my dissertation process, in ten steps

1. enthuasiastic, willy-nilly start on chapter
2. realization that damn it, I should have written an outline like all the writing experts tell you to
3. struggle with said outline for way too long
4. complain a lot about the chapter and how terrible it is. Throw outline away and write a new one (repeat steps 3&4 at least three times)
5. re-start writing, now with 80% less enthusiasm
6. feel like it’s never going to be done
7. keep slogging until I suddenly realize I have a first draft and the end is in sight (hallelujah!)
8. cut out half my footnotes (sob!)
9. turn it in to my advisor, ignore nagging fear that it’s mediocre work
10. start new chapter with step 1.

I turned in four chapters to my advisor yesterday, and am now facing the final one. (Chapter three, on diversity in Meet the Mormons and “I’m a Mormon” ads.) Wish me luck.

(alternative images for this post can be found here, here, and here.)
(good advice on dissertation writing can be found here and here.)


2014 in review

Click on the links for 2011, 2012, and 2013‘s answers to these questions.

1. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 27, and spent it with L., who I had just started dating. It was low-key and filled with coffee and books, just the way I like it. (This also answers the “did you fall in love this year” question, because: yes. So much yes.)


At my local Beans and Brews, the day after my birthday.

2. What are your strongest memories from this year, and why?
The moment I realized I wasn’t lonely anymore, that I had finally built up enough of an existence in Utah.

3. What did you do this year that you’d never done before?
Visit the Idaho State Fair–or Idaho itself for that matter. It sounds like a flippant answer, but L. and I come from vastly different families, and going to (and enjoying) the Idaho State Fair is part of that.

4. What did you want and get?
Access to a car. As much as I am a pedestrian at heart, having a car makes everything so much easier.

5. What surprised you the most about yourself this year?
I have become a dog person. (Or at least a Josie person. I’m not convinced my love for Josie has spread to all dogs yet.)

Josie the Dog

Josie the Dog

6. What would you like to have next year that you didn’t have this year?
A Ph.D (or, if I’m being really bold, a job offer). I am ready to start a new phase in my life.

7. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I did! I discovered the joys of yoga, bought a road bike, and managed to lose twenty pounds through a combination of more exercise and less food.

8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?
Probably finally losing a significant amount of weight, and doing it in a fairly relaxed manner.

IMG_08079. What was your biggest failure?
I’m lactose intolerant, and yet I can’t seem to just stop eating cheese.

L. is also lactose intolerant, so you'd think between the two of us, there would be no dairy in the house. But you'd be wrong. (Picture taken in Muiden, the Netherlands.)

L. is also lactose intolerant, so you’d think between the two of us, there would be no dairy in the house. But you’d be wrong. (Picture taken in Muiden, the Netherlands.)

10. What did you rely on when you were overwhelmed?
A combination of dog walking, venting to others, and mindless Facebook browsing.

11. What are your strongest recommendations for entertainment from this year? (books, television, movies, music, etc)
This was the year of Pentatonix, Jonathon Coulton, and a couple new-to-me tv shows like SHIELD, Brooklyn 9-9, and Eureka (loved that show so much!). Book-wise, this was the year of cozy mysteries, with Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans and Her Royal Spyness series a clear winner. (I also read a lot of baaad cozy mysteries. I need to learn discernment when it comes to this genre, clearly.) This was also the year of Mario, as I played countless hours of Mario Kart and developed a strong love for Yoshi.

Yoshi riding Yoshi here!

Yoshi riding Yoshi here!

12. What song will remind you of this year?
Ikea, from Jonathon Coulton. L. and I have a thing for Ikea and like to belt out this song in the car.

14.  What was your most enjoyable purchase?
I think my road bike. It was a big purchase, but I love how I feel when I use it.


Salt Lake City

15. Did you travel? If so, where?
A conference in Texas, a conference in Denver, a couple trips to see my dad in California, a weekend in Disneyland with L.’s family, and an epic LDS immersion tour from New York to Nauvoo, in which I honed both my ideas for my dissertation and my passing-as-a-Mormon skills.

Right after the Giants became the national league champions. Certainly a night to remember.

Right after the Giants became the national league champions. Certainly a night to remember.

At a Cardinal's game in St. Louis.

At a Cardinal’s game in St. Louis–the first non-Mormonism related thing we’d done in a week.


In Nauvoo, Illinois.


The Kirtland temple, the highlight of my research trip. Mostly because I was a little done with the missionary narratives being presented at the other historic sites (you know, since I’m not actually a Mormon) and I loved this tour, given by an actual historian, so much.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Blogging, honestly. It’s one of my goals for 2015.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying about finding a job when I defend, even though that’s still a while off. (L. has banned me from searching job sites lest my anxiety levels surge to immangeable heights. I am trying not to mind that if I go the non-academic route, my advanced degrees are … not of much use.)

18. Compared to this time last year, how are you different?
Biggest difference? I’m a European living in the US, not an American living in Europe. Either way, I’m still foreign, so there’s that.

19. Compared to this time last year, how are you the same?
I’m still an overachieving, overthinking nerd that regards my library card as my most prized possession. I suspect that won’t ever change.

20. What’s a life lesson you learned this year?
Clearly not how to pose for pictures. I can do one face, and one pose, and anything else turns out like this.


