Friday, July 15, 2016

Re-reading Your Dissertation

I read my primary texts; I collected and annotated my secondary sources; I composed an outline; I reflected on my subject matter; I procrastinated; I became frustrated with myself for procrastinating, which only bred more procrastination; I wrote my dissertation one chapter at a time; I met with my committee to discuss my chapters; I grew frustrated and despondent after meeting with my committee, which contributed to additional procrastination; I reflected on my own academic abilities to finish my dissertation (a.k.a procrastination); I revised my chapters, again and again and again; finally, I heard the following magic words: This work is defensible.

It has been a long journey, and it has been tiring. My graduate school experience started out as a part-time experiment: I took two evening classes, spent my days reading my homework assignments out loud to my kids while coaxing them to take a nap, sat in the basement and wrote papers late into the wee hours of the night, and somehow managed to eke out passing grades. The next thing I knew I was a full-time student, teaching the occasional undergraduate class, and padding my resume with conference presentations. Now, as I approach the finish line, I recall one last piece of advice, previously alluded to in an earlier blog post: Re-read your dissertation before your defense.

Your response may be, "What? Why? Don't be silly. I've been writing the thing long enough that I know it backwards and forwards."

You may know your thesis and your supporting arguments like the back of your hand, but that does not mean that you have perfect recall of the contents. During the defense, you will be asked for specific page references concerning such-and-such argument or some secondary source. Why did you decide not to include some specific piece of research? a committee member may ask. If your response is, "But I did," then they will want to know precisely where it is cited in the body of your work. The thing that most worries me is a committee member reading aloud a passage from my text and I have no memory of writing those words. In fact, while I have been revising my dissertation, I stumbled across passages that I do not even remember writing - most likely, because I wrote the chapter long ago.

Once your committee has made the decision that your thesis or dissertation is ready to be defended, you will be expected to put together some sort of presentation -- Speak to your committee and/or members of your department about what all is involved in such a presentation as requirements may differ from department to department. While you are putting together this presentation, my advice is: re-read your thesis or dissertation. You are not proofreading the work one last time, therefore do not read it as though you are the author. Read it as though you are the target audience; read it with fresh eyes; read it in order to familiarize yourself with the content; read it as you would a piece of secondary research that contributes to your field of expertise; read it one last time as you make marginalia that will help you prepare for the defense.

When you are done re-reading it, give yourself a pat on the back. After all, you wrote it. That was the hardest part.

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