Dissertation

Dispatches from the Dissertation (Part 9)

When I last updated about my dissertation progress over the summer, I’d just sent the a revised version of my first chapter to my committee. In the nearly 3 months that have passed since then, I’ve been chugging along with revisions based on my own sense of what needs to be changed, feedback from my committee, and feedback from a dissertation workshop class I’m taking. At this point, I feel pretty…decent (?) about the whole thing. I still have more revisions to make, and I need to work on my Introduction and Conclusion, but it feels more manageable on the whole. And that March deadline feels pretty good too :).

I think this is the case for at least a couple different reasons. One reason is that the bulk of the thing is now in existence, so now it doesn’t like as much of an uphill climb as it did last year. Another aspect is that, courtesy of my committee seeing the chapters and the workshop, something like 12 people have now seen at least some portion of my dissertation. This, I think, makes it feel like more of a real, concrete piece of writing than like a weird, solitary endeavor.

One of the main areas I’m focusing on right now with revisions has to do with ensuring the chapters (and their arguments) make sense both individually and as part of a cohesive unit. To me, this is one of the more complex parts of the process. With seminar papers, articles, chapters, and such, I think it’s more obvious to see such connections as a writer (at least for me). But the massiveness of the dissertation makes it trickier (and my dissertation is not really on the longer end of dissertations I’ve heard about haha). However, with continued feedback, revisiting and reconsidering my outlines, examining individual paragraphs, and continuing to think about my writing and writing processes, I think this part is becoming more clear.

I will say though that I still really enjoy my topic, which is something that I didn’t necessarily expect to be the case at this point. I think the television industry is fostering this to some extent through its continued production of reimaginings, which makes me newly inspired every time another announcement comes across my screen. But also, I really do think this topic is the best encapsulation of my research interests. There are other specific topics I could have written about, but this one crisscrosses pretty much everything for me. It’s a good thing. I like it.

One Day at a Time poster

In which, a series is both part of my dissertation and an apt descriptor of my approach to my dissertation.

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Dispatches from the Dissertation (and the Impending Job Market), Part 8

Yesterday, I sent a revised version of my first chapter to my committee for the first time. I made revisions based on feedback I received from my advisor on the first draft, reverse outlining I did at a retreat earlier this year, and a meeting with my advisor a few weeks ago, in which we discussed devoting more attention making sure each chapter’s argument is evident as well as establishing throughlines throughout the four chapters, now that they’ve all been drafted.

I definitely feel more comfortable working from the drafts than I did creating the drafts (surprise!). There was a lot of cutting, a lot of adding, a lot of rewording, a lot of rethinking, etc. And I’m sure there’ll be more in the future once I get feedback from my committee. But it feels like I’m in a good place. Summers can be difficult because the openness of the schedule can make it harder to focus when needed. I try to balance that out my creating a set schedule habit for my work days that I (mostly) stick to. I also started out the summer by setting goals/deadlines for myself to work toward. For example, one of the goals for this month is to revise chapter two and send that to my committee. Part of the bigger picture for me has been trying to have as much done as I possibly can before the fall semester kicks off because life and teaching and writing and the job market is…a hefty load. It’s not that I don’t think I can manage it, but if I can alleviate some of the pressure ahead of time, I definitely want to do so.

Speaking of the job market, I’ve been collaboratively working on the development of job market materials with some colleagues this summer, and I’ve found that to be incredibly useful. This is an idea that I got from Maia L. Butler and Krista Benson, and the idea is pretty straightforward. On a weekly basis, we share job market document drafts and provide feedback to one another. We’ve been at it for about a month now, and we’re almost done with what we’d planned to work on. I now have drafts of the majority of the job market documents I’ll likely need, and instead of creating from scratch, I can focus on revising and retooling as needed this fall. It might seem like we started early, but having already seen some fellowship and job posting with August and September deadlines, I’m actually really happy that we did start early.

I suppose the theme of this post is planning/thinking ahead. I’ve always done a fair amount of that, but going into my final year of grad school (🙏🏾), it’s been on my mind even more than usual. I don’t know what all is going to happen in this next school year, but I’m ready for it.

Title screen from BSG that says "And they have a plan"

My first chapter is about BSG, so this seemed apropos.

(Some of y’all are thinking “WHAT? IT’S JULY! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” I’m like that sometimes too, but also, I was the kid that was definitely ready to go back to school by a smooth August 1st at the latest. This is all very on brand for me.)

Dispatches From the Dissertation, Part 7 (plus some other stuff)

Today in posts I meant to be able to make approximately 3-4 weeks ago…

Jessie Spano's caffeine pill induced time related panic

I just sent my advisor my fourth chapter draft (it’s actually going to be the third chapter in the diss, but I wrote them slightly out of order). I think that this is maybe the lengthiest one of all four, which is funny because I was (mildly) trying to write less.

