Meet the Committee

Thais Rutledge (2021-2024)

My name is Thais Rutledge, and I am a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. After a rewarding teaching experience, I decided to return to school to become a professor. I work primarily with Modern British and Brazilian literatures with a transnational and multilingual focus. I am interested in narrative forms, cultural history, space, trauma, and memory — all of this through the context of intersectionality where race, class, gender, and ethnicity meet. I have a Master’s degree in Literature from Texas State University. I joined the MLA many years ago, and now I have the privilege to be part of the Committee for the Status for Graduate Students where I hope to advocate for inclusion, equity, and diversity in the academy. My article “Woolf’s Feminist Spaces and the New Woman in To the Lighthouse: The Cases of Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe” was published in the South Central Review (2020), which focuses on women and gendered spaces in Woolf’s’ To the Lighthouse

Kay Sohini (2021-2024)
I am a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellow and a fifth year PhD candidate in English at Stony Brook University, where I am currently drawing her doctoral dissertation as a comic. In both my creative and academic work, I focus on how comics can be utilized by scholars and artists alike in ethnography, in narrative medicine, in public health discourse, in resisting disinformation, and in espousing an equitable future for all. 

My work on comics has been published in The Nib, Graphic Mundi’s Covid ChroniclesAssay: A Journal of Non-fiction Studies, Women Write About Comics, Solrad, and Inside Higher Ed, Handbook of Comics and Graphic Narratives, amongst others. Apart from MLA’s Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities, I serve on the editorial team of The Comics Grid, in the Executive Committee of the International Comic Arts Forum (ICAF), and I am a member of the Feminist Leaders Council at Feminist Press

Nina Ellis (2021-2024)

I am a third-year PhD candidate in American Literature at the University of Cambridge, where I am researching twentieth-century short fiction under the supervision of Dr Kasia Boddy. My academic interests range widely — but my doctoral thesis is a critical biography of the American short story writer Lucia Berlin, funded by a Full Studentship from the British Arts and Humanities Research Council. I am Co-Representative to the AHRC Student Liaison Group; and I was Graduate Representative to the Faculty of English from 2019–2020 and Co-Convenor of Cambridge’s American Literature Graduate Research Seminar from 2020–2021. I also teach undergraduates at Cambridge, and have supervised dissertations on a wide range of American literatures. 

Prior to PhD study, I gained my BA at Jesus College, Cambridge in Archaeology and Anthropology, and my QTS and PGCE (British secondary school teaching degrees) from the Institute of Education. I taught English Literature in a London state school for five years, and I completed my MA in English and American Literature at University College London. I have written about Berlin for Granta, and I am a regular columnist for Review 31. My short stories have appeared in Ambit, American Chordata, Granta, The London Magazine, 3:AM and elsewhere, and I recently won an Editors’ Choice Award in the 2021 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. I am currently working on my first novel.

Mario De Grandis (2020-2023)

My name is Mario De Grandis. After receiving my Ph.D. at the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at The Ohio State University, I have joined the Irish Institute of Chinese Studies at University College Dublin (Ireland) as an assistant professor/lecturer. My research focuses on ethnic minority literature (shashu minzu wenxue) and its filmic adaptations. I am also active as a translator and I’ve subtitled documentaries and translated fiction from Chinese into Italian. Among these translations are documentaries by Ai Weiwei and works by Alat Asem, Chen Xiwo, and Lu Min.

Viana Hara 

My name is Viana Hara, I am originally from Panama, but I consider my hometown Durham, North Carolina, since I have lived there for 18 years before moving to Portland, Oregon. I hold a M.A in Foreign Language and Spanish Literature from NC State University.Currently, I am a first year Ph.D. graduate student in the Department of Romance Language ( Spanish and Portuguese) at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Before coming to Portland, I taught upper-level undergraduate Spanish courses at Duke University under Dr. Walter Mignolo. Then, in Portland, I taught lower-level Spanish classes at the University of Portland as an adjunct instructor. 

My research interest is Panamanian Caribbean Narratives: the traces of Colonialism( race, sexism, nature abuse, control of knowledge/Subjectivities), Post-Dictatorship, Present Democracies with the theory of Coloniality, Decoloniality. I am also studying for a certificate with specialization in translation studies.

I have worn many hats in my career journey: I was in U.S Army Reserve for eight years, worked at a hospital as a phlebotomy technician ( while studying for my bachelor as a nontraditional student), and was a flight attendant in my natal country before coming to the U.S. I  love to share this knowledge and life experience with my students because I wholeheartedly believe that motivation for learning and intellectual curiosity comes from within. It does not depend on circumstances; learning is a never-ending process, and life is not in a straight line.

