Waiting: Dissertation Work, March Update

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’m in a holding pattern at the moment. I handed my latest revision to my advisor in February, and am waiting for my defense. Let’s see what I’ve been up to in the meantime.

More often than not, my computer has remained closed lately as I’ve been transitioning to a full-time schedule at the Barry Art Museum. Image: a closed laptop on a wooden desk. Behind the desk is a window overlooking trees and a patio.

Waiting for the Defense: Lining Up the Committee and Scheduling a Date

After handing in my revision, my advisor and I set about organizing the defense. William & Mary requires an outside reader on the committee, so I compiled a list of potential faculty members over the summer and fall. These were folks whose work I’d read or used in my dissertation. After I provided my list to my advisor, he started contacting people until we found someone who was available.

With the outside reader confirmed, we set about verifying the remainder of the committee. I reached out to them myself and requested their presence. After receiving affirmative confirmations from both, my advisor then set about scheduling a defense date. Following weeks of scheduling, we settled on April 23.

This has arguably been the most frustrating part of the dissertation process because I can’t control it directly. My defense depends on the availability of four faculty members with highly packed, disparate schedules. Getting everyone lined up for a few hours is challenging.

To take my mind off scheduling, I’ve been taking care of dissertation logistics. I formatted it to William & Mary’s guidelines, from the width of the margins to the inclusion of all necessary pages.

Adapting My Graduate Work to Post-Grad Life

I’ve also turned my attention to adjusting my graduate research to the demands of full-time curatorial work. Although part of my negotiations with the Barry included allowing time for my own research, I know I can’t dedicate the same time to it. Between planning exhibitions, reconfiguring galleries in anticipation of an expansion, and writing a book on the core collection, I have plenty to keep me busy. If I’m to continue my graduate research, I need to be efficient about it.

I’ve been going about this in a variety of ways. As I discussed in last week’s post, I created a StoryMap of my community art center research. I made this to deposit my data in one place and encourage other researchers to submit theirs. Shifting roles from an on-site researcher to a data compiler will enable me to continue working on art centers without having to undertake the extensive travel necessary to examine individual archives.

I’ve also been thinking about how to reconfigure my work on museum outreach exhibitions to my curatorial demands by centering on the VMFA Artmobile as my primary case study. Given the program’s duration and contemporary revival, I can potentially focus my history of museum outreach exhibitions through the VMFA’s example. While I’d still need to visit the archive, Richmond is a lot closer than my other case studies.

Applying My Dissertation Research to the Field

Arguably the most exciting part of my post-graduate life, however, is the opportunity to apply my research directly to the museum field. In 2025, the Barry Art Museum will undergo an expansion that will double its gallery and educational spaces. To accommodate this expansion, the museum building will need to temporarily close. Rather than lose the audiences the museum has cultivated over the past five years, we’ve been considering ways to maintain interactions through outreach. These methods include, you guessed it, outreach exhibitions.

As someone who has spent the past three years researching outreach exhibitions, I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned to real-time projects. I’m eager to meet with academic departments, student groups, and other organizations to ask them what kind of engagement they want, and how the museum can best serve them during this transitional period. After reading about community engagement from the likes of Nina Simon, LaTanya Autry, Porchia Moore, and Mike Murawski, I’m eager to apply their lessons to my own work. In my humble way, I’m looking forward to developing better outreach shows.

The Hardest Part

Tom Petty once said that waiting can be the hardest part of anything. That’s especially true with dissertation work. Sure, you can meet with your advisor, and make plans for the future. Until the defense comes and goes, however, you’re basically on hold and hoping for the best.

Throughout this waiting period, I’ve been thankful for my job at the Barry. Having other projects takes my mind off the defense. It’s also shown me that I already have an active scholarly life beyond the dissertation. Far from a peak, the dissertation is a gateway to future projects and initiatives.

Yet like any part of the dissertation process, you eventually get through it. Sometimes it may feel like you’re treading through molasses, but sooner or later you’ll pull yourself out of it.

So here’s to the waiting, and its conclusion.

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