So you’re writing a dissertation, Part 6

Good news! The Religion Graduate Student (RGS) handed her committee the final rough draft of her dissertation! We met on October 17, 2012 for our sixth interview (and, boy, was I relieved to hear about this). Her defense was set for November 14. I was surprised to learn that she felt “one part relieved and nine parts nervous” because she was not exactly sure as to what constitutes a dissertation. Hers contained some personal narrative and first-person usage and she wondered whether this was consistent with the stereotyped notion of scholarly objectivity. This highlighted the ambiguous and solitary nature of dissertation research and writing.

Since we met in February, she explained that she had been doing nothing but writing. Her reader-friend, Susan, kept telling her to stop working on the introduction! You’re stalling! Plough ahead, write, write, write. In addition to the archival sources from the AFSC’s Nationwide Women’s Program (NWP), most of her other sources came from previous course readings and recommendations from advisors and committee members. With the exception of family life, she emphasized that she had ZERO social life during this latest interval. Did I mention that she had ZERO social life? 

Surprisingly, RGS wrote her chapter 4 on religion, which had been causing her the most anxiety, faster than any other chapter. She argues that Quaker positions on authority and personal testimony infused the NWP long after its early Quaker members had been succeeded by more secular feminist ones. This Quaker perspective allowed the NWP to register the voices of women in far off places (South Korea, South Africa, Taiwan, Mexico, Philippines) who were subjected to the early phases of globalization.

Finally entering the last mile of her dissertation run, we talked about the alchemical nature of the writing process and the fragile nature of memory as one moves through the confusing and foggy middle part of the journey.

(Listen to previous interviews: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

—Fred Rowland

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