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Note #52: Dissertation update (2010.2.16)

It has been a month now since my last post, and while some of you have already heard from me, the rest of you are probably wondering how things are going. For those of you still in the dark, here is a belated update.

In brief, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that I have made significant progress since beginning the hibernation. The bad news is that this progress is not enough for me to finish my dissertation this semester. I came to this conclusion a little over a week ago, when I sat down and looked at how far I had come compared to how far I still had left to go. After facing the cold, hard facts, I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to finish in the time I had left.

To say that I was very disappointed at this realization would be something of an understatement. After focusing all my energy on this end, and after all the anticipation, it really did feel like everything was collapsing around me. Then I realized that it was not, in fact, the end of the world, and I had made good progress. So, rather than giving in to despair, I decided to continue working on my dissertation as I had been up to that point. For the past week, that is what I have been doing, and I have continued to make progress.

So, what happened? In a nutshell, I had far more left to do than I thought I did. I spent the first week of the hibernation reading, organizing, and categorizing over a hundred tales on two well-known characters in Korean folklore. My original intention was to add these two characters to the three characters I had already decided upon, and I spent quite a while trying to figure out how to fit them into the bigger picture. After much wrestling and wrangling, though, I had to admit that including these two characters was a bad idea, as it would make my dissertation much more complicated than it already is. That’s the last thing I need right now.

Of course, I couldn’t just ignore those two characters for no good reason—I had to go through the same process for them as I did with the other characters, no matter the outcome. I don’t regret doing all that work. The characters are very interesting, and will probably be the subject of the next paper I write after my dissertation, but unfortunately none of that helps me right now. So it was hard not to see all that work as a week wasted, and that’s probably why I tried so hard to figure out a way to include them in the dissertation. But in the end, I had to let them go.

My next task was to organize the tales I had researched for the other three characters, which numbered over two hundred and fifty. I had already read them all and done some work organizing and categorizing them, but that was only for my own benefit and wasn’t polished enough to publish. So I had to revamp my classification system entirely, reread a lot of the tales, and organize everything into four tables. I have spent most of the rest of the time preparing these tables (in fact, I just put the finishing touches on the tables earlier today, and I have to say I am very pleased with the outcome—having organized everything in this way, certain things have become a lot clearer).

I managed to accomplish other things as well, of course. For one, there were a few books that I had acquired that needed to be read, so I read them, took notes, and distilled their contents. But most of what I did ended up being preparatory work. For as much as I had gotten done before the hibernation, I still had so much that needed to be done.

The thing is, you don’t know how things will turn out until you dive into them. You can plan and scheme all you want, but until you actually begin the project, you will have no idea what exactly is going to be required of you. So I’m not too upset about the fact that I will not be completing my dissertation this semester. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a little disappointing, but I’ve made a start, gotten a lot done, and now have a very good idea of what I need to do to finish this.

I plan to continue working primarily on the dissertation until the end of the month. The new semester starts in March, and at that point some changes will have to be made to my schedule, mainly to allow for the time I will need to handle my teaching schedule. There are other things that need my attention as well, but I would like to set aside one day a week, or at least a very good chunk of that day, to continue working on my dissertation.

I will make no prognostications at this point, but I will say that I am feeling positive about things overall. I suppose the hibernation is now over, in that I will work on other things as necessary and not quarantine myself from the internet in the evening. Hopefully I will be able to get back to writing here, in part to relieve some stress and in part just to work my writing muscles. This whole note has felt very awkward and clunky, and I’m anxious to work out the kinks—preferably writing about something other than the dissertation.

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