Often we are told to take a step back from things to gain some perspective.  It’s very hard when you are in the thick of things, particularly all-consuming things like a dissertation.

This week, however, I got some perspective.  In order to enhance my qualifications for the classes I’m already teaching, I signed up for an online class on cognitive psychology this semester.  I’m dropping it.  There are three reasons:

  1. The instructor is not instructing.  She assigned the readings (a chapter and 2-4 research papers per week, often the ones that are the root of major theoretical models), assigned us to write a summary of each research paper (a couple of paragraphs) and a 5 question multiple choice quiz on the textbook each week, and that’s it.  No feedback, no discussion, no additional perspective on how to integrate the materials.  If we didn’t figure it out ourselves, we were out of luck.
  2. She then proceeded to base the mid-term on the type of integration questions that you would expect to have come up in the course of a classroom or message board discussion.  Since we have neither, the class is pretty much on our own to do it.  I put in 8 hours on it yesterday and would have had to put in all day today to do an adequate job.  Of course, I don’t HAVE all day today, as I also have to grade labs, post the next tests for both classes, write up a study guide for one of the tests and review my lectures for the week.  Oh, and work on the major group project she assigned as due on thursday.  I calculate that I would have needed close to 20 hours today to get that done.
  3. Of course, it isn’t all her fault; I also overestimated my ability to get everything done and stay sane at the same time.  I leave at 7am and come home at 9pm four nights a week, leaving essentially no time to work on weeknights.  Until now I’ve been able to squeeze it all in on the weekend, but there was no chance of that this weekend.  Worse, I’ve been running myself ragged to keep up, something that is not good in the long run.

So I’m dropping.  I’m OK with that – I overestimated my capacity given that this is the first semester teaching one of these classes, and I’ll revisit in the future when teaching the new class becomes less week-to-week preparation effort.

Overscheduling myself, however, wasn’t the only piece of my life I got perspective on this weekend.  Prior to this weekend I had gotten bored with my dissertation topic, bored with working on my lit review, and uninterested in the entire thing.  Then I got a look at this midterm, which includes 4 questions along the lines of this example:

Peruse the results sections of your articles from the first half of the semester, looking for a set of results from a multi-experiment paper that you were particularly impressed with.  Describe how the statistical tests were performed, and how they supported the hypotheses.  Explain why you were impressed with this set of results.  Now, look for a set of results that produces the opposite effect on you, meaning, you are not at all impressed or convinced by them.  Explain your reasoning.  Finally, how might the experiment be altered such that it could produce impressive results, that you feel are worthy of publication in a major psychology journal?

I read that and caught myself thinking longingly of my lit review and getting back to work on my dissertation.  I actually told husband that if I wanted to work that hard I would just write the damned dissertation.  After all, isn’t that what the work of reading a paper for a lit review is all about?  How are the results, are they convincing, what would have to change to make them convincing?

So with that jolt of perspective, I am letting go of my key overcommitment, refocusing on the core things I have to do (work, teaching), and putting any remaining time into my re-energized interested in my dissertation.  That effect alone may be worth the (thankfully low) tuition cost.

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