Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Okay, I’ve been half writing this post for a while now.

I keep deleting it because I wonder if anyone really cares what getting a PhD is like. In fact, whenever someone tells me that they are thinking about getting a PhD, my first response is always: “There are better, more productive ways to blow a decade of your life. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to harbor a deep seated addiction to a narcotic? Or how about join the clergy for a few year, that would (hopefully benefit other people. If you’re short on ideas, you could always join green peace the Red Cross, or a pluthera of other organizations that pay you nothing and put you through a grueling regime of railing against the world. And seriously, working for them is much better for your sanity.”

When they persist about getting a PhD—usually with a cute little laugh and a “No, I’m serious” (so am I)—then I move on to the truth.

It’s hard.

It’s writing a book hard.

It’s writing the same book ten times hard.

And I don’t mean revisions, I mean writing the same book ten times.

First you write the manuscripts that will become the dissertation. Then you let your adviser read them. After s/he is through with them, you scrape the lifeless carcasses of your manuscript off the floor and try again. You use all of the same data, most of the same references, and the same format and you write it over again.

Lather, rinse repeat.

This is what being a grad student is really like:

Me: Oh great mother of science, let him like it this time. Please please please! Let him like it this time. I know now that the last version was crap, but this one is better. It’s not some drunken paper passed out on the sidewalk of academia. It’s a real paper. Please let him like it.

Adviser after reading the paper: Well, this was a nice effort, but I’m afraid it just doesn’t quite cut it. Try again. And this time, put some thought into it.

Me:        :-(

::goes back to writing::

Repeat this process 16 times (no joke). That’s where I am right now, on the fifth version of the same four papers. Even these “much improved” papers are covered in track changes and comments (one of them came back from the dreaded professor with 110 comments! And he calls it defensible!!).

And so, when I say that this is NaDissWriMo for me, what I really mean is that this is the month of extermination.

taken from the Tardis Index
I’ve been exterminating comments from my dissertation by going through and rewriting sections, revising ideas, refining data and generally kicking butt.

On Monday, I eliminated the last of the comments on the body of my dissertation. I still have 44 comments in my figure captions for one (one?!) chapter. Then it’ll be all up to me. I feel a little like a Dr. Who villain.

So, the progress: I have 167 pages of comment free dissertation. I’m past half. Now all I have to do is exterminate those last comments, clean up my figures and make a couple tables.

(You know, maybe there is a practical application for PhD writing… maybe all writers should try it for a little while, cause let me just say, I’ve got a thick skin now. Of course, I earned it through the heartless comments that read something like “This isn’t English, Rena. Heck, it isn’t even American!” and “This is really just terrible. Do you think you could at least use words that make it sound like you know what you’re talking about?” or, my personal favorite “This is a bit of a nightmarish sentence, don’t you think. It could really use a bit of surgery.”)


  1. Oh my goodness. This sounds like very very hard work. When you're through with this, there will be nothing you can't tackle!

  2. I love the idea of exterminating from your manuscript. That makes editing so much more fun. As I revise, I'm totally going to be thinking "Exterminate! Exterminate!" :D

  3. Sarah: Yes, yes, there will be no more academic mountains to climb--well, except for tenure, and getting a paper into Science, maybe doing enough to worthwhile stuff to be invited into the academy of sciences... But I'll be well prepared for the trials of it! ;-)

    Beth: Yes! So much better to revise with the EXTERMINATE! And thanks' for stopping by.


I love comments! Let me know what's on your mind.