Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Spiritual Lessons in Dissertation Writing

Happy Tuesday, good people! 

So yesterday I shared my dissertation defense with you all, and today I want to share some of the big takeaways of the dissertation process.  Writing my dissertation was as just as much of a spiritual endeavor as an intellectual one.  I'd like to share five of my lessons that I learned along the journey. 

Having a moment at my post-defense dinner celebration
1. Always lead with your heart.
That sounds like a weird piece of advice for academia, right?  However, I believe there's a place for matters of the heart, even in this cutthroat career path.  I had two very distinct routes I could have taken to write my dissertation.  One path would have been would have been more "mathy" in a sense.  I could have written about how kids understand covariation and rates of change, a genuine research interest of mine. But instead, I decided to go with the messier topic - the one that kept me up at night.  The one that was hard to wrangle.  The one that drove me back to graduate school.  While the other dissertation topic would have been "cleaner," and I probably would have finished sooner, there's nothing like the reward of untangling something messy and finding clarity in it.  I believe that writing from the heart helped me to be successful.

2. Own your work
As soon as I sent my dissertation draft to my committee, I started backtracking.  I immediately started telling myself it wasn't good enough. I focused on the typos.  However, in an anxious moment, I re-read some of what I had submitted, and I loved it.  The dissertation was my baby.  And like a protective mother, I decided that no matter what my committee had to say, I was in love with it.  Because I decided to own my work, it became easier to present.  I was ready to defend it.  I was ready to stand up for it.  And guess what?  I never got to put my defense strategies to work.  My committee was pleased, and I'd argue that some of their satisfaction stemmed from my belief in what I had done.

3. Make your work accessible.
I love to take esoteric theoretical ideas and make them accessible.  That's my thing.  As a matter of fact, I'm coming to learn that it is my academic gift.  It doesn't make my research any less rigorous.  It doesn't mean that I water down the material.  I've been called "plainspoken" before, and it annoyed the hell out of me, but as far as I'm concerned, more academicians need to reach larger audiences. I am committed to being accessible while maintaining the rigors of academia.  When I think about my favorite scholars, they all have a way of doing this, and I want to pattern my careers after them.

4. All fears aren't meant to be shared.
Sometimes I need to keep my craziness to myself. I had several on-the-edge moments during the writing process.  I also had a bit of the post-defense crazies.  I had a very successful defense, and I had a hard time dealing with that (self masochists unite!).  I went over the defense in my head all day the following day, and I kept saying to myself, "These kinds of things don't happen to you."

But they do, and one happened on the day of the defense.

I've learned that when these wildly insecure moments happen, sometimes I just have to tell God and not even let the negative thoughts be uttered, especially when I'm not ready to hear people's responses to my craziness.  I'm learning to coach myself.  I am getting really good at talking myself off of the ledge.  I'm my own best counselor sometimes.

5. Perfect is the enemy of good.
My advisor shared this with me a few years ago, and it has become my writing mantra.  If any of you are writing a dissertation or working on some big goal, just remember that the quest for perfection is futile.  Put your best foot forward and be great.  One of my favorite quotes: "Excellence I can reach for. Perfection is God's work."

Let the church say amen.

Until next time . . . I'll be over here writing syllabi for my fall classes.


4 comments:

  1. Very interesting set of learning that you wilfully shared. This will certainly inspire those people who are working on their dissertations by themselves.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind word, and thanks for stopping by and reading.

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  2. I would always put God in everything that I do since I know that he would always help me if I will only let him to help me.

    ;)

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    1. Absolutely and without question. I live by Jeremiah 29:11. Thanks for reading!

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