Diary of a doctoral student

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This is a part of the series, diary of a doctoral student with stories on politics, emotions and other things that determine our research beyond the research methods. One challenge that I faced while writing my dissertation was that every time I started a new chapter, I had to deal with multiple ways of organising it. For example, there were times when I could have narrated my story village by village. Alternatively, I could have organized the layout based on themes or chronology of events that would cut across each village. There was merit in organising the chapter in each of these […]

Mind-maps for organising the layout of a chapter, article or ...

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Unlike a lot of people, writing does not come to me naturally.  It has been a slow and difficult learning process, and I had to contend with massive writing project as I started the dissertation.  As it turned out, writing the dissertation was fun, but not always.  It took me an year and a half to write the dissertation after the fieldwork, and in the process, it helped me to know what other writers had gone through.  A lot of that advice came from the committee and from my peers at the University, and some of it came from webcasts on […]

The art & craft of academic writing: Interviews & talks

Political commitment to public services: Tamil Nadu & Beyond
I wrote these pieces in a course on ‘creative non-fiction’ and included them in the dissertation to provide my readers a break from the formal monotony.  Sadly, most people remember sections of this from the dissertation, and little else.  Such is the life of a doctoral student. 15 Jan 2006 I should not have trusted my ethnography professor.  She convinced me today that good academic writing should make the researcher visible.  By subscribing to this, I have created an existential crisis for myself: Who am I? I would like to write about my fondness for butter scotch ice cream and […]

Making subjectivity visible: Sections from my dissertation

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A few months ago, I got the criticism that my work is not original, and that most of what I have to say has already been said, and that my arguments are evident to the point of being tautological. When I got the criticism, I felt that there is a ring of truth to it, in a sense that there is practically no argument within my scheme of things that has not already been made by others. At one point, I even started questioning if there is any value to the work I did. Since it is a feeling that […]

The place of originality in academic writing

Publis & perish
I discovered that the papers that I had written with a lot of hard work were cited only once in the last four years. A note on the academic peril of working hard in writing what will probably be never read by any one. To publish is to perish. Read on.

Publish and perish

It is often assumed that Teaching Assistants are powerful, vested with institutionalised power to instruct, monitor and evaluate. No doubt, these represent power over the students. But this is nothing compared to the power that students have over the TA; a kind of power that is silent but brutal. When a hundred notebooks close silently, it can bring the mightiest professor to a halt. A few glances at the clock or one row of blank expressions can freeze the vulnerable TA and crush his ego at the same time. There is no experience more humbling that the knowledge that you […]

Reflections of a retiring TA

The temptation and pressure to confirm in one’s research topic is tremendous – especially if you are a PhD student. In the course of the last 3 years many of my friends have asked me to include some quantitative element in my research. When I tell them that it does not suit my question they’d add, perhaps do what you do and then add some statistical work to it. When my (descriptive) interviews were almost done another friend goaded me to code it and regress it. The notion that regression is what makes a study authoritative is so deeply rooted […]

Friendships and “research methods”

The explosion of digital information about all aspects of our lives, the places we live in, etc. will radically transform the way we write history in the future. Read on.

History in the future

Rumblings of an ex-activist in his early thirties Why have I ceased to care about the world? Why is my commitment vanishing? Fifteen years ago if I saw blind person struggling to cross the road, I would jump off my bicycle to help him cross, and make a mental note on how I will change public transport. Now I watch my watch and glide away hoping someone will do my job for me. I wonder today if I cared then since I did not have a care in the world. Caring parents, carefree friends and a careless school set the […]

I cared because I did not care

During fieldwork in India, I was amazed by the differences between common people that I interacted with, and the well trained students in the Western world. There were significant differences in the questions each asked and the observations they made. I was often left wondering if more training in the disciplinary world leads to less sophisticated understanding of this complex social world. Read on...

Disciplinary training: More trained, less able

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A Panchayat president I interviewed recently told me sweetly that people listen to her because she’s plump.  Two years and twenty additional kilos earlier, I would have missed the import of the statement, but now I don’t.  Let me give you a quick background before I start. I was very thin and was often called a skeleton, stick of a coconut leaf and other colourful adjectives. I left to the US in 2005 and after two years of Americanisation I got on the weighing machine. I pushed the scales to a familiar position and it remained upright.  I nudged it […]

The importance of a pot belly

This is the fourth post I am writing today when I should be writing my paper. The term is about to end and I just don’t feel like reading or writing (don’t ask me what enables me to write all these posts, that’s the irony about me). I have been working on my topic for an year now, and am yet to defend my proposal. If I am topic fatigued now, what will become of me when I get to the writing stage? I know that I have to make writing fun – and it has often been the case. […]

Lantern & the sea: a dream to make dissertation writing ...

For the last three or four months, I have just not felt like reading anything. I have not stopped reading…but that which I read has been random stuff. My comprehensive exams are not far away, and I am in no mood to do any sustained work. Infact, I came to the office with the idea of reading and writing a paper; instead, I am writing this blog post. Part of the problem is that I’ve run out of exciting new books. I dont claim that there are none around – but I have not been able to lay my hands […]

I don’t feel like reading

Ph.D. is a long haul & often a tiresome journey. Knowing oneself well can make the process fun, quick & worthwhile I audited a wonderful course on doing a dissertation with Prof. Nick Smith in the department of education at SU. A small part of the course was about methods, theories, and other academic paraphrenalia that make up the dissertation. Instead, his main concentration was to prepare us mentally to do the dissertation well and enjoy it. If there is one lesson that was central to the lectures, it is “know yourself”. Knowing one’s body rythms, when we feel like […]

Dissertation troubles & the importance of knowing oneself

One of the biggest challenges in writing a proposal is to narrow down our interests to choose a topic In three days, I would have defended my dissertaion proposal, and it feels good to think that I’ll get it out of my way. It looks like the proposal is one of the biggest time killers among Ph.D. students; it is indeed a challenge to move from a variety of ideas to a defendable proposal. Most of us come to a Ph.D. with a broad set of interests and it feels awkward to narrow it down into a topic that almost […]

On narrowing focus for dissertation proposal

“I put all my shoes in front of me and polished them”, “I cleaned my curtains”, “My house was never as clean as it was when I had to write my dissertation”. These were the most interesting revelations by a panel on surviving the dissertation that was organised as a part of a course I audited recently. The tendency to putt-off writing is just incredible. I never feel prepared enough, and when I do get to writing, I never quite feel as if I’ve done a job good enough. Every now and then I do a reasonable outline but never […]

Putting-off the writing work: Can this be helped

My efforts to set priorities and work by a schedule were constantly defeated – often leading to a sense of desperation. But funnily, each time I reviewed my priorities for the year, I was more or less working along the lines though I scarcely met my targets day-to-day. I have been thinking of it for a while but started taking it seriously only after talking to a friend who had a similar problem: in the long run, we seem to keep up to a plan, but are erratic in the short run. I guess this is perhaps because of my […]

Time Management for an undisciplined fellow!