Research paralysis -- moving past: "what's the point?"
July 7, 2014 8:43 AM Subscribe
I'm writing what promises to be the last parts of my dissertation but am not handling the important and most basic questions well. How do I stay sane and somewhat productive in uncertain times? (longish details within)
posted by wallawallasweet to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have a few months left to write my PhD dissertation and it's been a grueling, joyless couple of months (nothing new, I know). I've had to scale down a lot of social commitments, and through the writing process (I know this somewhat is normal) I've become very disinterested in my topic and I can't fathom my job prospects (this is a different battle). Often I find myself escaping to the world of fiction, long walks and other stress reduction activities that I've tried to convince myself aren't acts of procrastination but part and parcel to my hopes to maintain a degree of workable sanity. Some days are better than others: when I can write 750+ words and convince myself that it's enough and that I'll start again the next day versus today (see below).
The thing is, I know that I might be standing at a cusp of disaster. I had planned to co-present at a conference ever since last year (it's going on next week) but decided a month back that I needed the time to finish my dissertation and wouldn't attend. My colleague/co-presenter asked me to brief her on the presentation (the abstract for which I wrote) since she's still going to present on our behalf. The presentation is centered heavily on my research for which she by her admission not much to add (please don't ask me why I agreed to this arrangement in the first place).
Fast forward to a couple hours ago when I tried to brief her. Beyond a doubt I was completely lost, inarticulate and almost oblivious to her questions. I could barely explain the major theoretical concept and the relevance of my research. After mumbling off for a good half hour I told her that we should cut the session short, and that she should just email me written questions, and I would just respond the best I could in written form.
Although she was sympathetic to my stress and current phase of writing, as soon as she left, I asked myself: how the hell am I going to face a dissertation committee in the near future, when I can't even hit the slow-pitches down the middle of the plate? I know that stress has a factor in distorting my thoughts, but I also feel a pointlessness in explaining my findings, my arguments and my entire research. I am still feeling a numb yet tortuous realization: I will never finish this.
My writing process is already prone to sporadic fits and I meditate daily just to stay focused and not to derail myself, but I fear that the facade or veneer of calm that has gotten me through thus far is crumbling as I write this.
My question is: how can I avert this pending feeling of doom in the most effective way possible? I feel that taking deep breaths, and taking a walk in the park are good starting points, but what else might I do to shield myself from potential setbacks like this, and to minimize their impact? By the way, the clock continues to tick...thanks in advance.