Name: Caleb Swift Carter
Department: Asian Languages and Cultures
Field of Study: Early Modern Japanese Religion
Year in Program: Recently completed
Dissertation Title: “Producing Place, Tradition and the Gods: Mt. Togakushi, Thirteenth through Mid-Nineteenth Centuries”
I spent three years on the dissertation, including research and writing. I was fortunate to have received fellowships for the duration of the dissertation period, allowing me to fully immerse myself in the project. The first two years I spent conducting research in Japan and the final year writing, revising and entering the job market (a full-time task in itself!).
I have a family with small children so my days were, in part, structured around family life. Typically this meant a 9-5 schedule with some light work for an hour or two in the evening.
These parameters were actually productive for me in that I knew that once the kids were home I would get nothing done, so I had to spend my day hours wisely!
I found the research work to be stimulating and challenging at the same time. For this reason, I broke up the day by focusing on different projects between morning and afternoon.
These projects generally entailed analyzing or translating a primary source, reading secondary materials (slower if in Japanese), or drafting chapters. Because each of these tasks required different mental skills and levels of energy, alternating between them helped sustain my focus.
In terms of the dissertation breakdown, I would generally research one chapter at a time. As I approached the end of the research, I would write up a quick draft of the chapter. This was very rough and mainly just to formulate and then preserve my ideas on the topic while they were still fresh. This approach made the final year of writing fairly straightforward: I had drafts for each chapter and a clearer vision of the entire project that then helped me in reshaping each individual chapter. I saved the Introduction and Conclusion for last.
To be honest, I found the dissertation stage relaxing and liberating after the grind of graduate course work and papers. I finally had complete control over the structure of my time and the research direction was entirely up to me.
Therefore, I could choose easier things to work on when my energy or motivation was low and then use my stronger hours to tackle the meat and potatoes. And little by little, the dissertation took shape and finally came to a finish.
Caleb is currently an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Buddhism and Japanese Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UCLA. You can learn more about his dissertation work via his dissertation blog by clicking here.