I just filled out my first online form this morning that had a “Degree” section and felt so gratified and more smug than I care to admit putting “Ph.D.” in that box. This part of the journey is over; I wore Brown’s aggressively brown regalia, got hooded, and walked off the stage with my diploma. Unsurprisingly, the desire to keep up this blog took a backseat last year to the very real need to finish my dissertation, secure a job, and adjust to life in a new city.
I thanked a lot of people in my dissertation acknowledgments, because as they say, it takes a village to write a thesis. But here are a few things that I feel deserve an honorable mention:
I am a self-confessed morning person and someone who has, over the years, developed Leslie Knope-esque love of breakfast foods. But writing mornings are hard enough without having to decide what to eat. That’s why, for the past three years, I’ve had a smoothie almost every single weekday morning. For me at least, they seem to have the right blend of carbs, fat, and protein to keep me going to lunch without the icky sugar crash I feel after most other breakfast foods. The only time smoothies lose their appeal is in the dead of winter. My wintertime alternative to smoothies is sous vide steel cut oatmeal with butter, miso, and roasted peanuts.
I currently have over 1,300 items in my Zotero library. Most of these are documents I scanned on my iPhone with the Scanner Pro app. After my first ever big archive trip when I lugged a cheap, flatbed scanner all the way from Providence to Kansas City, I decided to try something different. Scanner Pro made it a breeze to scan forty plus-page documents, with the help of Studio Neat’s Glif and a document stand or tripod. Even when I’m not doing heavy archival research, I use ScannerPro to scan financial documents, vet records, and receipts. I highly recommend it for anyone looking to go paperless.
For much of my writing process I used the pomodoro system to manage my time. This system basically involves focused work on a task for a set interval (for me, 25 minutes) with short breaks (3-5 minutes) in between. While I can spend uninterrupted hours organizing my research, focused, intensive writing is something that I cannot sustain for long periods of time. When I was in the throes of serious chapter writing, I usually aimed to write for 6 pomodoros a day (that’s about 3 hours). This might not sound like very much, but the point of the pomodoro system is that your work intervals are very efficient and intense. I far prefer the hyper-focus of a 25-minute period to the intermittent Facebook-browsing, NYT reading, phone-checking “work” that seems to suck up time and productivity. Usually, I used my breaks to get up and walk around, make another cup of tea, or play with the dog.
Getting a Puppy
Though numerous dissertation advice books would urge you to refrain from getting a puppy while trying to write your thesis, I can say without a doubt that having a puppy has made me a more efficient writer. Our rescue pup, Nessa, was like a whimpering, free-roaming pomodoro timer when we first got her. I wrote during her approximately half-hour naps, then attended to her snack/potty/exercise/entertainment needs during my breaks. Nessa has taught me that to seize every possible moment of productivity out of my day, while reminding me to get out of the house for long walks.
My standing desk was definitely the MVP of my last dissertation writing year. While I can’t claim that my standing desk led to myriad health benefits, I did notice positive changes in my posture. More importantly, standing helped me avoid the inertia of sitting on the couch or at a desk. The fact that I was already standing encouraged me to do other active tasks during my writing breaks rather than just sitting and internet trawling between pomodoro intervals. My standing desk is comprised of my husband’s grandfather’s butcher block from the 1940s, along with custom-built risers for keyboard and monitor. Our monitor is a 24” iMac from 2009, which has long since ceased to be a functional computer but is still a fantastic external display. A good mat is a must for foot and joint comfort at a standing desk. I use the Imprint CumulusPro with or without shoes and am still loving it 8 months in.