Ariadne Wolf (2019-2022)

Hello! I graduated with her MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College, where I now sit on the Board of Governors, in 2019. I earned my Master’s in English from the University of Rochester in 2021 and moved immediately into my present role of Women’s Center Coordinator at Colgate University. My professional advocacy extends to my role with the MLA, where I focus on protecting the minimal rights of Master’s-level students and trying hard to ensure that the needs of marginalized students are recognized. As an academic, I am most interested in Performance Studies, Whiteness Studies, and other elements of Cultural Studies that I hope to see come to fruition in the near future.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ariadne-wolf-73a341180/

https://ariadnewolf.com

Didem Uca (2019-2022, co-chair)

I began my time on CSGSH while at the University of Pennsylvania, where I received my Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Literatures in 2019. After spending one year as Visiting Assistant Professor at Colgate University, I began my current role as Assistant Professor of German Studies at Emory University. My research analyzes post/migrant cultural production within an intersectional framework and through a variety of media, including the Bildungsroman, multilingual hip-hop, and transnational social media movements. My research has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Monatshefte, Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, and Die Unterrichtspraxis/Teaching German.

I love teaching and developing inclusive pedagogies, which led to my contributing to the new intermediate German language textbook Impuls Deutsch 2. In 2020, I was awarded the Goethe-Institut/American Association of Teachers of German Certificate of Merit. As a Turkish-Arab-American from Long Island, New York, I became fascinated by Turkish-German cultural production as an undergrad, because it was the first time I saw representations of Turkish diasporic identity. I am now co-editor of Turkish-German Studies Yearbook and translate from German and Turkish into English, with translations forthcoming in TRANSIT and SAND. I truly enjoy the translation process and am grateful whenever I have the opportunity to make someone else’s words accessible to a new audience.

G. Edzordzi Agbozo (2019-2022)

I joined the committee as a graduate student in the interdisciplinary humanities program at Michigan Technological University from where I received my PhD in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture. Prior to my doctoral studies, I received a Master of Philosophy degree in English linguistics and language acquisition from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and a BA in English and Linguistics from the University of Ghana. Currently, I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. I am also a Junior Fellow at the Pan-African Scientific Research Council. 

I work at the intersections of Scientific, Medical and Technical Writing, Critical Discourse Studies, Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, and Applied Linguistics. My recent publications appeared in Applied Linguistics Review, Journal of African Rhetoric, Current Issues in Language Planning and Programmatic Perspectives, and forthcoming in Technical Communication.

You can see more on my work at https://sites.google.com/view/edzordzi/home. I am a recipient of ​​the Barbara Heifferon Graduate Students Fellowship in Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, CPTSC Diversity Scholarship Award from the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication, Graduate Research Award from the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, Dean’s Award for Outstanding Scholarship, and Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award at Michigan Technological University among other recognitions. I am currently co-editing two books on cross-cultural communication of Covid-19, and election rhetorics in West Africa. 

Applying to Present at an Academic Conference in the Humanities

By Didem Uca
Assistant Professor of German Studies, Emory University
CSGSH Co-chair

The calls for papers (CfPs) for next year’s MLA have been posted, which means that the sessions are currently seeking abstracts. If you have never applied to present at a conference before, this post covers the essentials, including why you should present at a conference, how to find and select a panel, how to write an abstract, and how to submit it.

Why Present?

If you are passionate about the topic you are studying and researching, chances are that you enjoy sharing your work. But you may feel intimidated by the formality of a conference session or feel that your work is not ready to be judged by others. From personal experience, I have felt that most conference audiences are friendlier and more constructive (not to mention much smaller) than your panic dreams may lead you to believe. The oft-feared question and answer session is an opportunity to receive valuable feedback from others working on similar topics, which ultimately helps push your project further.

Furthermore, speaking at a conference can motivate you to meet your project’s benchmarks in a timely manner and speaking about your research insights can help you gain confidence as a scholar. A presentation can often lead to other opportunities for professional development, such as publication or future collaborations. All in all, attending and presenting at conferences allows you to connect with colleagues and potential mentors around a set of shared interests, allowing you to exchange ideas with others in a meaningful dialogue while supporting your scholarly development.

Finding and Selecting a Panel

There are two main ways to find out about conference panels. The first is by signing up for various email listservs related to your discipline or subfields, such as through H-Net, or, similarly, by following the social media accounts of professional organizations. You can also check out UPenn’s CfP repository for a searchable list of humanities CfPs for a huge number of conference sessions. By being plugged into these networks year-round, you have the best chance of learning about opportunities out there to share your work. The second way is by checking out the conference’s calls for papers portal, which sometimes requires a membership login. On the portal, you can search for calls based on keywords or other specifications.

