Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thoughts on Thesis Advising and Other Random Musings

Well, so I'm up, showered, and well into coffee, and it's before 8 AM! This means that the plan of waking early so as to finish grading is moving forward! (In theory the grading that must be done will take but 1/2 hour to complete.) In other news, for the first time in about 10 days, my weight seems to be moving in the right direction (down) again. I wasn't gaining really over this time, but I had stalled out on progress (and given PMS and life happenings, I'm not really surprised by that). What's making me happy, though, is that I didn't just go off the deep end into non-fitness even though I'd stalled. I kept myself in line, and I kept my eye on the prize (or whatever).

Now, what does this have to do with Thesis Advising? Stick with me. See, this is the thing that I've always been able to do with writing: to keep my eye on the prize (a lame phrase, I feel, but the only one occurring to me right now, and we're all stuck with it because I've only got 15 minutes to write this post) and to keep making progress even with stalls. I've also typically been good at setting up "fake deadlines" that are ok to miss alongside "real deadlines" that aren't, both of which sets of deadlines being self-imposed. So even when stalls happen - because they do for all of us - I still move forward, albeit at a slower pace.

The problem I'm having right now is that I see that BES, whose thesis I'm advising, doesn't seem to just have this talent naturally. In spite of me trying to trick her into making progress, in spite of us coming up with schedules, in spite of us meeting regularly, and in spite of the fact that she can't hide from me because her schedule doesn't allow it, she has not been making progress in spite of stalls. I'd guesstimate that she's got about 30 unpolished pages that do not fit together written. Only about 10 of those pages have been produced since May. 'Tis not a good thing. She's been in one big long stall for months.

Most recently, this has manifested in her not getting a draft to me by an agreed upon date and trying to reschedule our scheduled meeting to discuss that draft. Now, on the one hand, she actually does have a good reason in this particular instance. BUT at our last meeting, I played the mini-heavy and we had a big discussion about deadlines and what she needs to do in order to have an actual decent thesis by spring. So not only is this latest glitch not good timing, but also it's seeming (to me) to be part of a larger pattern, a pattern that's really bad for her progress and a pattern that is going to fuck her up totally should she pursue grad school, which is her plan. She needs to learn how to push through a stall. And in a lot of ways, I'm not sure how to get her there.

And also, I'm feeling a little bit contrite about how I've responded to her past couple of emails, because rather than letting her off the hook because of her current predicament, I've been a bit harsh about the fact that ultimately, there are always good excuses not to get work done and at a certain point no excuses can fly.

I think she needs me to be more than the "mini-heavy" and instead to be the actual heavy. While I resist doing this, I feel like we might have reached the point where I need to refuse to read anything in progress until she's got a beginning, a middle, and an end to this freaking thing. Not a perfect beginning, middle, and end, but some complete representation of the project. Right now, she's spinning her wheels, and I feel like part of the reason for that is that I've enabled it. But then on the other hand, I don't want to be unreasonable, and I know that she's got a lot going on. But then, I go back to thinking that she needs to learn that in order to finish a major project like this that it needs to be the absolute top priority, and maybe the only way to learn that is to be flung into the deep end with it. But then I think that I don't want to become some sort of megalomaniac tool of an adviser who changes the rules of the game midstream (i.e., I don't want to be like Anastasia's many advisers).

But at the end of the day, she's the one who has to write this freaking thing. I can't do it for her. I can't make deadlines and somehow by magic make her produce by the deadlines. I can't somehow bestow upon her the innate respect for the deadline that I've got. (Which, to be fair, probably isn't innate, but rather which was hard-learned during my whole "I'm going to be a journalist" phase, which was also when I learned that writing doesn't need to be perfect to be done.)

And this brings me back around to the beginning of the post. Because for a long time I think that I've focused all of my not-stalling energy on my academic pursuits. Whether it's grading, whether it's writing, whether it's prepping for class, that's been the area where I've focused all of my diligence. Everything else has fallen by the wayside in favor of that area. Only now am I learning to apply those skills in other areas. Only now am I realizing that I can't give all of that to work stuff in isolation.

Dammit. I spent 30 minutes on this post instead of 15 minutes. Now I'm officially running late.

1 comment:

JaneB said...

nice to read about others wrestling with the issue of how to support stalled students - I've been writing about 'BlockedStudent' over at my blog, who is in a more drawn out version of the same situation... it's hard, I'd love to just be able to do some of it for her but that wouldn't help her!