Thursday, June 30, 2016

Measuring progress

In the 10 days, much has transpired.  The kids had their last days of school.  I submitted 30 pages to my adviser of what I'm now thinking will end up being 2 separate chapters (with obviously will require much editing and additions to each).  I took my kids out for 2 days.  Family came to visit for the weekend.  Kids started day camp.  In the last three days, I transcribed 3 interviews totaling about 200 minutes of audio and probably 8-9 hours of transcription time.  I've looked up a few peer-reviewed articles and I've sketched out some ideas related to my overall argument, and some topics/themes that I want to really flesh out somewhere in the dissertation.  I did some laundry and dishes.  I finally put those old clothes in my closet in a bag.  I wrote a recommendation letter for a student.  I bought some clothes for one of my kids.  Yet amongst all this, I'm feeling like somewhat of a failure.  I saw this post on Facebook about all the stuff we tell ourselves in academia.  Much of it is related to imposter syndrome, the competitive nature of academia, jealousy, and how all of that intersects.  Many times, it manifests in anxiety and/or depression, like I've said before.  For me, I feel like my anxiety level is going through the roof lately.  I guess I'm not alone.  Do a search on Twitter or Facebook with the words, depression anxiety, and tons of stuff comes up.  It doesn't help that we have a big trip coming up, that, well, I really wasn't too crazy about in the first place, and I have so much to get done before then.  However, what am I really measuring my progress up against?  Is  it some false notion that I MUST write something coherent every day, that even a fully transcribed interview that took me 3 hours of work time isn't a tangible enough measure of my success? Is it an unrealistic expectation that I've imposed upon myself, that I'll have all interviews coded and I'll have all my media articles reviewed within the next 3 weeks?  Really, anxiety can do strange things to one's ability to measure these things.

And, of course, some mom guilt mixes in. I'm paying for the kids to attend day camp, and I feel like I should have gotten so much more done. It's funny, because it almost feels like the last day of school was weeks ago, and they've been going to camp for weeks even though they just started on Monday.  Also, it doesn't help that some of the kids' stuff is on the other side of my desk.  I glance over, and I see this little happy-meal style box that one child brought home from their field day a couple weeks ago.  I look at the cartoonish scene on it, and I feel sad.  Sometimes I think to myself, "wouldn't it be better if they were spending the time with me?"  Then, I realize that I have gotten a good deal of work done this week, both academic and household-wise, that I wouldn't have been able to do if they weren't at camp.  Also, I think of how they've excitedly told me about the things they did each day, and how bored they might have been if they just had to sit in the house while I tried to get something done each day. But, sometimes I still feel bad, that even in the evenings when they come home, I'm not in the best of moods, although I try to switch gears.

Another thought goes back to something I mentioned earlier-- how are we measuring our progress?  I've read many articles and advice blogs about this.    If we're writing, many times, we think the first draft has to be perfect, which becomes a roadblock to progress.  Also, we can tend to think that anything we do BESIDES writing really isn't that important and isn't REAL progress. Again, that is wrong.  Yesterday, I spent about 2 hours thinking about an argument that I want to make in another chapter.  Reviewing literature and transcribing an interview helped me to think about how I want to frame that argument.  Towards the end of the day, I typed out a paragraph that I think will help me not only to structure a chapter, but also the overall argument of my dissertation. 

Bottom line, I know that I put unrealistic expectations on myself.  I think self-reflection is important.  Yes, we need to set interim deadlines.  Yes, we need to tune out distractions.  However, we are also human beings.  We have lives and various responsibilities, especially those of us who are considered "non-traditional" students.  And, we can't ignore self-care if we're also trying to manage anxiety or other issues amongst all of these seemingly often competing priorities.

And now...I set out to try to make some progress today! :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Depression, dissertation, and the realities of life

I'm not stranger to depression and anxiety.  I've dealt with both or one of these at different points in my life.  It's sad that when one googles, "depression" and "dissertation", so many articles come up.  Some people have difficulty working on their dissertation because of depression; sometimes, the realities of the dissertation itself can catapult someone into depression if they are not already experiencing it.

Lately, I find myself saying "I feel depressed."  The reality is that I am not really depressed in the full, clinical sense of the word.  I would definitely know if that was the case.  No doubt, many things in life lately are depressing.  Maybe the more accurate way to describe my emotional state lately is "melancholic."  I don't know.

