A week ago I emailed a dashed-out draft of Chapter Six, “On Coagulants,”1 bringing me to a full draft of the project. For me, the draft means that it’s sorta closing in on finished and sorta changing phases so that next it will continue coming up against all of the questions from my committee, questions that will re-open it, grow it, and overfill the footnotes.
Consider this entry something like a State of the Dissertation report. At 270 pages and six chapters, it’s long enough. I’m satisfied with parts of it; dissatisfied with others. The two tail-end chapters need some TLC. Nobody’s read them (me? I wrote them), and I’m not settled about what sort of work they need, so I’ve sent them in. And I’ve taken feedback from more than half of my committee on Chs. Zero (Intro) and One, from just under half of my committee on Ch. Three. I’ll get to first-pass revisions on Ch. Four sometime after Watson but before the end of the month. I also have some work to do on fixing up the works cited. Right now the works cited is so disheveled I could carry it around in a grocery bag (a reusable one, of course).
In what little free time I’ve had this week to think about the sum of the project, I keep coming back to the idea of a wave or an arc as the shape I want to reckon with. I’ve tried to translate it into a graph using criteria I’m calling–today–a satisficiency index, which plays on Herbert Simon’s idea of “satisficing” from The Sciences of the Artificial. Simon blends sufficient and satisfying, giving us “satisficing” as an alternative to “optimal” (in matters of AI, search, and so on). The satisficiency index registers an impression: How satisfied am I? and How sufficient is this? rather than reporting whether or not this is optimal. Much in the vein of pain tolerance questions posed by a physician (on a scale from 1 to 10, how much pain?), I have conjured up numbers corresponding to my satisfiction with the diss as drafted.
Would this curvy line match with my committee’s report of the same? In certain chapters, perhaps. This is a question worth asking, right? And in conversations or via written feedback, I have come away with varied impressions of committee satisfiction. This variability is good and generative: everyone does not tell me the same thing. The graph also hides the order in which the chapters were drafted; two was first, followed by zero and one. The rest, three through six, progressed in order. Yet, with feedback from committee members, and especially with revisions, everyone’s level of satisfiction should increase, right? (Please let that be the case for those last two, real tumbleweeds compared to the rest). Dissertations need to be “good enough,” right? After making this graph, I began thinking that I’d like to have the average score up around 7 or 7.5. Right now it’s at 5.7. Clearly there’s more work to do. The graph, as a distant reading of the diss, helps me square with the work awaiting me, albeit in a deliberately simplified model.
1 Kidding. The actual title is TBD.