grad school is not undergrad

13Jun08

I’ve been thinking a lot about the origin of dissertation projects recently.  How do you come up with ideas and how do you take a handful of scattered interests and questions and turn them into a cohesive investigation that holds your interest for several years of your life?

I’ve been second-guessing a lot in my life lately, including my dissertation project. It’s not that I don’t like the project or that I don’t see the value in it. It’s just that it came about from the chaos of my first two years of graduate school. Working on the two countries I’ve chosen was always a given but the methodology came only because I took two classes on the subject my first year when there was nothing else to take. In my haste to salvage something from that year, was I too quick to adopt this methodology that, in many ways, I still don’t fully understand?

In addition, I find myself constantly tempted by other projects and other interests, generally within the same field. I think I got into academia because I’m naturally curious about a lot of things. When I have time, I read a lot of books and magazines. I watch a lot of tv.  I love sports. I love music. I could be interested in almost all of those things academically. I’m interested in my heritage (which is currently driving much of my research). What I failed to understand when I chose to go to graduate school is that being a professional historian is not like being an undergraduate where dabbling is encouraged. (Whether dabbling should be encouraged is a matter for another post.) In college, I wrote several not-very-good papers on a variety of subjects, many of which truly fascinated me. But I got to put those subjects down at the end of the semester. It’s the long haul that I’m finding difficult, sustaining my interest in one topic consistently and obsessively for several years. That’s where I’m faltering at the moment.

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2 Responses to “grad school is not undergrad”

  1. I relate to a lot of this. I have a lot of interests and I’m trying to work hard at bringing them together so that I can have some kind of coherent scholarly trajectory. I think my interests probably do revolve around some set of burning broader questions I have but I’m not quite sure what they are yet.

  2. I totally know how you feel! I am struggling with my diss right now because I feel like it could go in a number of different directions.

    Just hang in there, and know that everyone needs a hobby. So, don’t work all the time!


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