Dissertation Progress: Week of April 27th

Things got a bit derailed this week while I was figuring out funding for next year and talking to a journal editor about an article.

I definitely at least started this week doing what I said I was going to do, which was working on finishing Chapter 5. The writing is very close to being done now, it’s just still a mess and missing a lot of citations. I’m realizing that the lockdown’s effect on my productivity is in sapping my motivation to do really focused rote tasks like checking my references – not that I ever want to do that, but right now, when I have so much time to sit and write undisturbed, I can’t bring myself to focus on that kind of task. I’ll get to it eventually. In the meantime, I’ve been adding to my introduction, and that’s coming along.

What really held me up this week was the more professional concerns, which both took up time and became really distracting. I started the week with an increasingly frustrated exchange with the editor who approved publication of my article on spices in the Sicilian silk trade. The journal asked me to remove my thesis and rewrite the article without one at all – when I asked for clarification and direction, they just kept repeating that point without any specifics. Finally, probably overwhelmed by frustration, the editor told me that they had personally saved my article from the rejection pile, as almost a threat to get me to do what they were asking. At that point I knew this was not going to be a good relationship and pulled my article. As I understand it, this is a pretty typical example of the kind of rude-bordering-on-abusive power move that is common in academia, but it’s the first time I’ve experienced it firsthand. All that went through my head was the thought “I don’t owe you anything” – I’m not beholden to a journal just because they provisionally accepted my work. So I took a little extra time later this week to submit the article to a different journal, and we’ll see what happens.

The other big time suck was figuring out my funding. Like many PhD students, my admission to Columbia came with a 5-year funding package. Since I am definitely going to finish within 6 years, and I got an extra year of funding to do research in 2019, I should have been set. But not all funding is free to use how I wish. Three years of my Columbia funding is contingent on my teaching, and since I moved away from New York, I only taught for two years. I was given one semester of my teaching year as maternity leave, so I have one remaining semester of funding from Columbia that I didn’t think I could use. So I applied for write-up fellowships for next year. A write-up fellowship is a year of funding that goes entirely toward supporting you in the final year of your dissertation – once you receive one, you are no longer eligible for any further funding. But otherwise, it typically comes with no requirements – you can live where you want, you can use the money for any expenses you need without justification. Because they are free from restrictions, write-up fellowships are very limited and very competitive. I applied for every single one I could, which amounted to just six. After my third rejection I was starting to get very worried. Then I got waitlisted (chosen as an alternate) for a fourth. Finally, the fifth one came through, a fund disbursed by my department. They told me that they would give me a semester of funding, and that because everything has moved online due to the pandemic, I can use my remaining semester of teaching funding to round out my last year. This works well for everyone, because it means that the department can cover more fellowships and I finally get to go back to teaching, which I’ve been missing these past two years.

So now that I have all of that figured out, I guess I should go back to focusing on my writing? Next week I either need to finish the citations etc. for chapter 5, or send it off to my advisor for comments and go back to implement comments from other chapters. And the introduction and conclusion continue.