Every year, I tell myself that the Spring semester is going to be so much quieter than the Fall. I tell myself I will set goals. I will take this time to reflect and prioritize. I will not get overwhelmed… And then, suddenly, it is April. Response papers need to be graded, graduation ceremonies to be planned, and my inbox is proliferated with conference announcements for interesting events going on nationwide. With those announcements come calls/requests for proposals to present, and eagerly, graduate students go into overdrive to assess their research and where it fits in to the conference theme. As I entered this phase of my semester, I was lucky enough to have some great possibilities to propose to conferences, many of which were products of a research partnership.
As I began preparing the proposals, it occurred to me that I had little idea on how to properly determine the author order. As I have gone through my professional career, I have seen different expectations for collaboration, ghost writing, and sharing of credit based on rank rather than the contribution to the research. Some projects have been an egalitarian experience with appropriate credit-share. Others have been more… let us say… inequitable. Up until now, I never gave it much thought past the idea that this is what is customary based on age, notability, rank, etc. What I failed to realize until I got further into the PhD process is that formalized guidelines do exist to help you figure out the complex puzzle of co-authorship.
“You can’t think yourself out of a writing block, you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.” — John Rogers, Kung Fu Monkey, 06-25-11
Everyone gets writer’s block — although the phrase’s Wikipedia entry suggests that it’s a condition primarily associated with writing as a profession, writer’s block can afflict anyone. Trying to write a message in that birthday or holiday card, but unable to find the right words? Spent so much time researching for your dissertation that you’re unable to figure out where to begin? College students, journalists, CEOs, and writers of jingles, letters, and blog posts, writer’s block is a dangerous and frustrating malady that can strike any person, at any time.
To help combat this condition for which modern medicine has not yet found a cure, we have compiled a list of selected resources to fight and demonstrate that, while writer’s block might last a little or a long time, it does not have to be a permanent condition.
Recently, I spent the day at a local restaurant – working. And remarkably I was not alone. Oh, lots of people came in and out through out the day to eat of course. But many more hung out with their laptops, alone or in groups, and some even conducted business meetings, via cell phone or face to face. Some stayed for a couple of hours and a few others, like I did, stayed for the whole day.
I had breakfast, a couple of refills on my coffee, lunch and a mid-afternoon snack. All in all, not a bad deal for the restaurant. And the free WiFi, comfy armchairs, ubiquitous Muzak, and reassuring buzz of nearby conversation made for a congenial, if public, workspace for me. Never mind that I have a perfectly convenient and well-equipped study at home and access to one of the stateliest libraries and a host of calm, quiet work spaces on campus – as I remarked to the server, sometimes it just feels more productive to be near people. We chatted briefly and both of us commented on the number of customers who came in to work.
Although the desktop on my laptop sometimes resembles a crazy quilt, most of the time articles and files are clearly labeled, dated, and neatly filed into folders. I’ve learned the hard way that the extra few minutes spent in organization pays off in efficiency down the road as the folders fill, especially with research articles for the dissertation literature review. Making the switch from printing, highlighting, and annotating hard copies has come slowly; however, creating a digital version of “file cards” (the “making sense” part of the literature review) has been much easier.
There’s a lot of information to extract and record in any comprehensive research review: for instance, the citation, type of study, subjects, sample and population, instruments, results, and the reviewers’ own notes as well as salient quotes. Categories can vary, of course, depending upon the needs of each dissertation writer.
Aisles of school supplies, shoes sales, and seven-thirty am school buses on the streets – all September signs of that most familiar fall ritual – back to school for kids of all ages. My youngest nephew turned five this summer, so, armed with a new Spiderman backpack, he started Kindergarten this week. The 22 thousand students in the Bethlehem Area School District started school last Tuesday. Lehigh’s campus, so quiet and sleepy all summer, is suddenly alive with a wave of undergraduates, almost five thousand of them. As for Lehigh’s graduate students, over two thousand of us, well there’s really no “back to school” for us – grad school never really stops. Courses may end; exams may be taken, passed or not, even retaken; deadlines may be set, extended, or shifted; but the dissertation has a life and a timeline all its own, more dependent upon the motivation, enthusiasm, and sheer persistence of the author than on arbitrary dates.
So, as much as I’m tempted to get juicy new highlighters, fresh notebooks, and a spiffy new book bag, there’s really no need. The old will do just fine, as I try to put the dissertation process back on track after a summer of teaching, researching and writing curriculum, vacationing and moving. Don’t get me wrong, I have great advisors, a wonderful support system, and a shelf full of books on how to “do” dissertation work. The sage advice in the latter runs the gamut from how to structure the work itself to how to manage and motivate yourself in the process.