31 January 2007

Singing the Data Management Blues

I'm so totally delighted that you all seem to like my article about stash yarn collecting. Yay, us! Your comments and emails totally rock - and it's been very useful to read them out loud to Hubbster whenever they describe stashes that are significantly larger than mine. Always good for him to know what the alternatives are. Now, however, he insists that his tanks, as well as my yarn, must be behind glass. I think they'd be kind of cute together, don't you?

I'm sad to say my elation of yesterday has not really, entirely, survived the long hours of slogging away at the ol' chapter since the knitty surprises came out yesterday.

Can I just say...?

  • 22 notebooks, entirely filled in with hand-copies of archival documents.

  • c. 10 gigs of photographed archival material

    --NB: these are all domestic papers, hand-written 170 years ago, and though full of useful information, said useful information is scattered all over the place, in small cryptic references, undated and unsigned letters, and the sort of laconic daily notations that don't mean anything unless you add them up and show patterns over time. Oh, and the writers are not famous writers or public figures - they're regular people, and so like most regular people they don't spell very well and their grammar is sometimes a bit wonky and their style is a little...perplexing.

    And it's all in RUSSIAN, requiring the extremely precise translation of all that wonky writing and archaic vocabulary, yesirree, and NO, they don't teach us anything useful about translation in my grad history program, nope.

  • Also, a many-to-many database of absurd complexity that, for lack of a team of research assistants, is more trouble than it's worth

  • And a bibliography of several hundred books and a few hundred more articles, almost none of which are actually relevant, but most of which have to be dealt with in some way.


And I've never written anything remotely this long before.

The longest thing I've ever written before was about 60 pages. And I've only done that a few times, and it was a killer every time. This dissertation (depending on how you look at it) is either 12 chapters of about 35 pp each, or 4 chapters of about 100 pages each. Plus intro, conclusion, epilogue, and appendices. All of which are crammed with citations that absolutely must be scrupulously accurate.

The process of reading through the sources, choosing pieces I want to use, translating them, and plunking them into an appropriate piece of prose, by itself, takes untold hours for each little piece of a chapter.

I haven't really even begun to connect the various pieces that have been so slowly accruing over the past year.

I've said lots of big, sort of important-sounding things to my advisors about what it all adds up to, but in perfect honesty, I'm so hopelessly swamped in details that I really have no idea what any of it means, if anything.


Kim U said...

I just finished my Master's thesis (and am now sticking around for a PhD, apparently I'm a glutton for punishment). Every single one of those things you described after showing drafts to your advisor has indeed happened to me in the last few months - except for the part about the book, because that doesn't really happen in my field. Multiple times in fact. I especially like it when I explain that it's a draft and it's mostly brainstorming and I'd just like some feedback on the ideas, and it comes back with corrections to my grammar.

At least he uses a purple pen instead of a read one - I guess I should be grateful for that.

Sending you good data management vibes (from someone who knows your pain).

Sarah U said...

I'm just a lowly undergrad :D, but I can sympathize with editors who seem not to hear a word you say, especially when you tell them you want them to critique the ideas, not the grammar. It seems that even though it is a draft, they are treating it like this is the final paper. Look at it this way though, your advisor can only get better!

Good luck with your dissertation. I'm sure it will all work out.

Meg said...

It all sounds terribly interesting, if not painless.

Veronique said...

I hear you. My PhD advisor would tell me to delete commas. Wow, thanks for the input. For other publications or grants, he'd tell me to re-write. The whole thing. *sigh* But I did graduate, and I'm happy I did! (Although, my grad program provided a decent stipend and health insurance. What is up with your school?!).

Lynn said...

Try to hang in there. It seems 1/2 of learning is from the process and not just the product!!
It's good you still like you topic though. Can imagine the pain you'd be in if you DIDN'T? Ugh.

hyunjee said...

The people who will listen are the people who not only have socks in progress in their hands (as I do) but chapters that seem to have a life (or death) of their own and the same kinds of diss-related problems you do: stacks of paper (tiring to even look through them); 1000s of megabytes of scans and photos (bewildering to even know where to begin to look at them); secondary sources that they keep re-reading because they forgot that they already read them. And in my case, I still have 2 big archive trips left to make. So I understand, for what it's worth, and as much as you may feel silly for having a pity party out in cyberspace, it makes at least this knitting/dissing girl feel better. Because I feel the same way. So we can't be all that alone... no matter how lonely it feels...

Chin up! Keep writing, keep thinking, keep trying to see the forest and not just the trees.

And drink lots of water. :)

Laura said...

While I'm a doctoral student still in coursework (ahh!), I feel your pain. People have done this before us and survived. And hey, loving your subject is more than half the battle. Complaining seems to be part of the process, too. Sometimes I wonder if a PhD just measures how much perseverance and sheer stubbornness we have. So keep going. We all have to. And those of us not yet in diss stage need good models to follow!

Lorna said...

Yup. We do survive. Admittedly, at the stage you're stuck in, I wasn't altogether sure that survival was desirable.