Alas.

Now that I have the four chapters drafted, I’m going to be focusing on revision (I’ve already done some revision on two of them, but I need to do more focused overhauls/additions based on some changes I made to my structure after those drafts). I’m still putting off the Introduction and Conclusion for now because I want to make sure the chapters make sense (and make sense together) before I jump into those parts. The goal is to graduate next spring, and so far, so good.

In the last post, I mentioned that I’m teaching a summer class this year. It’s an online class, and we’re still a couple of weeks away from the start date, but I’ve been trying to have everything pretty much ready for it beforehand. Ideally, I’d actually like to make the course site available by the end of next week, so students have some time to get acclimated, peruse the available materials, etc. I think I can probably meet that goal. The main thing I’m working on right now is captioning the videos I’ve recorded, which is both an important and mildly humorous experience. Some of the interpretations of my speech that I end up having to correct are wild. I’m happy to it though, and I’m glad it’s pretty easy to manage with what Youtube has available.

The class itself is an Introduction to Fiction class, and I’m looking forward to it, in part, because I’m not typically scheduled to teach literature classes (my MA is in English & American Literature, but I pivoted to Media Studies for the PhD). Since I prefer to teach things I like whenever possible, the class is going to utilize two YA fantasy novels: Sherri L. Smith’s Orleans and Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. I read and enjoyed both of these books these year, and I think (or hope?) they’ll both do a good job of capturing my students’ attention as well as providing plenty of material that my students can work with to grow as critical readers, thinkers, and writers.

In addition to diss revisions and summer teaching, I’m also working on drafting job market documents this summer. It’s a little bit wild to be at this point actually. I’ve been in grad school since…2012, and while I did graduate from one program and start another, going on the job market will really be the first big professional life change I’ve had in a while. Y’all may recall that I was a secondary teacher in the past, and in both 2010 and 2011, I think I applied to 40+ teaching jobs each year. Those applications also tend to be lengthy, so I have at least some familiarity with the complexity of such a process. I also know that the academic job market is basically in shambles right now, so I’m very much trying to avoid putting my eggs in one basket. That being said, I’m completely clear about what kinds of work I want to do. Now I just need to convince someone to hire me to do it 😛

New Endings and New Beginnings

For the most part, my Spring 2018 semester has ended. My students have a final paper due in a few days, but beyond that, it’s pretty much a wrap. We ended by reflecting on some of the material we’d covered throughout the semester, and we discussed how some of their feelings about writing had changed. I asked them some of the same questions that I’d asked them in the first week (What’s do you know about writing? How does writing feel?), and one thing that seemed pretty clear to me was that some of them saw a space for themselves in academic writing…perhaps for the first time.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had my students complete weekly Minute Papers throughout this semester. I found this activity to be quite useful in terms of making sure that we were all on the same page and helping me to determine where the class needed to go next. For our last class, I had them do an extended Minute Paper in which I asked them four questions:

  • Which reading/viewing, discussion, or activity impacted you the most? Why?
  • What are you most proud of having done/accomplished/achieved this semester?
  • What’s the most important thing you learned this semester?
  • How will you make use of what you learned beyond this semester?

I wanted them to respond to these questions, which I pulled from various evaluation tools I’ve seen, because they really get at some of the feedback I need in order to retool the class in the future, to effectively teach other classes, and to continue developing my own understandings about pedagogy. Though I will be receiving feedback from the departmental and university evaluations students completed (and I definitely appreciate that feedback), I often find that the ways in which those questions are worded don’t really allow for much reflection or specificity.

I won’t list out everything my students responded with here, but I do want to pull out some shared strands:

  • Peer Review!: This class really liked Peer Review. Color me shocked. It’s funny because I’ve tried so many different things over the years with respect to making Peer Review productive, and in some ways, what we did this semester was the most simple route I’ve taken. Who knew? (I think maybe this is also worked well in tandem with the general spirit of the class, which prioritized discussion and reflection).

 

  • Conferences: When I previously taught this class, we only had one writing conference in the schedule. This time, I conferenced with each student twice, and on top of that, one of their very first assignments was to come to office hours at least once within the first month of class. This worked really well in terms of allowing me to get to know them as individuals and discussing some of their individual anxieties about writing. On this final Minute Paper, one of the students wrote, “In a college this populated, it’s difficult to get one on one time with a teacher. These were super helpful because not only did you get feedback, you also got to have an in person conversation, which made the editing process easier.”

 

  • A Single Story: About a third or halfway through the semester, after we’d completed several readings and discussions about food, identity, and culture, I got a question on a Minute Paper that was something like “Do you think we can eliminate bias?” I had a lot of thoughts about that question, and I structured much of our next class session around trying to answer it. One of the things we did on that day was watch and discuss Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” At the time, some of the students seemed impacted by the talk, but I’m not always sure how much this stuff sticks. However, multiple students mentioned this as the thing that impacted them the most this semester.