On a macro scale, of course, many horrible things are going on in the world.  This week alone has seen new horrors that are a little bit closer to home.  However, through my own research, I'm often faced with stories of violence that don't necessarily reach mainstream media outlets.  I'm constantly aware of the terror that still goes on in parts of the world such as the Middle East, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, even when it seems like the world has forgotten.

On a personal front, it has been a very difficult week.  I don't like to get too personal or revealing on this blog, but a close family member is terminally ill; two close family members (including this person) were in a car accident and we had to cancel a very important family gathering that might have been the last time we could see the ill family member.  Today is also my grandfather's death anniversary.  This might seem silly in light of what I just said, but I'm also feeling emotional because it's my kids' last full week of school.  I have that, "where has the time gone" kind of feeling.  My son's school is also having a fun event today, and I haven't been able to volunteer for any of these events because of all my competing commitments.  I wish that I could have been more involved in these school events, but I also recognize that I had an insane schedule this semester.  So needless to say, I'm trying to pull myself out of a funk to focus on my work, but I'm already not being too successful this week (yesterday, I barely got in 1 hour of transcribing when I really should have been writing).

Also, yet again, I'm not only feeling imposter syndrome, but I'm feeling a sense of regret about a number of things regarding my academic work.  If I only had spent  more time on my dissertation research instead of another project; if I only had channeled my energy into a potential publication, then I too could have won an award or some kind of fellowship and I could have been done by now; if this, if that.  Of course, it's self-destructive to dwell on the past.  Yes, maybe I could have done those things, but I have to ask myself--- if I had, how much more time might I have missed of  my children's young lives?  Would that fellowship have been better for me than gaining more teaching experience?  Would it have been more fulfilling to receive an award than to receive heartfelt expressions of thanks from graduating seniors who told me that I helped them to press on towards graduation and not give up?  It's definitely a mixed bag.

As I self-reflect, I wonder if some of the academic-related disappointments I feel are mostly related to looking at what others have done (who of course have different life situations than me), rather than just "keeping my eyes on the prize [a.k.a. a finished dissertation]" so to speak.  Also, regarding the other feelings of sadness, yes, it is all normal.  We aren't robots who can just keep ignoring all that is going on in our families and personal lives to the detriment of our overall well-being.  So, I can't keep making excuses for myself, but like a friend recently told me, sometimes we need to take some time for ourselves to de-stress.  Yes, maybe I have done that here and there in the last few weeks.  Yes, I need to still be disciplined and be on track with my work.  But, sometimes we have to figure out that it isn't necessarily just the work that is making us frustrated, anxious, or sad.  We need to address our emotions and spend the time doing things that will help us to do this-- writing and sending a card; calling a family member we haven't spoken to in a while; talking about it.  I know that I need to do some of these things this week myself.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A 30 day challenge?

Well, here I am, 8 days after my last post.  How much have I really accomplished in the last week?  Well, I have about 5 pages of different sections of a chapter draft; I've been coding interviews and going through articles for a content analysis.  That might sound good, but honestly, I could have had more to show.  I keep googling articles about how to balance a full time job (although currently, there is a lull in my job as I mentioned in the last post), parenting, and getting a dissertation finished.  I've read some encouraging advice, such as write for 2 hours per day or set a goal of 2 pages per day.  I've met up with two comrades in the journey in the past week, which although it took time away from writing and researching, was invaluable for my morale.  I'm just tired of feeling isolated and that this task is impossible.

Recently, a friend invited me to a group on Facebook about walking for 45 minutes per day for 30 days (or maybe it was 15 days?).  I really wanted to join in, but I kept making excuses.  I think that I really need to commit to daily exercise to keep my energy up and my mind moving.  However, in lieu of this, I was thinking of setting my own 30 day challenge.  Of course I'm hesitant, because I don't want to fail.  I thought of informally starting last week, and I kind of did, but then I said "forget it" to myself.  For a few evenings, I binged watched a show on Amazon Prime and  just kept saying that I was too tired (even if I am, still...).   I was thinking, that since I'll need to be even more purposeful and creative in carving out times for diss work in the fall, I should say that I'll work for at least one 30 minute slot on my dissertation in the evenings (after the kids go to bed).  In addition to this, I need to find 2 hours during the day to get work done. I know that this might have to be adjusted once classes start since I'm not 100% sure of my schedule.  However, I can surely do that and more during most weeks this summer.  I was also thinking of this:  30 minutes of coding/reviewing transcripts/notes PLUS 30 minutes of writing every evening.  Of course, getting into the habit is half the battle, as is with sticking to an exercise plan.  In lieu of this, I recall some great advice I received from Cloud Nine, author of the "I hate my PhD" blog.  Work on your dissertation for 3 hours per day.  You don't always have to feel like you have to work on it for 7 hours straight.  Sometimes it's better to set a more realistic goal at first.

