Sunday, April 7, 2013

Thoughts from the dissertation home stretch

In the last few weeks before submitting my dissertation, I needed every moment and as much energy as I could muster. Self-care was essential. I slept as long as my body needed (usually 7-8 hours) and napped if I was starting to nod off (this actually didn't happen much in those few weeks). I ate lots of chocolate or whatever sounded good and tried to eat regular meals. Still, I was fairly emotionally fragile and volatile (mostly I blame pregnancy for this). More than a few times, I overreacted to things people said or wrote to me, often when they were trying to help or at the very least weren't trying at all to upset me. So, I severely limited who I interacted with and how. I stayed at home or hid in my office. I didn't reply to emails. I ignored phone calls. This meant that there were plenty of things I wanted to post on Facebook or here on the blog, but didn't because I could not risk overreacting to something written in response. I also didn't want to be obnoxious. Instead, I kept a document where I jotted down things I wanted to share but didn't, which gives some indication of how the last 3 weeks and chapters played out. If you want to peruse the roller coaster of thoughts, read on.

Dissertation due date (DDD) minus 18

-I guess I'm supposed to be feeling like I'm wandering around in the fringes of what has been done and is known.
-You know you're at the edge when your Google search returns no results.

DDD minus 17
-Sometimes, you reinvent the wheel. But now I know how to build a wheel.
-Turns out it's a different kind of wheel.
-It's hard to ask for help.
- >75 hours of brain work in a week is far, far too much.

DDD minus 16
-Might have just made a MAJOR breakthrough!

DDD minus 15
-I'm trying embrace 'good enough' instead of striving for 'best'.

DDD minus 14
-Reference manager, you suck. Why are you so disagreeable? Why do you want to add extra citations where they don't belong?
-I don't know if I can do this.

DDD minus 13
-Small victories :-)
-That moment when I can't decide if I should stop a process in R because it's never going to finish, or if I just need to let it run a little longer.

DDD minus 12
-I mostly need to not interact with people right now, lest they say or write the wrong thing.
-Today it feels possible.
-I think the baby is trying to get a foot massage on the edge of my ribs.

DDD minus 11
-I think I can finish this chapter tonight. If I do, I will have written the vast majority of it, and re-done/done all of the analyses in one week. 

DDD minus 10
-Ran out of steam last night and went to sleep. I need my rest to keep up this pace for another 11 days. 
-I need to know when to stop tinkering and a figure is good enough.
-Seriously? Another undiscovered paper by this guy on the same topic? I thought I read just about everything!
-Why does writing involve so. much. reeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaddddddddding?
-*sobs* WTF, Papers2. CITATION_IS_EMPTY??? And then you stick wrong citations ALL OVER THE PLACE?! I want to love you but I HATE YOU!!!!
-Found the data for my last chapter. That's a start.

DDD minus 9
-Here I go on the last chapter. 9 days until the deadline!
-It could totally be worse- at least the data are all entered!
-I think I'm going to make it.

DDD minus 8
-And now the CITATION_IS_EMPTY problem is crashing Word. *headdesk* I think I'm about to go manual with my citations.
-This is why my autosave preferences are 2 minutes.
-At least there's no one around to hear me freaking out at my computer.
-2:40 pm- I've officially started writing my last chapter. The methods section. Brand new document.
-I am such a terribly impatient and selfish person right now. I really shouldn't be allowed to talk to people. Must. finish. Don't I have "8 days to do way too much work" written on my forehead?

DDD minus 7
-Fourth chapter sent to Sam! Fingers crossed. I think I can make it.
-This last project is lame. Where's the story? What a dumb project.

DDD minus 6
-I dreamt about how to analyze my data.
-I'm getting some results!
-I finally feel like I've got traction on this last chapter.
-Oh my God. I just realized why I've been hung up for the last hour. I couldn't use a function that worked last night. Turns out I essentially DELETED R's ABILITY TO SUM by assigning sum as a vector of other crap. I shouldn't be allow to do that.
-So much frustration over an extra comma. CURSES, COMMA!

