The Perils of Carine (a.k.a. Pathetic and Sad, But Social)

Being the true story of Ph.D. studenthood, thesis writing, job searching, expatriate living, 'romance', familial agonies, stress-related ailments, and the lonely search for a low-carbohydrate British meal. (BLOG UPDATED WEEKLY.)

Name:
Location: United Kingdom

An African-American abroad in the U.K., I am frantically writing-up my thesis in this, my final, year of Ph.D. study.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Post 17. Regrouping, or Feeling Crummy but Pressing On

As an update, I am posting here a cut-and-pasted version of the post I just made to the Off-Topic Board at PhinisheD:

"I do not think that I am going to be able to make the [February 28] deadline [for the revised thesis].
"Wah!
"I am trying right now to do an inventory to see how much work is needed to get the thing done, and where that puts me in terms of a completion date.
"My preliminary inventory placed me at March 5 -- ugh -- which I know means that I can kiss an interview for the tenure track job (whose hiring committee wanted my thesis ASAP) goodbye. (I'd been upset that my projected workload for the week will also have to include either a whole or a half day spent completing the post-doc app for a joint research project with my advisor, but now that I have very likely torched myself for the tenure-track job, it is more important than ever that I make time for this! I have another post-doc app due this week; [another] is due March 15.)
"Anyhoo, I want to do another, more specific inventory today to be sure that the target date will work.
...

"Feeling Crummy But Pressing On,
":( 'Carine'"


Since making that post, I have discovered one bit of good news: the number of post-doc applications that I have to sweat this week has decreased from two to one, as I read the small-print and discovered that the March 1 applicaton is open only to folks with Ph.D. in hand. (To be fair, someone in the department that offers this post-doc asked me to apply -- but she also thought at that point that I would be phinished by now. Or, at least, I *think* that she did. ... Ugh. Yes, notifying the department would clarify everything, but I do not have the heart to contact the department to check: having one less thing to worry about this week is a gift, and I am going to run with it. So the post-doc for my advisor is the only one that I am going to worry about over the next few days.)

Still Feeling Crummy, Still Pressing On,

: ( "Carine"

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Post 16. All Apologies

Folks, I just wanted to apologize for my last post-cum-rant. I'm gettin' a little squirrely from stress.

In other news, I am making s-l-o-w progress on the weekend goals -- so slow, in fact, that I am actually happy to have the distraction of grading, the task to which I had to turn my attention last night. (I neglected my online students shamelessly last week, so I figure that the least I can do for them is get their marks for Unit 4 -- which ended last night -- turned around as quickly as possible. Of course, that my two online sections will also be audited on Tuesday adds an extra bit of motivation. ...)

This is more of a leavening activity than a permanent escape, though: I am hoping to intersperse the grading with the thesis hell for the next 36 hours in order to keep my job while still making thesis progress. Fun.

Onward,

: ) "Carine"

Friday, February 24, 2006

Post 15. Rage Motivates, or My Weekend Plans

WARNING: The following was written by a woman who has been made quite 'testy' by thesis stress. The post thus contains a bit of swearing.

I have really been dragging for the past week. I have been depressed and quasi-productive, getting very little done. Tonight, a break in these clouds came – surprisingly, as the result of a most vexing conversation.

The conversation was with a friend (Possibly-Gay Paris Boy (PGPB), first mentioned
here) with whom I have an increasingly tense and, sadly, somewhat competitive relationship, with the 'competitive' part being decidedly one-sided. That is, I cheer him on when he does well, and he generally does the same for me -- but sometimes he feels that I can be a bit “over-ambitious” and can have “unrealistic expectations” for myself. (Nevermind the fact that if I didn't have such expectations and ambitions, life would have permanently kicked my ass a long time ago; in fact, there would have been no way for under-funded little me to make it this far in this Ph.D. program. But I digress.)

At any rate, speaking about my recent blockage, he was at first very soothing, but then said, “You just have to realize that you are not super-human; you can't do everything.”