Muiden, again.

let your geek flag fly

I found myself showcasing my inner nerd yesterday, when I left the house wearing my Wrinkle in Time t-shirt, toting my Strand book bag, holding my dissertation notes, to go discuss Mormon history over lunch with a friend, C.

PicMonkey Collage

I only have the one Out of Print shirt, but I do have three Strand totes, one for every time I’ve been there. Visits to the Strand book store deserve commemoration.

But whatever. Like Pinterest tells me,


to the library!

I turned in the keys to my office at the U on Friday. It was quite bittersweet–I have loved having that office.

ImageAnd although I’ll obviously miss the stipend and support that came with the fellowship most, I’m not kidding when I say how much I loved being able to request every single book in the library that struck my fancy to be delivered to my office, if I wanted to.

Anyway, when a Facebook friend asked where I would be going, now that my fellowship is at an end, my sister A. quipped, “to the library!” Which is totally true. As I have lackluster discipline at best (though the SelfControl app certainly has helped with that!), it’s probably a good idea to go work at the library every once in a while, instead of my house with its myriad distractions (netflix! dog! laundry! snacks!). And since I have the downtown public library, the university library, and the Church History Library to choose from (all within what, a three mile radius of my house?), A. was more right than she knew.


This seemed appropriate in light of my last post.

Friday confessions

idea blatantly stolen from here.

Confession 1:

I don’t pay attention to music. Pandora is my friend because I only have to think of a single kind of music I like, and then it supplies me with a never-ending stream of noise that basically all sounds alike to me. There are definite exceptions, but I generally can’t tell you five minutes later what we listened to in the car on the way to work. Upside? There is very little music I really don’t like.

Confession 2:

I currently have almost $20 in library fees, because I for the life of me can’t remember to take books back on time now that I no longer pass the library on my way to work every day. Even if said taking books back only means giving them to L. so he can drop them in the drive-through book return on his way to work. I know.

Confession 3:

It takes me at least three tries to actually place my order when I shop online, and I am incapable of placing an order over thirty dollars without feeling anxious about spending money. Which is why I wear a lot of Old Navy. And also why I look forward to one day no longer being a grad student.

Confession 4:
At the same time, it terrifies me that I’m nearing the (relative) end of my PhD program and will have to compete with all those other brilliant job seekers out there. I read job ads and my first thought is always a paralyzing “No one’s going to hire me!” As much as I love academia, sometimes I think a different career would have been better for my mental health.

Confession 5:

I’m reading a book about the Nuremberg trials right now. Lest you think I always choose sophisticated and intelligent books, I made my way through this series first. While they are better than they sound, it is not by much. But hey, at least I’m reading, and keeping reality tv where it belongs: at the gym.

yes, yes you did

Now, I know that I’m not a typical student. I only remember not doing the reading once during the five years or so it took me to get my BA and MA–and I scrunched down in my seat in shame the whole time I was in that classroom. I hate missing classes, I never turn in anything late, and I’m still traumatized by the recent 8 out of 10 I got on an assignment. Short version? I’m an overachiever that is deathly afraid of failure. (But at least I’m aware of it, right?)

But as a teacher, the number one thing I hate is when students miss a class, don’t notify me beforehand, and then come in to ask me if they’ve missed anything important. Yes. Of course you did. What do you expect, I sit around designing course objectives and syllabi and readings just for fun? This especially irked me in Germany, since we weren’t getting paid for teaching (just gaining “valuable work experience,” insert eye roll here). Next time, I’m going to send them this poem, and hope they get the point. Or learn to ask their fellow students, not me. (Let’s keep expectations low, here.)

Did I Miss Anything?

Tom Wayman

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
on earth.

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren’t here

From Did I Miss Anything? Selected Poems 1973-1993, 1993
Harbour Publishing

Copyright 1993 Tom Wayman.
All rights reserved.

on silence and peanut butter

It’s been kind of quiet over here, mostly because I’m slammed with work. I sent in paper proposals for three conferences, expecting at least one rejection, but then I got accepted to do all three. Then there’s the talk I’m doing at the U in April,  plus that pesky dissertation, three fellowship/grant applications, Wednesday mornings at the Natural History Museum, and oh, that class I’m taking, so I’ve been scrambling to get everything done in a way that satisfies my overachiever soul. (Which does not include getting an 8 out of 10 on a simple class assignment, by the way. When I got that back, I folded it in half neatly and stuck it at the bottom of my bag, hoping to never see it again. The fold of shame.)

I’m been so busy that I haven’t even been keeping up with my shows, and instead of spreading them out over the week like I’m used to (Tuesday: HIMYM, Wednesday: NCIS and NCIS LA, Thursday: Criminal Minds, Friday: Big Bang Theory, Saturday: Hawaii Five-O) I’ve taken to binge-watching them all in one tv-packed night. (And yes, listing that out makes me realize I really need to get a life that does not revolve around or Netflix.)

But you know, I’m still breathing, and I like the work I’m doing, so it’s not all bad. Also, I have a 48 oz jar of peanut butter sitting at my desk at work (I didn’t even know they came in that size before I went to Costco!), and I’ve decided writer’s block is a good enough excuse to sneak a spoonful. It consistently brightens up my day. I finally understand why my sister E. keeps a jar of frosting at her desk…I might have to start doing that next.