A couple more commandments

Claire Potter’s Ten Commandments made the rounds yesterday and while I can’t replicate her thou shall not voice, I think I can add a few items to the list. These items are from the perspective of a grad student on the cusp of defending his dissertation.

1. Every day you work on the dissertation you will be a day without hope, until the day you wake up and it is done. Tending to the details of evidence, citations, narrative, argument, style, and organization is a never-ending task and while you are in the weeds struggling with them it will be impossible to imagine how the work can ever end. But then one day you will discover that you have done enough to submit. You have to be satisfied with enough because if you are any good at this, you will keep adding to the list of things-to-do (chase down that evidence, expand this argument, etc.) Know when to say “that’s good enough for now,” know when to put this unsatisfying chapter down and move on to the next one. So… while you are in it, you will think it will never end. But it will.

2. Learn to use EndNote, Zotero, or whatever writing software will make this process easier in the end. Your university will offer free classes and perhaps free subscriptions to many of these things. Take advantage of all that. Such software will make you a better note-taker along the way and attention to details of comma placement and issue numbers in references up front will pay dividends at the end.

3. The non-academic world is your best friend. It is easy to get lost in this wonderful life-of-the-mind. The intellectual reveries you will experience are the best thing ever. But pay attention to the non-academic world for two reasons. It will remind you that you must finish this thing and get a life, and it will serve as a check on that intellectual hubris you will develop. Part of your academic discipline will be the notoriously impenetrable language of ideas. The non-academic world is good at pointing out how useless that language and those ideas often are. If you listen respectfully, the non-academic world will keep you humble, keep you honest, keep you relevant, and keep you sane. So… take up a hobby, go for a hike, pursue some decidedly non-academic interest with the same intensity you pursue this dissertation.

These are just random items based on my own experience. What would you add?


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