Sunday, July 20, 2014

Planning—No, Finishing—the Dissertation

Arriving or departing? Maritime New York, May 2014

It has been one year since I last updated my "Planning the Dissertation" series. If you missed it, Part I appeared here in May 2012, and Part II in July 2013. Now, with autumn winds approaching—yes, I can hear them whistling on the horizon—it is time for Part III, the last part, the grand finale: Finishing the Dissertation.

As per custom, let's look at the goals I set for myself last summer, and how well I have met them:

Summer 2013:
Research: One month of research at the Huntington Library in California; three weeks of research in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, at various libraries and repositories. 
Writing: Finish full drafts of chapter 5 (on guano), chapter 6 (on California), and chapter 7 (on sugar).
RESULTS: Done and done: I had my California Research Adventure in July-August 2013, and my Hawaiʻi Research Adventure in August-September. As of July 1, I had full drafts of chapters 5-7, so I'm not even sure why that was on my list of goals for the summer!

Fall 2013:
Research: One month of research at the Bancroft Library in California. 
Writing: Get back comments on my chapter 2 (on sandalwood), chapter 3 (whaling), and chapter 4 (whaling). Turn in chapters 5, 6, and 7. Finish full draft of chapter 1 (on the body) and begin writing the Introduction.
RESULTS: Done and sort of done. I had my California Research Adventure in Berkeley in November 2013. I revised chapters 2-4, but I did not turn in chapters 5-7. I did, however, finish a full draft of both chapter 1 and my introduction. Unexpectedly, I also applied for a few academic jobs and had the good learning experience of interviewing at a few institutions.

Spring 2014:
Research: none. 
Writing: Revising any and all chapters as needed. Finish full draft of Introduction and Conclusion. Now the whole thing, in draft form, has taken shape. Once my advisor begins approving some of these chapters I can also begin to circulate them among other committee members and outside readers for further feedback.
RESULTS: Yes, I have continued to revise and edit my seven chapters and introduction. I started to draft a conclusion, but it is not yet finished. I did share my introduction with all committee members and outside reader, and I have begun to share select chapters with them, as well.

Summer 2014:
Research: Two final weeks in Hawaiʻi to check sources, get help with translations, and otherwise make sure that the dissertation research is solid. (If possible, and if I've also got the funds to do so, I'd like to visit Samoa, site of a possible "second book project.")
Writing: Editing, revising, resubmitting, rethinking, rewriting, lots of tinkering. 
Job prep: Putting together my job portfolio and really, deeply thinking through how I want to present myself when I go on the market. Getting sound advice from others. Making sure my suit fits well.
RESULTS: Well, I got a job teaching at Middlebury College this summer, so that means that I do not go to Hawaiʻi this summer. (I also obviously am not going to Samoa. I did quite a bit of preliminary research for that possible project, but it is no longer on the top of my pile of "second book projects.") I do need to go back to Hawaiʻi one last time, however. More on that later.
As for writing, I haven't touched the dissertation all summer. Really. :)
As for job prep, having gone on the job market last year was great preparation for this year. Academic jobs are now just starting to appear online. Let the games begin.

I also wrote up plans for the 2014-15 year, so let's look at those and see how I might want to change them:

Fall 2014:
No guarantee of funding at this point.
Research: none. Unless I'm crafting ideas for that elusive "second book project."
Editing, revising, resubmitting, rethinking, rewriting, tinkering. Everyone should be reading my dissertation right now: my advisor, other committee members, outside readers.
I hope to defend my dissertation during the fall semester of 2014.
Job prep:
Scanning the academic job market, near and far, high and low, and applying to as many jobs and job-related opportunities as possible.
Funding: check. I have been honored with a 2014-15 Dissertation Completion Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies.
Research: I plan to do more reading in secondary literature: more on the Pacific World; more on economic history and Marxist theory; more on the history of poverty and the working class.
Writing: I plan to significantly revise and tighten up my introduction. Otherwise I need to solicit more feedback from readers on the dissertation's seven chapters, and continue to tinker with them. I need to finish drafting the conclusion. I also want to work on revising two journal articles currently in progress, and send them out for publication.
Defense: No. We have decided to do the defense in spring 2015.
Job prep: Yes. Applying near and far, high and low is a major priority for this fall.

Spring 2015:
Finish up everything that ever mattered (and even the stuff that seems to have no meaning or relevance) so that I can close the book on six years of doctoral study, and seven and a half years of total graduate study. Clean out my department office. Hopefully some employer somewhere contacts me and offers me something, even if it is just for a year...somewhere to go, so that when I box up the hundreds of books in my office, at least I know what to write in black marker on the outside of those boxes.
This is where things get interesting.
I am probably leaving New York City for good circa February 2015. It is not for certain, but I am planning optimistically on the possibility of landing a good academic job somewhere outside of this famous city. It's not what I want to do. I want to stay in New York. But the reality is that I will probably find a job somewhere else, and that is okay.
So, with the winds of a year-long fellowship at my back, I intend to move to Honolulu for at least a month, but perhaps as many as four months starting in February. Here's what it will look like:
Research: Yes. Whatever I need to look at anew or afresh in Hawaiian archives, I can do that in February-March in Honolulu. I also intend to go to Maui for the first time, as there are historic sites there that play a major role in my dissertation. More importantly, with a full draft of my dissertation in hand, I intend to meet with numerous scholars at UH and elsewhere, to get their feedback on my work, to check my Hawaiian-language translations, and to think about where this work is going in its post-dissertation future.
Writing: dotting "i"s and crossing "t"s.
Defense: I should get the full, complete dissertation draft to my committee sometime in February. We can schedule a defense date for anytime between late March and early May. I graduate on May 21. Fingers crossed.
Job market: Interviews at the AHA in January in New York City? Campus visits in February or March? Fingers doubly crossed.

Summer 2015:
I did not include summer 2015 in my earlier plans, but now I know that I have been honored with a fellowship that covers two months' study in four New England repositories. This will take me to Harvard in June and to sites in Boston and Mystic, Connecticut, in July. Yay!

So this is how one finishes a dissertation. It's like a landslide passing through a funnel and all the separate rocks bang and crash together until just one rock—like a big turd—pops out: that's the dissertation.

In the past few years, I have averaged spending three or four months a year outside of New York. It's been a hell of a ride. From my vantage point here in Vermont this summer I can now look forward to six more months in Brooklyn, but those will likely be my last months in New York. In 2015 I am likely to spend just one month in New York City (January), then four months in Hawaiʻi (February-May), then two months in greater Boston (June-July), then five months in who-knows-where.

Is that scary? or exciting? or maybe a little of both?

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