Hang in there. I have my brick (as the thesis came to be known) and can still smile crookedly when I see it.

Marianne said...

Kate, I've never been where you are now, and not likely to find myself there in this lifetime....but I do think you're an amazing human being, and will get this paper written and all will be well in the world.
Oh, and hey, I didn't have socks in progress in my hands, and as noted above...not writing a diss and I read every single word. Just so you know.

Monica said...

I hear your pain...I used to work at a place where every memo, subject paper, debriefing, everything! written went through the Division Chief who would do the same thing! Treat drafts as finals, correct silly things, and insist on including certain things that he would take out afterwards!
Maybe your grad school is preparing you for something,
indeed! :(
I loved your collection! I have one too, full of wonderful yarns from Temuco, Chile that I don't dare touch, they are my precious jewels!

historicstitcher said...

Hang in there, Kate!

I HATED my topic, with a passion I can barely describe! It was "assigned" when I had no topic of my own (Let's not go too far down that road - the one where the advisor I went to work with refused me becasue he doesn't take on women students...). I left grad school after 2 years, and totally blew it off for 2 more. Then I decided to finish, while I still had the oportunity, but SO MUCH had changed in my field (geochemistry) that I basically had to start over with the writing, and even the basic calculations had changed, and it took me two more years to recalculate, rewrite, and get the thing approved.

Oh! And I finished the thing while my now ex-husband was in a different state and I was selling our house, packing everything we owned, and caring for a 2-year-old!

Four years later, I'm glad I finished. But for quite a long while afterwards I wondered if it had been worth it!

Louisa said...

I've never been where you are, Kate, but FWIW I have a suspicion why you get those niggly little "corrections" from your advisor instead of the true critique you're asking for. The advisor doesn't have a clue what to say and is just offering something (stupid as it is) to fake like they are superior. It's a very human trait - bosses in the non-academic world do it all the time. Big hugs! You will get it done! Don't forget to breathe...

Sandra said...

Dear Kate,

Forgive me for being the one to tell you this but...having a job is *severely* overrated!
Best of success in all your efforts.

Sandra @ Fiber Femmes

Kathryn said...

Hang in there. You'll make it. And just remember, blini make any day better. (They MUST be available SOMEWHERE in NYC.)

Susan said...

I **hate** to say it, but it could be..........worse?

Only in that my stepfather (poor, poor man) had to do his on a typewriter. With carbons.

All of the same crap back then as now - inane (insane?) advisors, wordsmithing out the wazoo, etc. But think of the agony of TYPEWRITERS!

Makes me amazed that anyone ever bothered. Really, it does!

I think you're brave and brilliant to do this - so go ahead & throw yourself a much-deserved pity party - - but remember, once you finish all of this and pass your defense we'll throw you a REAL party!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Beth said...

I remember my friend's husband - who gradduated from Michigan 1 1/2 years ago - having the same complaints and blaming it all on the Michigan advisors. I should let him know that it isn't only Michigan.
You should be great at writing by now and so, I was wondering, as I am about to begin working toward my Master Spinner certificate, if you will help me write my papers?
Happy Chocolate Season.

BrooklynMom said...

Never went to grad school, so I'm impressed by the work you've obviously put in. Kind of gives me the hives to consider suffering that much scrutiny. Keep it up! Your're almost there. And I agree with Louisa, your advisor sounds like every other person who feels he or she must justify his position in life. Being supportive and constructive would just be too "nice", and therefore not worthy of respect from superiors.

Loose Baggy Monster said...

I'm new to your blog and I'm sure that the last thing you want to do right now is discuss the topic of your dissertation, but what is it about? I just left a ph.d. program in history (I was interested in Birobidzhan and Russian Jewish history more generally), but I'm on the lookout for a new program and I like to keep my toe in.

And I'm supremely jealous you went yarn shopping in St. Petersburg!

Laura said...

Hi! I read the whole thing and am even going to comment! Having lived through a dissertation with my husband (when we met he was writing the first one that was scrapped, then went on to finish the second), I totally sympathize. We spent hours together while he wrote and I sewed. Now I'd knit. That was 12 years ago. Now he is tenured at UNC Asheville. Your life will not stay where it is forever.

Connie said...

Love your knitty article. Frightening how similar all we knitters are, isn't it? I also have the shame part of my stash.

Re: dissertation. Much sympathies. I just went through the whole process myself a year ago for a science ph.D. I hear the humanities ones are harder - less guidance, more independence expected (yikes!). I can tell you that it will get done though. But knitting is a nice little diversion. :) Congrats again on a great knitty article.

Life&Times said...

Re: diss. I've been doing research (still have SO much more to do and haven't really figured out where it's all going to come from yet ::sigh::) and am beginning to write... and I know that sooner than I care to admit I will be where you are now... or perhaps I won't get there because I'll still be stuck where I am desperately trying to start.

Maybe your advisor isn't critiquing because he thinks you're doing just fine. :)