Now I'm just thinking, when should I start this challenge?  Should I include weekends (which has its own challenges with a husband and 2 kids), or just stick to the 5-day work week?  I'm also aware that a holiday weekend is coming up. Maybe I can try this out for 15 days....

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

You have to write...something!

Again it's been half a year since I've posted here.  I don't know how many people have actually read this blog out there in the Internet universe, but wow, a lot has happened in this past six months.  Unfortunately, not as much has happened in the way of progress on my dissertation.  I guess teaching full time this past semester has much to do with that.  Yes, there is much to be said for a little bit more financial security, but I'd be lying if I said that I am satisfied with the way the dissertation has been hanging over my head.  I've watched other dissertating colleagues finally cross their finish lines, and I'm exceedingly happy for them, knowing all that they had to go through to finish.  I've watched some of my undergraduate students cross their finish lines, and many of them have encouraged me to keep pressing on towards my own.  At this point, I feel burnt out and somewhat unmotivated, but yes, I want to finish.  I also feel a responsibility to my research participants to finish.  But, getting momentum in the last week since the semester has really finished (not to mention, I'm still working with a couple of students on things) has been tough.

Also in the past month, I've been encouraged by my adviser to just start writing.  Even though you might not even be CLOSE to (even 1/4 of the way) finished with coding and analysis, said my adviser, just start writing.  When I've reflected on this (quite often in the last week-- maybe I've done too much reflecting and not enough writing, haha), I'm reminded of a phrase that another dissertating comrade used to describe part of her writing process-- word vomit.  Of course, this sticks out in my mind because it conjures up some rather unpleasant images, but paradoxically, the thought of just spilling out a bunch of ideas on a page-- no matter how unconnected they seem-- makes me feel better about the process.  I don't have to write my dissertation in a linear manner, nor does my first, second, or even third fourth fifth.... draft have to be pristine.  Nevertheless, I feel like my mind is going in circles.  I have a couple of weeks to try to get something coherent together before my next check-in with my adviser.  I think I can do it, but I feel like I'm drowning in all the data that has yet to be coded (which is really most of it), and I keep changing my mind about which chapter I want to draft first.  I have a handful of documents saved with sundry paragraphs that could potential be associated with different chapters or sections of the same chapter.  I keep reading that this is better than writing nothing, but honestly, some days I want to throw in the towel when it is 3:30 p.m. and I've made zero substantial progress.

Maybe I'm being hard on myself.  After all, I spent a large majority of the last semester working 6 day weeks, albeit that was largely on grading gazillions of papers and teaching.  Last week was my first real week away from that, although I still have some stuff to do in the next few weeks related to that sphere.  I got distracted by the fact that my house is a disaster; kids didn't have enough clothes for the summer weather; I don't have enough clothes (and still don't, since I spent my time and money getting the kids stuff); figuring out summer plans for the kids; visiting with family and friends over the holiday weekend; going back and forth with students about various unresolved issues; etc, etc.  Yes, maybe that's true, but I can't keep making excuses.  I just need to keep coding, but sometimes, even though I find the transcriptions interesting and I am excited by the themes and theoretical implications arising out of the data, I get easily distracted.  Then, in the process of one of these numerous times of distractions (if that even makes grammatical sense), I come across articles stating that blogging is a good way to exercise those writing muscles.  So here I am, just writing, something.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Dissertation update: Ups and downs; ups and downs

I feel like a broken record since I start almost every post saying, "It's been a long time since I've posted."  Yes, that's true, but I've been meaning and wanting to post more often.  I don't want to always publish "venting" type posts, although I have much even besides academia to vent about. 

This semester, like pretty much any semester, has been a series of ups and downs.  A huge "up" is that I am nearing the end of my "data collection" phase.  I am about 98% sure that I will have all of my interviews done by December.  As I write this, I should be transcribing (unfortunately, I have procrastinated waaaaayyyy too much with that), but I have increased confidence that maybe even all of that will be done by December (just, maybe, I hope).  In the midst of this I've experienced many emotional "downs"-- just wishing that it was all done; feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks yet to come and literature yet to be read; having decreased confidence in the broader arena of academia; worrying about finances and employment for the next semester; sometimes wishing I just had a "regular" job; thinking that all of this is pointless since I'm probably just going to end up adjuncting long term; wishing that I had the confidence, time and/or eligibility to apply for fancy fellowships; feeling like an imposter/ "less than" in comparison to other people in my program or other programs.  I guess all of this is normal.  I've just started realizing that I have to set daily goals and take things one day at a time instead of wallowing in all of these thoughts.  I haven't been too successful yet, but I'm getting there.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Academic struggles in the summer...