Um – what?

“I don't mean that your original plan was unrealistic: you could have succeeded in the plan to get the draft ready for the hiring committee at that tenure-track job by the end of February had you not had this recent bad patch.”

Gee, thanks, m-----f-----.

“The thing is that one has to budget for such bad patches, and you never do. You take on so much -- the thesis, teaching, writing articles to publish, etc. -- and think that you can always just push your way through using sheer force of will. It's enough that you have planned to hand the thesis in several months early; to ask yourself to turn in an additional copy to a hiring committee during this period really is too much.”

Okey-dokey, let's look at this logically.

Have I contracted to file my thesis early (i.e. by April 1, seven months ahead of the official departmental/university deadline) because I crave honor and glory? No: I am trying to do it because I am: (a) a self-funded student with little money to get me through the academic year and (b) an American who is trying to get a job within the U.S. system, which expects serious candidates for Autumn 2006 jobs to at least be able to show that their theses are finished.

Do I teach (online, for schools back home in the U.S.) while writing up the thesis because it makes me feel like a superior human being? No: I do so because I have gotten used to little luxuries like food and shelter. (I'm extravagant that way, and I have so little dough left over after I use my U.S. Student Loans to pay tuition that I have no choice but to teach.)

And did I volunteer to complete a revised draft of the thesis even earlier than my pre-set April 1 deadline, perhaps to prove how studly I am? No: the hiring committee at the tenure-track job for which I have applied has asked me to try to complete as quickly as possible.

I know that, given the fact that I have reached the hair-trigger-temper stage of thesis-writing, it is possible that I am being irrational here -- but I wanted to reach through the 'phone and whack PGPB upside the head with a blunt object! That PGPB and I have had similar conversations in the past doubtless contributed to my rage. I seethed for hours after hanging up the phone.

Parodoxically, I am also grateful. Indeed, since this conversation, I have been a hive of industry: the writer's block and organizational panic are both long gone. I guess I am the writing equivalent of a
method actor: give me a bit of anger, and I will 'use it' like an actor's 'object of concentration' -- for my own writing ends.

While breaking through my block is welcome treat enough, I hope that the anger that I felt after that conversation can get me through the next several days in ways that actually help me to produce. The days between today and Tuesday are not going to be fun: I still feel overwhelmed, overworked, and generally miserable. (i.e. I know that Jack Abbott and George Jackson both wrote great books in prison, but spending sixteen hours per day writing thesis revisions in a 9' x 11' room off of a corridor is a fate that I would not wish on my worst enemy. I have never been in a writing situation this horrible.) But, with a bit of pure rage to 'use', here's hoping that I'll be like
Lee J. Cobb 'using' the impressions from his elephant exercises to help him bring the requisite 'heaviness' to his portrayal of Willy Loman. (“What?!?” you ask. The link tells all.)

Onward!

: ) “Carine”


P.S. My anger levels where PGPB are concerned have been building for awhile now. This time last week, he gave me a present: a brand new, expensive electronic enhancement to attach to my computer for entertainment as I work. He presented it with a flourish. I left it under my desk at the Ph.D. Room, to which I travel about once a month at this point, instead of bringing it home. Hmmn.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Post 14. The Jedi Mind Trick, Thesis-Style

My deadline for the revised version of the thesis is February 28th. It has always been February 28th. [1]

What's that? You say that you remember me saying, both here in this blog and at PhinisheD, that my goal for the revised version of the thesis was February 21st?

Oh, silly you! You're so cute when you're delusional and confused. I never, ever mentioned a February 21st goal for completion of the revised draft. The dealine has always been February 28th. Yes, always.

And, by the way: these aren't the two droids that you're looking for, thank you very much!

Channeling Sir Alec Guinness,

: ) "Carine"


[1] While we're at it, please allow me to mix cinematic allusions by noting that I'm the caretaker here. I have always been the caretaker here. I just wonder how my supervisory committee will react when they see that my revised thesis consists of a couple of hundred pages of "All work and no play makes 'Carine' a dull girl." ...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Post (Lucky) 13. I Plod, Therefore I Am

Nothin' to see here, folks: just one woman ... plodding.

