Dissertation dénouement

I’m about 18 hours away from submitting the final version of my Ph.D. dissertation to my committee. I’m slightly more less than 36 hours away from presenting my work to my committee and defending it.

My brain is going 100 miles a minute. Fortunately, or frighteningly, depending on your point of view, there’s a lot more work ahead of me.

Sunday evening, I pulled an all-nighter to get my first full draft complete. At least, that was the plan… Instead, close to midnight, I had an emergency meeting with my dissertation committee chair and talked about the analysis that I’d completed so far. With analysis complete for the interview responses for only 2 of the 6 research questions, I was already looking at a rich, detailed set of findings… And I was only a third of the way in.

Basically, I’d learned so much from my respondents, and done so much work on the coding of the transcriptions, that tripling that amount of content would’ve made for a bloated, overindulgent dissertation. The point of a Ph.D. dissertation is to demonstrate that you’ve become the foremost expert on a very tiny niche subject, while also demonstrating that you’ve mastered the core concepts of the discipline and the methodologies of graduate-level research. It was already clear, just from the stuff I’d completed so far, that I was going to be able to accomplish those things. (Side note: massive thanks to my committee chair and to my colleague who looked over my analysis, both of whom helped me realize that I was being overly ambitious, particularly with only three days of writing time ahead of me!)

This, basically, is what writing a dissertation is like.

So instead, I spent the next eight hours (until well after dawn) diving deeply into the analysis that I’d completed a first pass through, and working on the actual writing that describes the process and findings. I had hoped to have the entire dissertation draft done before leaving town yesterday morning, but that just didn’t happen… Even working all night, there was no way. So I made my way down to Florida around lunchtime, processed a minor personal freak-out about all of the craziness in my life right now, and then got back to work.

Today I finished the complete first draft, and got some early feedback from my committee chair. I’m to the point now where I already have a viable dissertation ready, but I’ve got several hours of improvements to make before I’m willing to let it go in for final review tomorrow. From there I will create the presentation materials, get some sleep, defend my work, get spectacularly drunk, sleep for a few days, and then get back to work.

Oh, you thought this was it? Naw, son… All that research data I collected from participants, which got cut from my dissertation? Yeah, all of that is still fair game. I’ve got the next four studies already lined up, building off of the foundation from my dissertation, and continuing to expand the theoretical model that I’ve built. After all, as academics reason, why publish one really big study when you can publish four out of the same dataset?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some edits to make.

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