May 30, 2013
In early May I got a very thick (like 600+ packet of course reading materials for my first Athabasca course, 801: Advanced Topics and Issues in Distance Education. I diligently began chipping away at them, keenly aware that: A. the readings probably wouldn’t have much overlap with my not so distance Graphic Design MFA studies and B. everyone in my cohort are probably super-experienced rockstars so if I don’t read like a maniac I’ll sound a complete and utter idiot come August.
The more I read, the more I’m finding that what I’m reading isn’t all that removed from a lot of what happened in my distance ed MFA program. And, the more I communicate with my cohort the more I’m also, pleasantly, surprised to hear that they’re just as riddled with excitement and anxieties as I am and though it sounds bad to say, I could not be more relieved.
There is indeed power in the two words, “Me too.”
…Which brings me to the reading I just recently finished…an excerpt from A Practical Guide to the Qualitative Dissertation by Sari Knopp Bikeln and Ronnie Casella. (I am secretly wondering if this book is subtitled, “Qualitative Dissertation Writing for Dummies.” Though I’ve only read one chapter, it was so practical and grounded and not of the heady-academic one would associate with Doctoral readings. I hope there will be more chapters in the future!) I read Chapter 7, Writing as Work — Getting it Done.
This chapter comes as part of an 801 unit that will be taking a deeper look at the value of the cohort model in education in general and in distance education specifically. The main thrust of the chapter was that it’s way way better to go into the writing process with a support network in place for yourself. Writing is hard, self-questioning work and as a doctoral student you need a very large dose of discipline and persistence to see it through. Writing and being reviewed while in-process is a vital part of your dissertation and though it can be very difficult to both your ego and your confidence, in the end it is much better to get your ideas out and into academic discourse sooner than later. This isn’t all that much different than graphic design in that it’s uncomfortable to get “your babies” out there because it’s inevitable that they’ll be misunderstood, beat up a bit, etc. but in the end it’s so worth it because what we’re doing in both design and in a dissertation is making something that can bring positive change to culture. If we create in a vacuum, the ideas can’t live and only manage to become stunted and self-serving.
So, I found this reading to be interesting because it did frame the whole dissertation writing process as very much in line with what I’ve previously read from writers like Anne Lamott or Donald Miller or Shauna Niequist. When you write, it’s not like the creative muses come and whisper sweet nothings in your ears and you become the scribe. It’s a job and you attend to it like you would any other bit of work and you put in your time (sometimes with happy, pleasant feelings—other times with panicky mind-racing anxiety—still other times with utter blankness) and in the end it works out if you are faithful. The key seems to be to get your work out sooner than later, be passionate about your story but not hold onto any one part of it too tightly, and intentionally surround yourself with a community that won’t let you slip into isolation and self destruction. Admittedly actual dissertation writing all feels like a far distant event but still, I really liked the article for its practical note and for the honestly that seemed to come through and I hope to read more because it does seem a bit like reading this is getting some “insider info” and that is always very helpful indeed.