Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Why I Have a Headache

At 11:00 Sunday morning (Sunday a week ago), I got a phone call from my advisor telling me that my doctoral thesis was "unacceptable."

It was, she said, too full of dangling modifiers, typos, poorly spelled words, bad footnotes, inconsistent style, and poor translations. "Are you ready to defend?"

And then, in the next breath, the part that I had been most anxious about: "But it reads well, and the argument is convincing."

So I've been squinting at a computer screen all week, trying to make sure I had the right spacing, the right references, the correct spelling, the proper margin size, and that my head would not explode.

It was due Friday. Thursday morning I called and got it pushed back to Monday. Advisor says if it's not in her box by 4:30 Mon. I won't defend. I finished writing Monday morning at 5, having pretty much stayed up all weekend. "Proofread" the Works Cited until 8. Went to copy shop, printed out the whole thing. Dropped it off. Got call from copy shop informing me of pagination error. So tired...can..no..longer...count. Fixed error. Printed out again. It's now 2:00, and I am a two hour drive from my advisor's office. Drink coffee. Drink more coffee. Do some jumping jacks. Get in car and find some decent music, bite my lip to stay alert -- drive, drive, drive -- (I've only been working on this thing ten years, or really a lifeime, if only I can stay alive long enought to get it ...)

into her mailbox at 3:55.

When I was a kid, my father was working on a family geneaology. He took me to county courthouses around Virginia to look at records. He also showed me battlefields, told me stories (ask me about Bacon's Rebellion) and made timelines to put up on my wall: THE DARK AGES...THE MIDDLE AGES...THE RENAISSANCE. I've always wanted to be a historian.

And now I will be.


JohnMcG said...

Congratulations -- I hope your defense goes smoothly.

twiffer said...

good for you. does this mean we're gonna have to call you Dr. August?

JohnMcG said...

But think -- you were also named TIME's Person of the Year! That's gotta lift your spirits a litte...

Keifus said...

August: what fun, bet you've slept an hour in a week. I remember for my thesis, what my committee really cared about was (1) any typos in teh first five pages (I assume no one read the rest of it), and (2) the fucking margins. Still, I think I spent the most time of that last week making sure my committee all showed up at the right time.

(It was fun to meet some of my advisor's current students a couple of months ago. They did try and plow through it. They were a little flummoxed, possibly by the subject matter, possibly by my presentation of it.)

Good luck on the defense. Let us know when you're an official history doctor.


august said...

Twif -- if I had the time, I'd give you the m= for a post of Keif's about how weird that would be. Please don't.

John -- Thanks. I would feel better about the honor (person of the year) if it didn't come from such a rag.

Keif I think the main benefit is that for a week or two I don't have to feel guilty about fraying.

switters said...

Well done. Break a leg. Take names, kick asses, &c., and things of that nature.

I dropped out of my Ph.D. program after the first year and moved to Colorado to become a snowboard bum. But you already knew that.

Anyways, positive thoughts headed your way. You'll do great.

Dawn Coyote said...

I'm glad you got through it. The trouble with working round the clock (for me) is that productivity declines with every hour I go without sleep. What might take an hour at the start of the marathon will take five or six by the end. Plus, my judgment gets a bit sketchy, too, as I decide my weird syntax sounds clever, instead of just wrong.

Hmm...the Fray as "The Island of Misfit Toys and Home for Wayward Doctoral Candidates." I wonder how Moloch is doing.

Congrats. Missed ya. Merry merry. etc.

LentenStuffe said...

I see ... so now it's everybody else's turn to get the headache.

But seriously, don't you feel much better having got that heap a shite out of your system?

BTW My PhD mascot got off his leash way back then and I haven't seen, smelled or heard of the schmuck since. Any chance you had him? You'd have known him by his conch.

Good man, yourself.

TenaciousK said...

Hey, congratulations!

What, didn't anyone tell you to hire a typist/editor to do your formatting for you? Highly recommended.

Surviving the defense: bring a portable jug of very good coffee, fruit juice for the abstainers, and a quality pastry (fruit tarts for me - both defenses).

One of the great injustices of my life - completion of both my master's and doctorate left me feeling defeated. Hope you can achieve a more celebratory outlook.

Committee members: they don't feel like they're doing their job unless they're finding things to criticize. Throwing a red herring or two out there enables them to feel smug and productive, and you to survive with a minimum of stress and heartache.

It's downhill from here, my friend. I have only known one person who failed their defense, and that's only because his committee had been looking for an excuse for quite some time (best advice I ever got about committee membership: screw the academic angle. Pick people who either golf together, or would like to, if they knew each other).

There's a blood pressure medication famous for being the savior of people who are nervous public speakers. I didn't use it, but a friend did - let me know if you want me to dig up the name.

I'm full of bul-, er, practical advice. I'm very happy for you, though - I'm hoping you get a smooth ride down the academic rabbit hole. Good luck on the defense!

Oh - and take your wife out to dinner. She needs it.

august said...

Swit -- wise. (and thanks).

Dawn -- agreed (one thing I had to learn was when to make myself sleep). But at the very end my anxiety level was so high that sleeping really would not have been possible.

ZB -- I had been feeling intellectually constipated before finishing it off. Thanks. I'm glad your guy made wikipedia. Mine won't unless I put them there.

TK -- sound advice. I'm okay with public speaking, so I'll skip the meds. But the wife definitely deserves dinner.

Sorry I've been lame about posting. Will improve...