Sunday, January 19, 2014

How I Feel When Writing My Dissertation

I've undergone quite a change in the past couple of months - my voice has deepened, my hips have widened, and those once-nascent dark patches of hair sprouting under my armpits and within my nostrils have now become so thick that they require maintenance at least twice a week with a weed-whipper.

I am referring, of course, to starting my dissertation.

Starting one's dissertation is accompanied not only by physical developments, however, but by drastic psychological changes as well. Such monomaniacal devotion of mental energy to such a specialized area of research studied by literally tens of persons around the world can lead to bizarre alterations in one's perceptions and behavior, including paranoia, cerebral hemorrhaging, grand mal seizures, clubbed fingers, piles, scrofula, scrapie, delusions of persecution, listening to Nickelback, demonic possession, and Nutella-induced comas. All of these symptoms have been declared normal and well within the safety margins of the International Dissertation Committee Panel (or IDCP, pronounced "eye-dick-pee").

In addition, dissertation writers are notorious for their trademark reclusive lifestyle and cantankerous mood. Someone who used to be social and outgoing will now refuse to go out with their friends or interact with anybody, claiming that they have to work on their dissertation. What this really means is that they used to hate everybody anyway, and now they just have a valid excuse for refusing to attend any event that doesn't offer free food.

However, probably the most distinguishing characteristic of a dissertation writer is his inability to talk about anything other than his dissertation; somehow, the conversation keeps coming back to the 200-pound - I mean, 200-page! - gorilla in the room:

BRAD: I'm having a really difficult time right now; my hemorrhoids are acting up again, my hairplugs aren't taking, and last week my parents were brutally murdered.

TOM: I know how you feel; right now I'm writing my dissertation.

BRAD: I'm so sorry.

Even if they don't directly reference their dissertation, you can bet your gorilla that they are worrying about it, constantly. To help you out, here are translations of some oblique dissertation references that you might otherwise miss:

WHAT THEY SAY: I'm going to work for eighteen hours straight today, no distractions whatsoever, unplugging my Internet and turning off my phone and euthanizing my pets, operating only on coffee strong enough to melt through several layers of reinforced steel similar to that one scene with the facehugger blood in the movie Alien.
WHAT THEY MEAN: I'm going to sit around for eighteen hours straight marathoning seasons of Breaking Bad, and probably will spend a grand total of about two hours on my dissertation. And by that, I mean thinking about my dissertation.

WHAT THEY SAY: My life is hard.
WHAT THEY MEAN: I have, quite possibly, the most arduous life in existence. I mean, for example, those people fighting in World War II, yeah, they had it rough, with D-Day and the siege of Stalingrad and everything, but did they have to write their dissertation? No.

WHAT THEY SAY: I'm going to work from home today.
WHAT THEY MEAN: I'm going to do some drugs today.

As we can see, writing a dissertation is a trying experience for any individual, no matter how hurly-burly a soul he or she may be. However, even after the months and years of dissertation writing, even after the numerous and hard-fought battles with one's committee about what studies to run, even after the premature aging leading to whitened hair, strained eyes, and hardened arteries - even after all that, it's worth that moment when half of your four-person committee reads at least a few pages of your dissertation on the day of your defense, looks at you with quizzical expressions usually reserved for grotesque carnival exhibits, and asks you questions that are so unrelated to anything you ever wrote and anything you ever experienced that if you weren't in academia you would swear you were surrounded by certified space loons.

If that still doesn't do it for you, you will still have the ecstatic experience of paying upwards of $2,000 for binding and printing your dissertation (based on your number of dependents and whether you select optional dissertation rhinestone gilding), after which a copy of your thesis will be stored in a remote warehouse in Zimbabwe, along with some extra weed-whippers.

To help you better understand the whole dissertation experience - and keep in mind, I am VERY aware of my audience - I've included the following scene from Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. In what I believe is a thinly veiled metaphor for dissertation writing, I've broken down what everything means:

Solid Snake: You
Microwave hallway: Dissertation
Crawling through the microwave hallway: Writing your dissertation
Wait, hold on a second here - microwave hallway? That's how the bad guys defend the most valuable part of their fortress? With microwaves?: Yes
Why not machine guns or mines or something?: The game was made in Japan.
Otacon: Your adviser
Extremely awkward camera placement behind Snake's derriere: The extraordinary sense of humility you feel taking part in such a noble enterprise, making an original contribution to the body of knowledge and maybe, just maybe, making the world a better place. Or something. I really had to make a stretch for this one.
Other people: The friends and family in your life who, while you were writing your dissertation, were busy fighting genetically-modified supersoldiers and terrifying biped war machines. Which is what they do anyway.


  1. I literally couldn't breathe throughout the entire duration of this post, I was laughing so hard. Well done. You, sir, are a master of sarcasm and whimsical wit.

    As to your disseration.....

    Good luck.

    I'm serious.

  2. I'm right there with you. My manifestations are a little more subtle: mistaking one food for another (ate partner's blackened chicken salad last night, wondering why my lamb was suddenly so light and tender-textured), acquired dyslexia (how DO you spell internalized? Like internalided?), and sudden inability to figure out whether the number I dial is the number I'm TRYING to dial. I blame cognitive overload. Either that or dissertations cause brain tumors.... Good luck with yours. Chapter one is a beeyotch.

  3. Thanks for sharing this valuable and useful information. You must have researched a lot on this topic. Great job done keep posting more
    PhD Guidance

  4. I feel the same while Writing My Dissertation. I appreciate it for sharing.

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