DDD minus 5
-It's nice to hear Sam say, "this chapter should demonstrate to the committee your advancement in a number of big ways, so i think you will be super fine." What a relief! I should still be able to pass even if this last chapter sucks.
-Why couldn't I just have 4 chapters?
-Oh God I'm so close I can smell it. Except that I still only have the methods written for the last chapter. That's crazy, right?
-Today: results & part of discussion. Tomorrow: Intro & send it to a friend.
-Nevermind about that goal above. Still too thin; need more analyses :-( Today: hopefully get most of the analyses done.
-Oh bleepity bleeping bleepers. Just discovered some really glaring problems in the data for the chapter I thought I was done with. I think I need to redo all of the analyses and figures before sending it to the committee :-( Yikes.
-I *definitely* need to redo all of the analyses and figures… after I draft this other chapter.

DDD minus 4
-I hope the baby likes all of the chocolate I'm eating.
-Still not done with these data. The story sucks. Super lame.
-2:19 pm. Ok. I think I have my crude, rough draft figures nailed down. Five main figures. This is what I have to go with.
-3:31 pm. Skyped with a friend about presenting GLM results. Time to start writing this up.
-5:37 pm. Passed the 2000 word mark!
-6:40 pm. Uh oh. Gamma distribution doesn't like zeroes. Model isn't actually working! Gah!
-8:25 pm. 2100 words and figure captions written. Moving on to tables.
-11:09 pm. Discussion has some rough paragraphs and a rough outline. I'm calling it a night.

DDD minus 3
-Ok Saturday morning, let's do this discussion thing.
-I need to consciously remind myself not to be bitter and jealous of all of the people doing fun things right now. I'm so close. I chose to finish this now and not later. Oh God I want to be done...
-This last chapter suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucksssssssssss.
-Don't. panic.
-Hold it together. Hold yourself together. You can do this. Break it down, break it down, break it down.
-Remember: If this chapter is the only one that sucks, you won't fail.

DDD minus 2
-I've dreamt in other languages before, but never a programming language. This morning I was dreaming about data manipulation in R.
-Each of my last four chapters has required largely separate bodies of literature. This writing requires so. much. reading.
-HAHAHAHA! I'm glancing back at the review I started 5.5 years ago (and haven't touched in 2) because it might have some useful bits for this chapter. I wrote over 8500 words!!! There has to be something useful I can salvage from EIGHT THOUSAND WORDS and over 100 references cited.
-When I get cranky and blue, I need to remember that reading damnyouautocorrect can always make me laugh.
-These last few weeks and especially days are so mental.  I have to spend so much energy managing my unhelpful inner monologue.
-I am so ready to resume being a normal person instead of a crazy person. 
-I suppose this chapter could be worse. I kind of have a story (at least I have some statistical significance…)
-Crappy draft emailed.
-Sam says (less than 1.5 hours after I sent it) fix some small things and send to Herb. I'm cautiously relieved by this but I still know it's crap.
-Good news: Reanalysis of the other chapter without problematic data doesn't change much. Bad news: can't figure out how to remake my figure. Just keeping the old version instead.

DDD minus 1
-Today is Monday? I have lost most sense of what day of the week it is.
-Did not set one foot outside all weekend. I did open the door a few times.
-Time to tackle the changes from Sam and send this last thing to Herb.
-I get SO emotional when I think about being done with this. Gotta stay present, stay focused, stay here.
-11:45 am Abstract written!
-Eating ice cream while I compose this email to Herb about my last chapter.
-12:17 Last chapter sent to Herb. Fingers crossed.
-Walked to school and got to my office. Turns out I am totally exhausted.
-I think my brain and body are protesting the breakneck pace of the last month. It knows I'm getting close.
-Herb says SEND IT OUT! I am DOING IT! I AM GOING TO FINISH MY PRE-DEFENSE DISSERTATION TOMORROW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
-I think walking to and from school in the same day was too much. It hurts.

DDD minus 0
-6:53 pm SENT!

I am proud of myself for avoiding an emotional meltdown. There were a few days when I was on the brink, and I calmed myself down and got back to work. It wasn't easy, but I knew that it would be more exhausting if I let it happen, because crying is exhausting and doesn't get work done. It was such a relief to be able to cry after I hit 'send'! 

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