January 31, 2016

#PhDin2016: January Re-cap

Selfie taken at 5pm Wednesday — just after finishing
my Methods chapter!
One month down, four to go!

If you caught my post earlier this month, you know that I've started my doctoral dissertation and will be here blogging about my progress and challenges at the end of each month.

Here's how January went.

What I Did:

My first task — and I mean TASK! — was getting the formatting down. I basically have the entire skeleton for the document with proper font, headings, line spacing, bolding, italics, page numbering etc. etc. etc. in all the right places. That took a solid two hours one afternoon (mostly because creating sections for page numbers in Word always turns out to be a minor nightmare, no matter how many times I've done it). I've been referring to the dissertation style guide constantly because I don't want to submit this dang thing for review and be told I did something completely wrong. Best get it down now, right? The title page is rather snazzy.

(I actually have a real, albeit tentative, title now.
But this served as a good placeholder at the time.)

Once the skeleton to "JORDAN'S DISSERTATION OMG.docx" was successfully saved, I spent a solid day writing a detailed outline, which my adviser is reviewing now. The breakdown: 8 chapters (including the literature review, methods, and general discussion) and three short appendices.

And then...I wrote the Methods (Chapter 2), which was about three days of writing while staying busy with a few other tasks. Not so bad; at one point or another over the last few years, I've written everything out (in some form) before. I always tackle Methods first when I'm writing papers, and this was an especially good, easy way to get my feet wet with something so daunting.

The Game Plan:

Here's what the next few months will look like to me (hopefully):

February: Chapters 3, 4,  and 5 — three major results that are findings I've submitted previously as conference abstracts/my first dissertation-related journal article (currently under review).

March: Chapters 6, 7 (the last two results) and beginning my Introduction (Chapter 1, A.K.A. the literature review).

April: Polishing up the Introduction, then writing the general Discussion (Chapter 8).

May: Finishing up the Discussion, inserting some short appendices, then prepping for my defense.

To graduate in August, which is my goal, I need to turn in my dissertation by June 3 and defend by June 17. My lab will be at a conference in mid-June, so I'm hoping to have everything done by mid-to-late May.

The Challenge:

The biggest challenge I'm facing is this: I'm still working regular hours and performing regular day-to-day tasks, which include preparing an IRB submission for what will become my postdoctoral work, working with participants in the sleep lab in the evenings (which is, luckily, pretty infrequent right now), journal reviews, helping my adviser edit chapters for an upcoming book, and other random daily research-y things. 

Most, if not all, of my friends who have defended take time off and stay home to focus on writing. I'm fairly certain doing that would make me go crazy. But I'm pretty sure working at the pace I'm currently working, on top of my other tasks, will also make me go crazy. Things are only going to get harder, and I will need to say "no" a lot a lot a lot more in the coming months. But it will be worth it in the end, because I will be extremely regretful if I miss my deadlines for August graduation because I'm neck-deep in other things that just really should not take precedence right now.

Because everyone wants to know...

Everyone is curious about my post-graduation plans. Right now, my aim is to spend at least a year as a post-doc in my current lab. I enjoy my research and I still have many papers I'd like to write and a grant I'd like to submit. My heart is pulling me elsewhere, and during the summer I'll be applying for several science policy fellowships in Washington, D.C. that would begin in fall 2017 (fingers crossed).

Let's do it, February! The AAAS meeting coming up in two weeks will be a nice break from this madness!


  1. Hi Jordan! Congrats on getting the formatting done - that truly is such a finicky thing and doing it first rather than last (like I did) is incredibly wise! One suggestion I have is trying to book yourself away for a weekend or two during your introduction and discussion months. I found myself a little place without easy access to WiFi for a couple weekends and I got so much writing done while I was there. I packed up snacks and every printed article/book I could imagine using and found it very productive - like a little writing retreat!

    1. Thanks for your comment! I will definitely have to try that — it will keep me focused when I don't have the big wide Internet to distract me!


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