Sunday, December 8, 2013

Dissertation Roadblock: Getting Stuck on the Information Superhighway

Found this great infographic by Anna Vital on
I feel like the past few weeks I have been in hibernation mode and I know it's been a while since I have posted a new blog entry. I think people underestimate the rigor of thought. I can see why so many academics have a hard time explaining and justifying what they do. After reading study upon study and journal article upon journal article for my dissertation literature review, I found that it takes time to stop, think about and consider what each author was trying to convey. Then making the connection to my topic becomes the real challenge.  Even when I do make the connection, I start to write and when I read it back, I get intimidated by my own writing. The imposter syndrome creeps in - is this really me or am I somehow conjuring up some other intellectual I might have read before?  I think this is one of the roadblocks for Latinas completing their dissertations and why the lit review becomes so difficult for many of us. It is time consuming and can be the loneliest part of all. You're needing to read, at some point stop the reading and get your thoughts down on paper.

I refuse to see this phase as being stuck. This is the thinking that makes us stop and GIVE UP. A member of the Latinas Completing Doctoral Degrees Facebook group posted a note that really struck a chord with me at the exact same moment I was thinking the same thing. She was seeking advice about what is the best way to put in order all of the articles she was reading for her dissertation. I could completely relate because that is exactly what I was going through - trying to figure out how to best organize and make sense of all the information while remaining focused on the main ideas. 

Some time ago, I came up with a solution for organizing my articles by creating a summary sheet to analyze each article separately in order to consider each one carefully.  I also came up with themes where I found common threads and created a category sheet where I could group things together.  Finally, I created an online form in Google drive so that I can enter references from anywhere and from any mobile device.  As time consuming as this was, I found it much easier to streamline the process and make it manageable. As it turns out, organizing articles is easy.  The difficult part is not letting the rigor and time that it takes to discourage you from continuing.  This is why, according to NSF Latinas earned only 2.3% of the doctorates granted in the United States in 2012.  We know how to work hard, but we start doubting our own abilities when we get overwhelmed. 

It gives me great comfort to know that I am not alone in this process. I have this blog and the Facebook group not only for support, but to help hold me accountable.  It’s been wonderful meeting other Latinas working on their doctorates and even the ones who have finished have been generous with their words of sabiduria (wisdom).  Without this network of support it would have been so easy to just walk away and get on with my life.  What I did not realize is that THIS IS MY LIFE. So I decided to write down what I believe are my current challenges and how I plan to overcome them:

1. Fear of my own writing ability AKA, the imposter syndrome. Solution: I remind myself that I have already written thousands of pages between papers for college and grad school, reports at work and of course tons of well crafted emails.

2. My proposal draft is never good enough to send to my faculty chair and dissertation committee AKA perfectionism.  Solution: From this point on, I commit to sending a weekly update with an explanation of what I did for the week. This will keep me on track and accountable since I rely heavily on external motivation. See previous blog entry:

3. Feeling overwhelmed. Solution: I created an organization system and I try to stick to it.

4. Feeling isolated from the institution. Solution: Keep in touch with my faculty and remember that they are there to help me.  They want me to finish too.  They have told me that several times!

5. Overall anxiety. Solution: I remember that it is important to take care of myself and I find ways to relax.  Most importantly,I seek out a support system. 

Thank you to the members of the LatinasCompleting Doctoral Degrees Facebook group and to the Latina Researchers Network, with whom I have also recently connected who help to keep me focused and motivated to finish. We can all do this!