It's been yet again a long time since I posted.  A few of my in-laws were visiting for all of July; we spent a lot of time in the car going here, there, and everywhere.  Kids didn't go to day care.  We had a lot of fun; of course, it wasn't always easy having a full house, but great memories were made.   Now, here I am, two weeks after everyone has left, and I'm struggling.  I thought that I would be so motivated to get back in the swing of things last week.  Did that happen? Nope.  I've also been somewhat paralyzed by frustrations I've had with my dissertation.  I still need to get a few more interviews done, and no one is responding.  I'm not too surprised, after all, it's summer, and I know many of these people travel quite a bit anyways.  However, I've made embarrassingly little progress with transcribing, and very little progress with other aspects of the work.  I've also been distracted by other projects I took on for the summer--one for pay, although I haven't been able to do many hours for that, either, and one which was intended to help me produce a publishable paper.  But alas, these things have distracted me from my dissertation.  

I'm also struggling on this fine Monday with other things.  I feel a bit down because I miss my kids.  Not the traditional mom guilt, but I would rather be spending time with them. In summers past, they would just go to day care maybe 2 days per week, and I would plan fun activities for them the remaining days.  Although they didn't go to day care all of July, they've been going full time since everyone left.  I guess part of the issue is that we barely have the money to send them this month, and I feel partly guilty that I'm not making as much progress as I had hoped.  Nevertheless, I'm nostalgic about those 2 past summers, and the summer is almost over.  

I reckon that I'm not the only one out there who feels this way.  All this is compounded by the sinking feeling that I need to get all this stuff done so that I can finish this PhD, but I'm not too excited about what might lie ahead.  Ever have thoughts about jumping ship?  I would have to bet that I'm not the only one out there feeling this way.  Family members keep encouraging me to press on and I try to keep a positive outlook, but it's not always easy.

I don't know if anyone reads this, and I don't intend to be discouraging.  I guess this blog is also an outlet for me to be real, because so many people are afraid to be honest with themselves and others in the world of academe.  Someone asked me recently what my plan was to get back on track and finish.  I said that I was just taking things one day at a time, trying to do various tasks here and there, but I'd rather be at the playground or the museum with my kids (I didn't say that last part :)).  I guess I need to take things one day at a time, and also make the most out of the time that is left of the summer.  Because here in the North, as August becomes September, we know that we are in for those 2 nasty four letter words soon-- COLD and SNOW!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Confessions of reality

Forewarning:  this is probably not the most positive post....

In my former professional life, I had a client who used to say that everything was "useless."  I find myself feeling the same way lately.  Working on the dissertation can involve so  many mood swings-- great days when you feel productive; you have a number of interviews lined up in the coming weeks and/or you had great conversations with potential interviewees.  And, then there are times when you are going through a "Valley of Sh*t" (look on The Thesis Whisperer website for this article-- so true).  I have to admit that there have been more valleys than mountains lately for me.  Plus, it is the last week of the semester; the grading is piled high and I haven't even begun to tackle it yet.  Not to mention, I haven't been feeling well all week, so yeah, that puts a damper on things.  Also, if you've watched or read the news at all this week, you know that there have been many new tragedies on top of protracted ones (like the crisis in the Middle East).  These things just make me feel like I should have stuck with my "former" life so that I could have been fully involved in advocacy and service work. 

The other thing I must confess is that I've been grappling with that green eyed monster-- jealousy.  This is something that graduate students don't really talk about too openly.  However, I believe that the first step in trying to break free of an emotion that is paralyzing is to admit it.  I've known a number of people recently who obtained a decent amount of funding, both internal and external to my school, and all of them are around the same point as me in the program.  Truth be told, there isn't enough funding to go around (whether it be internal or external), and not everyone is eligible to apply for every grant.  Nevertheless, the constant stream of this news lately has just made me feel like everything I am doing is useless.

As a person of faith, I know deep down that is not true, and I know things could be worse.  Nevertheless, maybe the fact that I've been sick this week wasn't a coincidence, and I just needed somewhat of a break, despite the pile of work that encircles me.  Or, maybe it's just procrastination out of burn out, imposter syndrome, or something else.