Writing a Dissertation Takes FOREVER

I’m still at the proposal stage. This is my third proposal in three years. The first proposal I wrote was my favourite, but my community partner fell through (I was supposed to work with PFLAG, but the ED stopped returning my calls and emails with no explanation). My second proposal was co-developed by a co-advisor whom I decided not to work with in the end, and just as the advisor didn’t suit me, the ideas in the proposal didn’t suit me either. The third iteration, the one I’m working on right now, is similar to the last one, but I’m writing it in a very different way, and the experimental design is adjusted to an extent that requires a lot of extra background literature review.

Although I was back to work part time in January (while caring for my baby full-time), I only worked on a teaching assistantship. I was able to do all of my marking and student correspondence with the baby strapped to me in a wrap. In the summer semester (starting in May), I knew I wanted to go back to working on my dissertation, so I opted out of a teaching assistantship so I’d have time to work on my own stuff. However, it turned out that at around 9 months babies start getting into things and refuse to be strapped to a warm body for hours on end. I got very little work done over the summer. I did somehow manage to submit a draft of my proposal to my advisor, which I completed on the occasional weekend afternoon when my wife would take the baby.

Now my kid is only getting more and more active, and it’s increasingly difficult to work while I’m with her. But, we have 12 hours a week of daycare. If I’m honest, I probably do focused work for 6 or 7 of those hours (the rest is spent driving to and from daycare, showering, eating, and occasionally blogging).

It’s slow going. I got edits back from my advisor mid-September and right now my proposal looks like someone hacked at it with a knife. I find myself needing to read new bodies of literature, and also play catch up on recent additions to my own field since I stopped making time to read articles (oh look, someone did my exact idea already… glad it worked so well for them…).

I’m discouraged. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have god knows how many months left of proposal writing. I have to finish this draft, have it reviewed by my advisor, incorporate his second round of edits, have it reviewed by my committee, incorporate their edits and hope it’s not a complete rewrite, and only then can I actually start developing the tools I will need to conduct my experiments. Data collection and analysis feel impossibly far away. I can’t even picture myself writing my final dissertation. I’ll be a wrinkly, old lady by then. My daughter will be starting work on her own PhD by then. At least that’s what it feels like.

I so badly want to contribute financially to my family. Some days I want to quit this PhD thing and get a job, but then I’ll have wasted the past 4 years. Just have to keep plugging away…

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