Even though I’m no longer taking classes and don’t officially operate on the semester cycle, the beginning of the academic year is still a bit of a starting point for me too. Because of that, I thought this would be an appropriate time to give an assessment of my dissertation progress so far–even moreso since I just got back from meetings with all three of the professors on my committee.
First, to give an idea as to how far along I am, let me offer this as a comparison. I was hoping that at the end of September I would have chapters one and two written and submitted to my first reader for review. So far I have written nothing. Ouch!
Obviously, something has not gone quite as expected. Let me explain.
My dissertation is going to focus in on the plot of the book of Genesis so once I got started on dissertation research in late May I knew I needed to begin by formulating a strategy for reading plot in Genesis. To come up with that strategy I started out in the field of linguistics and especially the Prague Linguistics Circle. After that I moved on to the philosopher Paul Ricoeur and then on to narratology/literary criticism. As it turns out each one of those three is a separate field of its own with its own body of literature and there isn’t a bit of it that is light reading for the uninitiated–which I definitely am. In late June and July I was beginning to get nervous. Am I doing the right thing? Am I wasting my time? Am I going to get any payback for all of this effort? Am I going to stay on schedule?
Fortunately, by mid-August (the middle of Paul Ricoeur) I started putting some ideas together and realized that not only was all this research useful, it was absolutely crucial to putting together a good quality dissertation. That was confirmed to me today when I went to talk with each of the members of my defense committee. Each of them told me that this is the nature of any dissertation and if I’m going to do a good job I can’t avoid doing this kind of reading in the beginning in order to iron out my methodology.
There were especially two comments that comforted me most. Dr. Averbeck (my first reader), said that when he was working on his dissertation he had to ‘read volumes on social anthropology.’ Dr. Younger (my second reader) said, ‘there’s a lot of work done behind the scenes of the dissertation that doesn’t show up in the final product but all of it is necessary in any dissertation if it’s going to be worthy of passing.’
In those words I find a bit of encouragement (that I’m headed in the right direction) but also exhortation (not only is what I’m doing right–I need to dig even deeper).
The bottom line is that I’m still worried about meeting deadlines but I see myself heading in the right direction, I’m getting increasingly excited about the potential of my work, and I’m increasingly motivated to keep digging in order to increase the quality of my work.