Dissertation Work, September Update

Like last month, September has focused on revising the dissertation. That’s not been all I’ve been doing though. Let’s take a look!

What I see while revising. My view is the same as last month’s except now the hummingbirds have started their fall migrations. Image: an open laptop in front of a window overlooking trees and other plants

Revising Chapter 4

As with my other chapters, I spread out my revising over three weeks. During week 1, I reorganized the chapter by moving sections, cutting material, and adding new text. For week 2, I went through the chapter section by section to smooth out the changes I made. In the final week, I fixed the citations and read through the whole thing before sending it off to my advisor.

In some ways, Chapter 4 has been the most challenging to revise because I haven’t quite fit it into the rest of the dissertation yet. Or more accurately, I know how it fits, but I haven’t been able to articulate it to my satisfaction.

For my other chapters, I focus on the community relationships underpinning outreach exhibitions, but I already discussed the CACP’s relationships in Chapter 3. Rather, Chapter 4 is about institutional models and the persistence of the museum as a means of enabling art access. I explore how the CACP both tried to set itself apart from museums as a different kind of art service while continuing to follow their example in terms of operations.

I argue that this tension within the CACP regarding the museum model is important because the kinds of institutions sharing art plays a role in who gets to see it. If the museum is your primary means of getting art out there, that’s going to affect where it goes and who gets to see it due to best practices, funding, and other factors. I know I’ll eventually say all this the way I want to, but I’m not quite there yet.

Starting the Chapter 5 Revision

Next week I’ll be moving to the fifth chapter, which focuses on the VMFA Artmobile. In some ways, I anticipate this revision to be easier. Since it was the most recent chapter, it’s still relatively fresh in my memory. It also benefits from having a more definitive focus and argument. When I wrote Chapter 1 two years ago, for example, I wasn’t quite sure where I was heading in my research yet. By the time I got to Chapter 5 though, I had a much clearer sense of my argument.

Additionally, I wrote the first draft of Chapter 5 after two years of dissertation research. As such, it’s better written than earlier chapters because my own skills have improved throughout the dissertation process. For all these reasons, I know Chapter 5 is in better shape than earlier sections.

That said, it still needs a lot of work. After all, an early draft is still a draft, and while it may be more readable than other chapters, it’s still got a ways to go before being anything remotely publishable.

Making Revising Fun

One thing that I’ve been trying to do throughout this round of revision is to make the text more engaging to read. There’s a reason why few people ever read them outside of your committee and the occasional graduate student. Dissertations can be notoriously dry material. To the average reader, whoever that is, they’re painfully boring to read.

That said, since I know I’d like to turn this material into a book, I’ve preemptively been working on making the text more interesting. A lot of this entails cutting unnecessary details or extra case studies. Let’s be honest, no one cares about all the minutiae within every archive. You don’t need to list ten examples to support your argument when one or two will do. No one has the time for so much detail.

I’ve also been instilling more variety into my evidence. A lot of my primary documents consist of correspondence between staff members. While juicy in terms of office gossip, these documents can get pretty repetitive to readers. So I’ve started including visual analyses of archival photographs and other images to break up the endless parade of letters. Given that I originally trained as an art historian, it’s been fun bringing these visual elements into the text.

Going on the Job Market

In addition to the dissertation work, I’ve also been focusing more aggressively on the job market. In keeping with my open approach to jobs, I’m primarily focusing on academic positions in the fall, and museum roles in the spring, since they operate on different hiring timelines. During the summer, I drafted generic versions of core academic documents such as teaching and research statements. Over the next several weeks, I’ll tailor these documents to different positions.

Not unlike my archival research, I went through an emotional arc with the job materials. Early on, the amount of work I needed to do for each application and the possibilities that came with envisioning myself in different roles overwhelmed me. To work through those feelings and get back on schedule, I wrote down my priorities. I then created a new timeline that broke down big milestones into specific tasks.

Holding Out for October

I’m notorious for not looking forward to things. Whether it’s a vacation, a special event, or something else, it’s nearly impossible for me to think about them. Until the event happens, I don’t get excited about it. It’s too much of an uncertainty until then.

That hasn’t been the case with our upcoming anniversary trip in October. Shortly after handing in the Chapter 3 revision, I started feeling the fatigue of dissertation work. Even though I was more than halfway finished, I found the prospect of revising two more chapters daunting. Not to mention the additional revisions all five chapters still need.

To get through those final chapters, then, I’ve been treating the October trip as a milestone. If I can get through these revisions, then I’ll get a whole week away from the dissertation. I can focus on fully enjoying the trip, which after months of working from home will be a welcome respite. I know I’ll still have months of work ahead of me, but for that week, I don’t have to think about it.

And sometimes, not thinking about something for a little while is all you need to get your enthusiasm back.

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