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Thesis thoughts

October 23, 2011

Even before you’re admitted to a graduate program, the thought of writing a thesis will start looming in your head, whether you want to admit it or not. It’s the crowning achievement of your graduate work. It may be your jumping-off point to a PhD thesis. It’s a mountain that you know you’ll have to climb, a hurdle you know you’ll have to jump, an achievement you know will leave you feeling elated and deflated, all at the same time. That probably won’t stop you from pretending it’s not really going to happen, though.

For me, it’s finally happening. I’ve had my year of respite – just classes and papers and thinking about PhD applications and working and teaching and nothing else – and now it’s time to get down and dirty. A first draft of my topic is due this Wednesday, a first draft of my research question is due in ten days. But my thoughts on these things are still swirling. It’s like I’m looking through a kaleidoscope which is refusing to form patterns. I have many interests and ideas, but the specificity is lacking. This has always been my problem. So far, I’ve written two undergraduate theses, and I’ve gotten quite intimately acquainted with my personal quirks and pitfalls. My areas of interest are varied and widely different. I can (and have) easily become obsessed with gender relations in the Morte Darthur, African-American utopian visions, and the role of resistance in trauma (theory) in postmodern literature. So settling on a single topic – a topic which may end up shaping and defining the rest of my career – is a daunting and scary prospect.

But even within these (and other. All, really) topics I’ll find my thoughts may become fragmented; I’ll go off on tangents, which sometimes become my new subject matter. And though I’m aware that this is okay, perhaps even desirable (after all, if the tangents’ topic is more interesting/valuable/new, it will make a more valuable area of exploration), I also find it unsettling. This may also have something to do with the fact that in my writing, I tend to leap-frog. Which is to say, I’ll link certain topics, theories, or patterns without making explicit how I came to make the connections. They are clear in my mind, so I tend to assume they are clear to my reader as well. As my readership mostly consists of professors with PhD and a variety of academic notches on their belt, my reader can usually infer where I’m coming from, but that doesn’t take away the problem: I need focus and specificity. To draw a bland analogy, if a good paper or thesis is a tapestry – a patterned, tightly-woven whole, my papers are crocheted blankets; they look lovely and patterned, and maybe they are, but they’re marked by empty spaces and screw-ups that I’ve applied easy fixes to. Okay, perhaps this analogy says more about my approach to crafting than anything else, but let’s just go with it, okay?

Focus and specificity, then, shall be central to the thinking and writing processes of my thesis. Being aware of one’s problems is the first (and perhaps most important) step towards fixing them, right? Though my haphazard way of writing has worked quite well for me in the past, it’s time to start thinking more structurally – to professionalize. My graduate program is helping me take the first steps in the direction of professionalization by offering a thesis seminar, which I’m truly grateful for. It’s wonderful to have deadlines, to hear from others in my cohort how they are getting along, and to have a professor with plenty of experience in the proposal writing (and evaluating) process at one’s disposal. Another step is keeping track of my progress on this blog, writing about my little difficulties and victories, holding myself accountable in a public space (even if hardly anyone reads this). I feel uncertain about publishing this under my real name and have thought long and hard about doing so. After all, I do aspire to a PhD and for that I need to be accepted into a program. Anyone on any committee worth their salt will surely google me and find this blog, and upon doing so they will realize that I struggle with my thinking and my writing. In short, they will realize I am not perfect, which I’ve discovered is most grad students’ worst nightmare. Nearly every grad student I’ve met suffers from impostor syndrome. They worry that they are not good enough, that they have not deserved their spot, that soon they shall be found out and rejected. In short, they worry about not being perfect. At the same time, they assume that everyone else is more deserving, that they do not suffer from the same kinds of anxieties; they assume that others are perfect – or at least more perfect than they are.

But of course they’re not. No one is perfect. We all doubt ourselves from time to time. We all struggle with our own little issues, academic or otherwise. We all try to improve ourselves, both personally and professionally. We want to develop, reach further, become greater. And I believe that in order to do so, we need to do a lot of self-reflection and we need to be hold ourselves accountable. We need to share our developments with others so that they can both learn from us and help us to get even better. So that is what I am doing here. I hope I won’t regret it. I expect I shan’t.

Photo credit.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 24, 2011 5:07 am

    I loved this a totally understand the Imposter Syndrome..thanks for sharing!! Check out my grad school adventures,say hello if you want.

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