An old Chinese proverb states “Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand.” Over the course of the last few months I have talked about the different stages of the dissertation process and my experience along the way. What I haven’t addressed is the vast amount of unexpected knowledge I have acquired. Whereas I anticipated learning content, I didn’t predict how much this independent and very large project could teach me about myself and my education!
For example, about two months ago I was suffering from what I call Lit Review Syndrome (LRS). Typical onset occurs halfway through the first draft of chapter two. Symptoms include: difficulty reading anything without a reference list; knowing, by the traffic flow at the library, the time of day; having large stacks of articles in a room which used to be called your ‘living room’; having more library cards than credit cards; knowing it’s a good day when you have successfully snuck soda and instant noodles passed the librarian and, finally, wondering if APA style allows you to cite talking to yourself as "personal communication".
My solution for this meant-to-be-funny-and-not-offend-anyone ailment was to send a panicked email to my chair who, recognizing the symptoms, kindly suggested I come in for a meeting. Having properly diagnosed that I was overwhelmed, he told me to go through each document, piece by piece, and write relevant information on an index card. He emphasized that I should include one idea per card and, when I felt I had reached saturation, sort the cards into three piles: related, not related and possibly related to my study. Once I had completed this task he suggested I plug the information into my outline. The idea was that the chapter would write itself. He was right but a peculiar thing happened prior to this realization – I found out I don’t know what I think I know.
When I left his office I thought “Note cards, really? Isn’t that a bit antiquated?” With all the software available for referencing and keeping track of data this idea seemed downright old-fashioned. Hadn’t my thousands of years in graduate school taught me how to write a research paper? Chuckling at the generation gap, I figured it would be disrespectful to ignore his advice and decided to stop by CVS to buy a few packs. One week later I considered buying stock in Oxford - the world’s largest index card manufacturer.
The point here is that, at least in my experience, there is another side to the dissertation. Not only am I becoming an expert on a counseling topic and adding to the literature base, but I am also learning how to independently conduct research and assimilate my education into a finished product. I am also learning how to manage my time, take advice, teach and mentor others who come along after me, gain wisdom from my mistakes and probably a whole host of other things yet to come. When I began to think about methodology, for example, I can happily articulate the rationale behind each procedure with confidence. This experience is not only satisfactory but makes the tough times 100% worthwhile.
Stephanie Dailey is a counselor, adjunct faculty and doctoral candidate at Argosy University-Washington, D.C.