Dissertation advice

Photo of me holding a T-shirt that says "I survived Yale dissertation boot camp."
The T-shirt says "I survived Yale dissertation boot camp," which is a real thing that exists.

Recently, a much-loved friend asked me for advice on dissertation-writing, not because I’m any paragon of efficiency, but because she knew I’d struggled myself. She wanted to know if I had any words of wisdom about getting through the process with a minimum of pain.

My immediate impulse was to decline to answer, on the grounds that I am utterly unqualified to advise anyone on writing without pain. My next impulse was to solicit advice from my friends via Twitter, and I got some wonderful responses. There were some terrifically helpful practical tips, but one that really got me thinking was from my friend Franky Abbott, who suggested the importance of recognizing¬†“that the dissertation is antiquated process training and not a reflection of your total worth.”

This is a truth that’s only become fully apparent to me in my post-grad school life, and I thought that this might be something useful I could offer to my friend. While of course I knew in a theoretical way that what I was writing was an exercise rather than a finished product, this knowledge meant little to me in the hothouse of grad school. Now, a couple years after leaving Yale, I see ¬†that what I was doing was learning how to write scholarship. My dissertation is no great work of genius, I know that, but I feel no need to apologize. The world didn’t need another dissertation, but I needed the opportunity to learn to write one.

So here’s what I told my friend, and what I would tell myself if I could: You are more important than any damn dissertation.

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