Writing a marathon- one word at a time

So, as I head into the second half of my fifth year in this dissertation process, I am starting to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, five years might not sound like too long to be in a PhD program, but for my program, at least in the cohorts before and after mine, the average is closer to four years (here’s looking at you Drs. Good and Stoffer!) And I did start my journey thinking I could complete it in four years- I had a plan! However, my qualifying exam process dragged on for a short eternity, and that set me behind, as things happen in a sequential way. And while I could have moved forward with some of the steps, for a while I was not sure I would progress past that point, and it didn’t seem worth it to spend time on a process that I might not see through to completion. Since I am still writing these blog posts, it is true that I did squeeze through those exams and was allowed to continue on to the subsequent steps of research and writing. However, I have had some road blocks with this stage too, as, for a variety of reasons, I kept having to postpone when I could start collecting data.

Finally, last fall, it seemed that the stars were starting to align, and I would be able to do my project in January through March of this year. Now, if you are doing the math, you might realize, as I did, that this will only leave me a few months to write my whole dissertation, on top of doing the data analysis, once the program I am collecting data from ends. I do have a fairly high opinion of my ability to write a lot under pressure, but I decided to do what I can now, to move along. So, I started my writing process, before my data collection. It makes sense, I can write up my introduction and literature review and methodology and such without having done the study, and anything I write now, means something I don’t have to write in April. I am pretty determined to graduate and walk the stage this June, so time is of the essence!

In December, I started to pull together what I could from things I have already written, such as my proposal. I dinked along with this for a few weeks, hashing out an outline and filling in some spots on it. However, it was when my dear friend, Elese posted on FaceBook that her New Year’s Resolution was to write on her dissertation for an hour a day, that I was motivated to make my own concrete goal. I sent Elese a message, asking her if she wanted to be “accountability buddies” and we would stay in regular touch with each other about our progress-and she said yes.

This is all a little complicated by being a commuter student- in that I live more than an hour away from campus, so don’t go down unless I have too. Many of my friends in the Corvallis area, who are in similar points on this journey, get together in small groups to write and support each other. I have to motivate myself. Having Elese on the other end of my texts helps- I know someone out there is paying some attention to whether or not I am making regular progress. I also had a coffee date with one of my committee members who lives up here too, and she gave me an open invitation to stop by her office, even unannounced, just because this process can be lonely.

And she is right- although I had not really thought about it in that way, this is a lonely journey. I really adore the group of colleagues I have met through this program, but as I have never lived near them, I have done most of this alone. When we were taking classes, there was that level of interaction, and I miss it! What I am doing now, reminds me most of when I (foolishly!) decided to run in the first Eugene Marathon, in 2007. I was a casual runner, so joined a training group, to learn the skills it would take to help complete this, for me, colossal undertaking. I learned a lot and met some good people, but on the race day itself, I ran alone. I had planned to run with others, but people end up with different paces and such, and it was easier to just go on my own. And that is how this feels. I did the training, taking classes and going to lab meetings with my colleagues, and making some great friends, but now, I am off on the trail, writing one word at a time, as I ran that race, one step at a time.

But, I am sure looking forward to taking photos together as we all wear our PhD regalia in June, after we all make it over that finish line on our own.