 

  • New Perspectives: It’s impossible to touch on every single element of food and culture in a given semester, but I really did try to introduce them to things that I thought they might not see elsewhere. One example of this is David Perry’s “Restaurants Haven’t Lived Up to the Promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” This also came multiple times as something that made an impact, and one student said, “The activity where we discussed disabled people being left out of the food culture impacted me the most. I had never really paid attention to places without access but it really does make a difference.”

 

  • The Writing Process: In some shape, form, or fashion, many students noted coming to appreciate the writing process (which I very intentionally slowed down this semester). Some wrote about seeing their skills develop through drafting and revision, some talked about procrastinating less because of the multiple steps in the process, some talked about realizing for the first time that a draft doesn’t have to be good and feeling less stressed because of that realization, and some described feeling very good about the work they turned in at the end of the process.

 

  • New Experiences: This class is primarily an analytical essay writing class, but I also had students write in some other forms, such as the memoir and the listicle, to give them different challenges and experiences. In this final Minute Paper, some students noted really appreciating that exposure. In response to the question about what they’re most proud of, one said, “Writing papers such as the food memoir and listicle that I have never done before. In high school, kids don’t get introduced to different types of writing, so I was proud of figuring out how to write these types of papers well.”

 

  • Core Principles: During the first week of class, we also watched Clint Smith III’s “The Danger of Silence.” I’d included his four Core Principles (“Read critically. Write consciously. Speak clearly. Tell your truth.”) on the syllabus, and I wanted them to understand where they came from. I tried to structure the class so that students had several opportunities grow in those areas, and we explicitly revisited the principles in the middle of the semester and at the end of the semester. Many of the comments on the final Minute Papers seemed to touch on these ideas (“I want to speak clearly and organize my thoughts as such”; “I am most proud of the progress I have made as a reader. Reading has never been my strong suit but the practice that I have had this semester made me a better reader”).

 

  • A Likable Theme/Focus: I figured a class about food might go over reasonably well, but I was kind of Trojan Horse-ing a bunch of other stuff in there, and also one of the things that I’ve seen sometimes, particularly as someone who primarily teaches Media Studies and Popular Culture, is that students can be reluctant to look beyond the surface level of pop culture artifacts. But here, a lot of them pointed to finding our investigation of things like commercials and music videos to both be fun and effective. They liked taking content that they were sometimes familiar with and breaking it down, and they liked hearing what their classmates thought about that content. And I know some of y’all really hate the word “relatable,” but…uh…they found all of this to be relatable 🙂

 

  • There are more things besides this, but wow, this post is already getting super long, so I’ll just have my last point here be my favorite comment out of all of them: “Writing doesn’t have to be grueling and adhere to strict rules. It can be so much more. I will remember this and take it with me.”

So as I said earlier in this tome, this semester is basically over, BUT that doesn’t mean I’m done with the academic life until August (hahahaha). First up, I’ll be working for the Digital Media and Composition Institute (DMAC) again in May. This time around, I’m in charge of all things social media, and I’m really looking forward to that. In June, I start teaching a 6-week online Introduction to Fiction class (this is a whole barrel of firsts, and you can expect to see a post or two or ten on this in the coming weeks). While I’m doing these things, I’ll also be working on my dissertation as per usual (look for a post on that next week), waiting for feedback on a publication submission, and drafting job market materials. ‘Tis the academic life, eh? In all honesty, though busy, I think this actually shaping up to be a summer that’s both productive *and* fun for me, which is pretty much all I want them to be (I mean, I’m also getting paid the whole time, which…WHEW).

Dispatches from the Dissertation, Part 6

So the last time I updated y’all on my dissertation progress, I’d met with my advisor a couple of times to talk about my first (extremely long) draft of my first chapter, and I’d started watching Beverly Hills, 90210 because that was originally supposed to be part of my second chapter. This was at the beginning of November.

A few weeks after that post though, I started to see my dissertation a bit differently than I’d originally planned. This makes sense because when you make a dissertation prospectus, you literally have no idea what you’re doing (at least, I didn’t lol), then you start writing the thing, and then it starts to become a different thing entirely.

So my original plan had been three chapters, each of which focused on analysis of a few different shows that shared some sort of structural similarity. That first chapter draft had, for example, focused on three shows that would be classified as remakes (in the most basic sense). But I realized a couple of things through this initial process of drafting. First, I was trying to write about too many shows (#TVScholarStruggles), and while I think my advisor would be totally fine with me writing a 300-page diss, I am not haha. Also though, I started to realize that the structural similarities of the shows wasn’t really an organizing principle that I was interested in.

