I'm Back - And Boy Do I Have Stories!


Well, my friends, I have finished my Ph.D. Turns out, that was a lot of work - who knew!  I actually finished in October of 2017, but there was a lot of leftover kruft I had to manage before I felt that I had space enough to return to this website; you know, remodel the bathroom, pain the living room, take a vacation, etc.

As I've thought about how to restart posting, I discovered that I really needed to clear the air about some of my experiences with the Ph.D. in terms of productivity and technology. I found that in many ways, I was extremely productive; but I made some MAJOR mistakes along the way.

What Went Right

Since most of the folks who read this are also nerds, lemme tell you something; I did my Ph.D., tip to stern, in 28 months. It was a residential program, three hours from home, and I worked full time as well. So I kinda crushed it. This was my third attempt at the doctorate, and while I did have to start from scratch, there were some things that worked in my favor...

  • I had a clear idea of what my research question for the dissertation was going to be before I started. That meant that I also had a clear idea of who I wanted to chair my dissertation, and was able to start working through things with her early. It also meant that I was writing sections of my proposal in coursework. My proposal was ready before I was in candidacy, which meant that I was defending and in dissertation the day coursework was complete.
  • I was able to completely rely upon my task and time management systems. Weekly planning was daunting at times, and there were moments of severe panic - but I knew I was capturing everything well. 
  • I had a remarkable support system. My wife was extremely helpful, and was gracious enough to give me time when I needed it. My dean and provost allowed me to find ways to move things around so that I could travel back and forth to school, and my sweet grandchildren even sent me videos at times telling me, "Do good on your schoolwork, Poppy!"  The image at the top of the post is of a nameplate the children gave me when I started. I kept me going!!!
  • I had a clear sense of what tech I needed. That was also a problem, which I'll note in a moment. But I am a power-user of almost all of the tools I employed, and knew the limits of those tools as well. The most important tools were OmniFocus, Trello, Scrivener (to a point), Zotero (more about THAT later), my Google calendar, and - God help me - Microsoft Office. I also used the Chrome browser almost exclusively during this period, in part because I found that it provided some seamless integrations for Google Docs, Google Hangouts, and Blackboard (yuck).

What Went Wrong

Ok, this is where I confess that the best laid plans were, in many instances, nothing more that nerd-wishes. I made a number of mistakes; some of which cost me valuable time, and others that cost me a great deal of pride. The latter almost seems worse than the former.

  • I tried to make big changes at the worst times. For example, I got very frustrated with Zotero, and in a moment of exasperation, decided to migrate to Papers3. So I exported the Bibtex file, imported it into Papers3, and thought I had everything running well. Unfortunately, I discovered that Zotero has its problems, but Papers3 was giving me nightmares. I spent weeks trying to make Papers3 work, believing that it must be a better solution. It was only after about 45 days of trying not to cuss that I finally said to myself, "let's go back to Zotero."  Fine. But guess what?  All of my organization of sources in Zotero was now gone, so it took me a couple of days to migrate back. I made similar mistakes with other systems as well. I finally had a stern talk with myself about making huge changes in the middle of projects. There are good times to see what other options are available, and bad times. These were bad times!
  • Sometimes you don't get to choose your tools. I love Scrivener with all my heart. And while I wrote a good portion of my papers in Scrivener, I found that it was very difficult to use during the dissertation. I could start projects in Scrivener, but my committee wanted to track changes in MS Word - so I had to use Word. I wrote my freakin' dissertation in Word. Not what I had planned to do. My school's Enterprise email system was really created for MS Outlook - so when I tried using Apple Mail, it created all kinds of nightmares with authentication. I ended up keeping my email in Outlook. I had to use SPSS instead of Stata. I had to use Powerpoint instead of Keynote. But here's the thing: all of the bells and whistles (scripts, services, add-on apps, etc.) that make using my preferred tools preferable were unavailable.
  • The iPad-only lifestyle takes a lot of commitment. Remember a few words ago when I said I made big changes at the worst times?  One of those was trying to force myself to go iPad-only. It's what thecool kids were doing it (I mean, it seems like Fredirico Viticci must be a cool kid), so why not me?  I am certain that there is a workaround for almost every situation where an iPad needs to do laptop work; but the precious hours of investment on figuring each one of these out is time I'm not working. So I eventually reverted to using my iPad for specific tasks, but did the bulk of my writing on the Mac. Future posts will unpack this a bit further.


Posted on January 31, 2018 and filed under General.