Nearly done version 6 of the introduction


in PhD thesis, Writing

Writing a PhD dissertation in collaboration with my committee is in some ways the hardest thing I have ever done. To begin with, the full draft is by far the longest single document I have ever written – far too long to be able to keep the entire contents in my mind at once, unlike a normal essay where it’s feasible to remember the purpose and general content of every section and paragraph. Naturally, the versions with comments from committee members are just as long.

Integrating those comments while also cutting the document from over 700 pages to at most 300 requires multiple passes and meticulous document tracking to avoid re-introducing problems that had been fixed elsewhere.

At this point, the task is to decide on and sequence the chunks that will make up the final defended dissertation. I’m looking forward a lot to having a draft of the right length and with content that everyone agrees is suitable. Then I can begin the comparatively blissful work of tidying up the language and moving things around for clarity.

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. October 1, 2021 at 11:45 am

The doctoral candidate then marches off to complete their dissertation, which typically takes between three and five years. In theory this process is watched over by the committee and especially by the dissertation advisor. In practice this sort of work is often quite solitary and isolating (though remember you are almost certainly teaching for the department while doing it). A major part of the challenge here is that you need to be taking actions on, say, Day 14 of your research project which you will turn into a written chapter on Day 718 which will finally become part of a completed book on Day 1,800. Self-motivation and the ability to break big tasks down into smaller, manageable tasks are necessary skills here. A lot of graduate students founder at this stage because while they were very intelligent and driven in conditions where someone else was setting clear goals and timetables (as in a classroom environment), the task of organizing and then self-motivating a massive project like this proved very difficult.

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