especially because the people doing this are not my friends, so I really don't see WHY I should put myself out for them. Figure it out your damn self.
Plus, I wasn't in a great mood to begin with yesterday so...(and I'll just baldly state that if these people WERE my friends, they'd frakking have known that, but I digress...)

So that colored yesterday.
Then we get down to the meltdown of yesterday. I am using Old English as my language requirement which requires three semesters to demonstrate fluency. Last spring I took my first course. I was unable last semester to take the second because of a scheduling conflict. But I am in the seminar this semester. With people who DID take last semester's class. I'm doing better than I thought after almost a year off, but completing the translations on the weekends is time consuming. Yesterday I sat down at 10a to translate 164 lines of Old English Boethius and it was past 6p before I was finished. I couldn't concentrate, I struggled with the vocab, I had to go back and forth between the paper dictionary and the online dictionary. I felt as though I was having to look up every word which was just slow as hell.
It made me feel stupid.

Except for this language requirement, I was finished with required coursework last semester. So I really thought this semester would be easy. I had this course, and I'm taking a 17th century class with my dissertation director because I haven't had a chance to schedule a class with her yet. So when scheduling it seemed perfectly reasonable that all work could get finished on Saturday with Sunday off.
But that's not happening. Maybe it's because it's still early in the semester and there's no groove yet. Maybe it's because I do have a lot of lesson planning prep to do this early in the semester.

I'm avoiding thinking it's because I'm an idiot.
What all of this boils down to is that I do not have a day off today.
And it also means that the lesson plans I needed to finish, and that chapter revisions I wanted to get done yesterday didn't get done. It means that I was up at 6a today to finish reading chapters for my classes. It means I have a lot to do today.
It also means that while my stress level is more manageable, and I'm no longer bemoaning my fitness for my PhD program, this is still my attitude ending this week.
As I've always wanted to be Toby Ziegler when I grow up, I'm okay with this.

I will finish my lesson plans.
I will make notes on the pieces I need to.
I will finish my chapter revisions.
I will be ready for comps.
I will pass comps.

It will all be fine. Or not.
Don't want to tempt the wrath...

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