A much-missed old friend who used to post regularly at PhinisheD made "Plod On" her slogan -- and passed it on to a lot of us.

So that's what I've been thinking for the past several days. I'm plodding on, and I must keep plodding!

The inter-related factors of time and work outputs are both of the essence. The 2006-2007 job for which I have applied, as described in my last post (http://updatedcarinebichet.blogspot.com/2006/01/post-12-working-day-and-night.html), wants to see a completed thesis as soon as possible -- presumably, so that they can be sure that I am really going to be finished in time to start the job next summer, should they choose to hire me. This means that, although I would need to have a good copy of the whole thesis in the ands of my Ph.D. supervisor and co-supervisor by mid-March anyway in order to make the April 1, 2006 deadline for submission of the completed thesis to the university, I must now revise a 'clean', readable, high-five-worthy draft of the thesis much sooner than then.

Thus, the deadline that I set for the completion of such a revised version of the thesis is the start of the final week of February 2006.

For this reason, my life over the next two weeks is not going to be fun. I can already feel the pinch. Settling into this super-charged version of “revision mode” is the hardest thing: it is getting difficult to force myself to concentrate. Recent distractions have included, among other things, my supervisor's return to Crazy Mode after a few, precious months of uncharacteristically reasonable behavior.[1]

In addition, I have had some goofy problems with my computer. (Not that I am saying anything bad about my computer, upon which I am currently composing this message. No siree: I, who know all too well that the computer gods smite those who badmouth their machines, would never say anything bad about my computer in the final weeks before a major set of deadlines. Nice computer. Good computer. Sweet and valued computer.)

Since it was mainly MS Word that was going crazy -- never a good thing when one is composing an entire thesis in that software! -- I have installed the PortableApps version of OpenOffice (http://portableapps.com/apps/office/suites/portable_openoffice) on a 3 GB USB key that I bought, and am trying to forge ahead with the writing in this new environment.

Truth be told, this is also a clever way to trick my brain into a new revision mode, as it as given me an excuse to transcribe new versions into the OpenOffice Writer word processing program, making changes as I go. Instead of agonizing over every word, as I was in MS Word, I am simply typing the stuff into the new format. It's working for now, but I know that my brain will soon say, “Hey, wait a minute! Just who does this broad think she's fooling? We're *revising* here, not just transcribing, and that's a process that must be agonizing and slow -- especially when I, 'Carine's higher brain, insist on dragging out the process for as long as possible!” Thus, I am trying to write as rapidly as I can while the trick is working...

At any rate, we'll see how everything goes. Come what may, and whatever 'tricks' it takes, I have to keep on plodding!

I Plod, Therefore I Am,
: ) “Carine”


[1]Last week, she had a bee in her bonnet about me accepting a short-term academic consultancy back in the U.S. between filing the thesis and taking the viva -- despite the fact that I can (and did) name ten students who have taken similar jobs before the viva in recent years. When our department chair -- who also happens to be my co-supervisor -- weighed in on my side, my supervisor apologized for being “overprotective.” I need this crap when I am trying to complete my thesis? Ugh!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Post 12. Working Day And Night

My apologies to Michael Jackson for nicking the title of one of his best songs! [1]

Hello, all! I hope that everyone has had a good January.

A more substantial update is forthcoming at some point soon, but I wanted to do a quick check-in now.

For the past several weeks, I have been a woman hard at work. My on-going thesis revision and re-writing, close-outs of my Fall 2005 quarter teaching, and start of my Winter 2006 quarter teaching have all kept me insanely busy. But the whopper, in terms of time demands, has been my work on the first of my formal job/postdoc applications. As I tidied up my Inbox this morning, I noticed that 90 messages -- yes *ninety* -- have flown between me, my recommenders, and the head of the hiring committee for this first job. And that’s not even counting all of the e-mails I’ve exchanged with the dossier service with which I worked to coordinate the delivery of application materials to the school in question.

