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Dissertation as migration…

Read the following quote which opens an article in the November 2010 issue of National Geographic:

“A biologist named Hugh Dingle, striving to understand the essence [of animal migration], has identified five characteristics that apply, in varying degrees and combinations, to all migrations.  The are prolonged movements that carry animals outside familiar habitats; they tend to be linear, not zigzaggy; they involve special behaviors of preparation (such as overfeeding) and arrival; they demand special allocations of energy.  And one more:  Migrating animals maintain a fervid attentiveness to the greater mission, which keeps them undistracted by temptations and undeterred by challenges that would turn other animals aside.” Quammen, David. “Great Migrations.” National Geographic, November 2010, 28-51.

Now, consider replacing the concepts of “animal” with “ABD student”…and “migration” with “completing the dissertation”.  A successful migrating animal turns out to have a lot in common with those who attain the doctor of philosophy.  You will be carried out of your familiar territory, those convenient habits of mind and preconceptions that have comforted you in the past.  You will need to avoid  sidetracks and backtracks as much as possible (though few  avoid them altogether).   You will engage in “special behaviors of preparation” – hopefully not overfeeding, or worse, overdrinking, but certainly the intensive study of the work of who have trod your path before.  You will only succeed if you consider carefully the allocation of your time and energy, and continually reallocate as necessary; some activities you engage in during easier times may need to be jettisoned.  And when you reach your goal, you will have achieved something of intrinsic (though generally not great monetary) value, which most others do not – but you will also have learned that no one makes this journey without cost.

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