Ryan  Burns, phd
August 4, 2011

making progress

It’s often hard to keep track of progress through a PhD program - well, for me, at least. Part of the challenge is because there are relatively few measures of such progress, and any kind of measures are unlikely to capture the true dynamics that are happening. For instance, I can list papers I’ve read, but that doesn’t tell you how engaged I was while reading them, how much each paper stimulated me intellectually, or how much the papers contributed to my overall trek through the program. On the one hand this suggests that what’s important is not always measurable (as many, many scholars have adamantly and rightly maintained), yet that doesn’t help me when I’m trying to reassure myself that I’m doing “fine”.

There are a few major milestones of our program, much like any other program. For one, we are required to take 3 sets of exams: preliminary exams, general exams, and dissertation defense. We’re also required to compose and defend a research proposal. Once you’ve published a major paper, you must certainly feel like you’ve made a major accomplishment as well. The thing about these milestones, though, is that they can be as much as a year apart, leaving 12 months of unsure stepping stones.

So I’m writing this blog post to remind myself of the huge amount of work I’ve done this summer. (Non-academics: in case you’re not familiar with our ins-and-outs, June to September for us only represents more time in which to do more work. It’s not vacation time.) The list below is meant for my own edification and encouragement, but friends and family may like to be updated on my work as well. Feel free to comment if this interests you for whatever reason!

So there you have it. This summer I’ve actually done quite a bit, and it’s important for me to keep this in mind when it feels like I’m treading water rather than swimming. Having written this list, it’s important to note that I’ve done lots and lots of fun stuff, too. Camping, hiking, movies, parks, video games (like Gemcraft, oh my god!), and enjoying friends’ company. But that’s not what this blog post is about! :)

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