Looking at this e-mail cache this morning, I thought to myself, “Damn – no wonder I’m so tired!” And all of this was for one job: I have one more job (formal application opens in March/April), two more postdocs, and a one-year temporary job left to go. (Still not sure of I am going to apply for the one-year temp position. …) Many folks I know, including PhinisheD (http://www.phinished.org) stalwarts suzistarlite and Tabitha Grimalkin (http://tabithateaches.blogspot.com), have been doing such applications regularly for many months. I have whole new respect for their ability to keep up with this labor-intensive process – and clearly have no right to complain!

So, onward! And good luck to everyone else who is hard at it right now!

Best,

: ) “Carine”


[1] Doesn't it break your heart to remember the days when “Working Day And Night” was a toe-tapper that you could enjoy without guilt because Michael Jackson was a cool, sane, and immensely talented young man with brown skin and a full nose? At least we've got Off The Wall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Off_the_Wall) to remind us of those glory days. ...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Post 11. Draft Update: "Ain't gonna be no re-match!"

Later on, I will likely post a meatier update (based on the characteristically l-o-n-g update that I sent to my e-mail support group a few hours ago), but I wanted to be sure to post at least a quick update to let the good people who have supported me via this blog over the past several weeks know that I made my most recent deadline.

Yes, you read that right: I completed a draft of the five body chapters[*] and introductory chapter of my thesis on 01/07/05 -- just in time to present it to my supervisor at her Saturday night dinner party, as promised!

What’s more, my supervisor – who was kind enough to spend all day on Sunday reading the entire thing – has said that even in its mega-rough state, she likes the work, now knows that I will be able to make my April 1, 2006 final submission deadline, and is willing to attest to the latter fact in recommendation letters for jobs/post-docs.

Huzzah!

I am just too thrilled about this, people!

The support that I have gotten from so many of you over the past few weeks has made all of the difference to me. Thank you so much!

I now have several crazy weeks of serious revisions and re-writes ahead of me, as my draft was very … well … drafty. But with the draft done, I can well and truly see the light at the end of the tunnel – and be assured that it isn’t a train! I am, knock wood, truly within a reasonable distance of my goal of completing this thesis and getting my Ph.D.

Huzzah, again!

Finally, let me add something that is likely going to sound crazy. Although I know that the next few weeks of revisions and re-writes are going to be intense and often painful going, I feel that this refinement process is going to be almost enjoyable compared to the work of completing the first draft. Isn’t that nuts? Given my psychological make-up and the agonies that I face in just getting stuff down on paper, I truly feel that, now that I have completed the rough draft, the hardest part is over. In fact, I feel thrilled as all get-out that I will never again have to write a first draft of this thesis! How strange is that? Revision is hell, but nowhere near as hellish (for me personally) as de novo creation.

To flip the Rocky analogy of my last blog entry, I guess I am like Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) when it comes to my feeling about getting a complete first draft of this thesis done and dusted. As Apollo staggers around the ring at the end of the first Rocky film, having won the match against Rocky Balboa but having sustained serious injuries in the process, he repeatedly stammers to his trainers, “Ain’t gonna be no re-match!”

Amen, brother! I have gone twelve rounds with this first draft – and although it has blackened both of my eyes, broken many of my ribs, ruptured my spleen, and even chewed my ear Mike Tyson style, I have put the damned thing behind me. At last I can say, “Ain’t gonna be no re-match!”

Thanks again for your support, friends! Onward to several weeks of revisions!

Headed to the Locker Room to Get Stitched Up and Have a Rubdown,

: ) “Carine”

[*] One of the best things about the process of putting all of the work together in the final days was the unexpected discovery that, contrary to what I have written in previous blog entries, the first chapter stands alone and doesn’t need to be folded into the second. Yippee!