And so, I needed to rethink my organizational structure. In thinking about what I’d written so far, and based on some of the feedback I’d received from folks who’d seen bits of that, I realized that I’d sort of written myself into focus that I never would have really thought of when I was writing the prospectus. Such is the way, I suppose. Once I figured that out, I realized that the chapters really only needed to focus on single shows because each of those shows (and their associated genres, productions, and networks) approaches the particular problem I’m exploring differently.

So then, I basically tossed the old structure and started to craft a new one. My advisor and I talked about which shows would actually make the cut and which ones I would let go.

(This is when I tell y’all that, sadly, 90210 did not make the cut. Steve Sanders is still the worst though because I didn’t make it to the Ray Pruitt years in this rewatch)

As I waited for some feedback from my advisor, I went on a dissertation writing retreat offered by my university. If you have the chance to do something like that, I highly recommend it. Having dedicated time to focus on your writing without having to worry about anything else can make one quite productive. During the weekend that I was retreating, I went through all of the pages I’d written, made some revisions, wrote out the outline for my new structure, and determined what research I needed to do next. ‘Twas greatly beneficial for me.

My advisor and I met again yesterday to hash out the details of this new structure, and he and I both feel pretty good about where I’m at right now (both with the diss and for going on the job market this fall 😬). There are still some strands that will need to be pulled together more tightly as I progress, but the direction I’m moving toward is much more clear now.

So next steps? I’m (a) revising the chunks I’ve already written, (b) working on various other projects because academia, and (c) in the midst of completing research for the next chapter, which naturally means I’m watching another show.

Which one?

Well…

Season 4 Boy Meets World cast photo

#youths

 

Dispatches from the Dissertation, Part 5

Today, I had my second meeting with my advisor to discuss my first draft of my chapter. Across the two meetings, he gave me a lot of questions and angles to consider as I continue to revise the chapter and as I work toward the second chapter. He also asked me about my process, which was, I think, just curiosity on his part, but I liked being able to talk about it a bit. It’s a really long draft, longer than I’d intended, and I’d expected him to tell me to cut something. But actually, he wants me to expand one of the parts.

So.

There’s that.

Haha.

More than most other things I’ve written in graduate school, I feel like the dissertation that has a really vague shape to me. I’m the type of person that often looks at samples when I’m writing something I’m unfamiliar with, but dissertations are all over the place and non-specific in terms of what they’re supposed to be doing (at least from what I’ve seen). As a result, I’d told my advisor that I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to be, and he said, in reference to the draft, “It looks like a dissertation chapter,” which is to say, that even though I have things to work on, I’m apparently on the right track. I have a couple other streams via which I’m getting feedback, so it’ll be interesting to see what other people see/think, but I’m glad to know that I’m in the correct vicinity.

So the way I have my schedule laid out for the rest of the semester is to continue researching for the chapter two as I’ve been doing for the past couple weeks while also doing some revision of the first chapter on one day per week. My advisor said I could wait until I finished a draft of chapter two before going back to chapter one, but I don’t think my brain will allow it lol.

Speaking of chapter two, this is what I’m wrapped up in right now:

Beverly Hills, 90210 cast photo

Oh Scott…

So unlike some of the other series I’m writing about, I’ve watched this series in its entirety on more than one occasion (shout out to FX). But I last watched it circa 2003. And wow, I have a lot of things to say about this show now like STEVE SANDERS IS THE WORST. My advisor told me that the process of doing chapter one would make certain things stand out more easily in subsequent chapters, and I think that’s definitely right. And I feel like going into actually writing this second chapter, I have better sense of what it can/should be.

Dispatches from the Dissertation, Part 4

Just a few moments ago, I sent my advisor my first full chapter draft (along w/ a message containing several concerns that I have about it haha). Remember how I was talking about my ever-changing deadline before? Well, this last go-’round, I set it for the end of Fall Break, and I actually made it this time. Huzzah! I know that there’s still a long road ahead with this, but I’m glad to have gotten past one particular hurdle, and I’m (almost) ready to start tackling the next one.

In other news, it’s approximately the middle of the semester. My students had midterms/essays due last week, which means I have a nice chunk of grading on my desk. Part of why I really wanted to get this draft done is so I can focus on that. I hate feeling like I’m shortchanging students, and I always want to try to get work back to them as soon as possible, especially if they have more things to turn in.

(Because what’s the point of feedback if a person doesn’t have it in enough time to actually use it?)

This balancing act is tricky, but I think my already embedded practice of scheduling my life in grad school helps. Back when I taught middle school, there were definitely times where I let the prep and grading bowl me over. There are so many ways in which, even with a degree in English Ed, I wasn’t ready yet. I was exhausted on the daily and not making the progress I wanted/needed to make. I’m better equipped now, thankfully. I just wish I could go back in time and help out 24 year old Jacinta.

(Though that’d likely throw off the time-space continuum, which is probably not a good idea)

A picture of the doctor from Back to the Future

#WritingLife