Carolyn Thomas de la Pena
(Ph.D. American Studies,
2001; Jeffrey Meikle, Supervisor)
Assistant Professor, American Studies
University of California, Davis
Here are some tips for completing your degree:
- Make time to research
and write the dissertation. Find outside
funding to buy the time you need to travel
for research, to think, to write. Do not
TA and AI your way through your degree.
The space between teaching and writing
is necessary, and you'll make contacts
through those fellowships that will help
you on the job market.
- Give yourself a deadline
for research after which you will begin
writing. Research has no real end point--there's
always more to know. After a year of research
I began writing, warts and all. What I
wrote wasn't always good; at times I had
to stop and go research more. But switching
from "researcher" to "writer"
hat was essential in getting the project
- Find a writing partner.
I wrote two chapters with a friend over
mornings of "laptop battleship"
at a local coffee house. Just hearing
the sound of someone else writing is enough
to get over a minor case of writer's block.
And accountability is key to getting the
- Begin writing. Rick
Cherwitz once said at a dissertation workshop
that "a good dissertation is a done
dissertation." Excellent advice that
I'd tweak slightly to say "a good
dissertation is a solidly researched if
imperfectly articulated, done dissertation."
You'll have time to turn the dissertation
into a book in your first couple of years
post PhD, especially if you do a post-doc.
Remember, it's good to be critical and
want your work to be the best, but writing
the dissertation is a learning process.
No one finishes a dissertation and has
the "book" done.
- Find something to write about that will sell. Think actively about marketing yourself in a tight job market with what you write about. Pursue something you'll want to walk up to editors and tell them about, something that you think matters beyond academia. A finished dissertation, in itself, is not enough to land you a job. You have to write something that people want to hear, something that makes people want you around for the long haul. And if you think your project matters, you'll want to finish it.