Name: Amanda Kennell
Department: East Asian Languages and Cultures
Field: Modern Japanese Culture
Year in program: 6
Dissertation Title: Alice in Evasion: Adapting Lewis Carroll in Japan
Once you start writing your dissertation (and stop going to class regularly) it becomes easy to keep unsociable hours. I try to get up every morning by eight, even though I work at home most days. I usually eat breakfast while watching an anime. Hearing Japanese daily stops my language skills from getting too rusty, and since I study popular culture, watching anime regularly keeps me up to date with what is in this season. It also helps me get into a working frame of mind, as does dressing in nice work clothes even when I am working at home.
First things first: I devote mornings to my dissertation every day I can.
Even if I run out of energy and fail to accomplish much later, it is A-OK so long as I make progress on the diss. After dissertation time, I take a break for lunch and movement. I tend to get antsy, so I try to move regularly throughout the day to burn off some energy.
If the writing is going really well, I will just keep working on my dissertation after lunch and give myself a break the following day. However, most days I come to a point where further writing is not productive around two to three hours after I begin. Afternoons are thus devoted first to e-mail, and then to all of those secondary projects one gets caught up in as one’s career progress. First up, paperwork to get reimbursed for a conference I went to three months ago. Next, studying materials I acquired last fall for my university’s Alice in Wonderland collection. Because the collection’s curator does not speak Japanese, I have to write each new acquisition up for her. (For some reason, this does not feel like working on my dissertation – I am focused on basic information like who translated a given book and when was it published, not analyzing anything – but it still counts as research.)
I usually plan on taking at least 15 minutes during every day for non-work things (making doctor’s appointments, etc.). People who work in offices do that, too, but early in my grad school career taking any time to not work felt like I was abusing the privilege of working flexible hours. For the same reason, I give myself permission to sleep in/go to brunch/otherwise relax the morning after late-night work events like classes or post-conference dinners.
Evenings are largely restricted to what I think of as preparatory work.
I will read books and see films that I may want to write about or that are part of a body of literature I feel I should know, organize what items I want to catalogue the following day, look over upcoming deadlines, lay out a schedule for the next day and so forth. This is also where things that might fall through the cracks end up. For example, while my main focus is Japanese culture, I also work on Korea. Because the majority of my coursework focused on Japan, I simply have not seen or read as much about Korea as I would like, but it is hard to justify taking prime daylight hours to read a Korean story just for the sake of having read more Korean fiction.
This schedule is for a weekday, but I work weekends, too. Sometimes I switch my “weekend” day to a weekday to make specific goals easier; for example, if I have a doctor’s appointment across town I might call a Thursday my “weekend” and spend some time in that neighbourhood eating out and shopping. In that case, I work as normal on Saturday. If I am using the normal weekend days, I generally do not work on my dissertation. Instead, I use them to clear out piled-up e-mail, do a bit of filing, or read books and see films that are not of primary importance.
To be clear: the absolute worst hindrance in making progress, for me, is the pressure of secondary projects and events.
In addition to my department, I juggle requirements and events for two graduate certificate programmes (Media Arts + Practice and Visual Studies). I am also affiliated with USC’s East Asian Studies Center and the Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture. Because my work crosses several disciplinary boundaries, I often find myself at events for the Cinema School, the Korean Studies Institute, the Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture Department (aka Comp Lit), Art History and probably a few others that I am forgetting right now. Then there are the off-campus events at LACMA, UCLA and the Pacific Asia Museum.
Maintaining all of these relationships and taking advantage of all of the opportunities that come my way takes a ton of time, and it is easy to let the press of a deadline blind you to the long-term project you should be working on.
That is why I work on the diss first, and let myself tackle everything else afterwards. Good luck, and happy writing.
8:00am: Wake up, eat, dress
9:30am: Begin dissertation work
10:50am: Take break to do a fast, active chore (cleaning the bathroom sink, for example) and get a snack
11:00am: Diss round two
12:30pm: Lunch + minor exercise of some kind (a walk, perhaps)
2:00pm: Secondary project: file for a travel reimbursement related to a conference
2:30pm: Take break to do a fast, active chore (washing dishes, for instance) and get a snack
2:45pm: Secondary project: catalogue some Japanese Alice in Wonderland materials that I bought for USC’s library on my last trip to Japan
4:00pm: Take break to do a fast, active chore (collecting all the newly catalogued materials to take to campus and then cleaning the bathroom counter this time) and get some tea
4:15pm: Make an appointment with my dentist, pay bills
4:30pm: Create visuals of my research in Adobe Creative Suite
5:30pm: Make and eat dinner
7:00pm: Read something academic related to my dissertation
7:50pm: Organize tomorrow’s schedule
8:00pm: Watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
10:00pm: Pick out a Korean short story and read it
11:00pm: Get ready for bed