Once you have found a few panels that interest you, try to think about papers you have written for seminars or concepts that have been important for your research and decide which panel might be the best fit. This may not actually be a panel topic where you have already done the most relevant work, but rather the topic that best matches the direction you would like your work to take. A common misconception is that you should have already written a paper before applying to a conference, but that is definitely not the case! The conference will likely take place 6-10 months after proposals have been chosen, so you will have plenty of time to write your paper in the interim.

Note that while for some conferences, you may be allowed to apply to an unlimited number of sessions, at others, you may only be allowed to apply to one or two. Make sure to read through the submission guidelines or conference FAQ before submitting.

Writing an Abstract

Once you have selected a panel or panels to which you would like to apply, you should start crafting your short proposal, or abstract. An abstract is generally 200-400 words (NB: the length varies, so follow the conveners’ instructions) in which you briefly summarize the argument your presentation will make. This can be tricky if you are writing a proposal for a new project rather than one based on a paper you have already written. But it is actually okay if your paper’s final argument ends up being somewhat different from what you propose, as changes during the research process are to be expected.

When writing your abstract, it helps to decide on your paper’s scope. If presentations will only be 15 minutes long, you won’t be able to discuss 6 epic novels or summarize the findings of your entire dissertation or even one entire chapter. I think that the most successful conference presentations are when the presenter addresses a specific and narrow research question that serves as a microcosm of a larger issue. The presenter draws you into their argument through careful analysis of a case study and successfully articulates the project’s stakes by suggesting what broader implications such an approach could have. Another important factor for selection is how well your contribution would fit on the panel, so make sure to reread the panel description as you are crafting your abstract and consider including relevant keywords or concepts from the description to underscore your project’s suitability. If you are able to articulate all of these aspects in the abstract, you will have a good chance of being selected. And don’t forget to give your paper a strong title! 

Once you write your draft abstract, you may wish to share it with your advisor or another mentor for feedback. This is why it can be helpful to plan ahead and give yourself enough time for them to read it and then to incorporate their suggestions. However, you should also not feel obligated to ask for feedback if you feel confident with your proposal.

Submitting your Abstract and the Selection Process

Once you’ve written your abstract, be sure to follow the submission guidelines from the CfP. For MLA panels, you are asked to send your abstract and a short professional biography to the organizer(s) via email, and the deadlines for submission vary based on the panel. For some other conferences, you have to submit your materials through the conference portal. Once you submit your proposal, the organizer(s) will often send you a confirmation of receipt and then it will generally take 1-3 weeks after the deadline until you learn whether or not your proposal has been selected. If your proposal is accepted, you will receive more information about the conference, format of the session, and any associated deadlines, so be sure to keep an eye out for those correspondences. If you were not accepted, don’t be discouraged! Oftentimes sessions receive 2-5 times the number of proposals they can accommodate. Other factors, such as how well the papers fit together or your institutional context (for example, the MLA has a limit on the number of speakers that can be from the same university), might have edged you out. Sometimes you may even be able to submit the same or a slightly revised version of your abstract to another conference session, so keep a look out for the next opportunity to share your work.

Good luck, and be sure to check out the CfPs for our committee’s two sponsored sessions: “Building Your Scholarly Identity: How to communicate your brand in a Remote World” and “Mental Health and Wellness in Graduate School,” both due by March 15!

 

Providing Audio Feedback on Students’ Writing

By Sritama Chatterjee, a third-year PhD student in Literature at the University of Pittsburgh

Due to the shift to online learning because of COVID-19, one of the things that I miss about teaching are the corridor conversations with students, before and after a class, and listening to their fears about an impending Chemistry exam, their excitement about an upcoming Taylor Swift album or the joys when their favorite team has won the Superbowl. It made space for knowing the students on a more personal level and who they are as human beings without overstepping boundaries. However, the shift to an online medium made it necessary for us as instructors to reimagine how we make these connections with students.

For me, one way was through a shift from written feedback to audio feedback and an exploration of  what the medium of sound offered. In a pre-COVID world, I had tinkered with audio feedback, but still preferred written feedback because I was not too sure about the technical challenges: what if my microphone did not work? Did I need to install another piece of software? However, once I got over the initial difficulties, it was a smooth process. You can find technical advice for providing audio feedback on Blackboard, here, for Canvas, here, and how to record using the recording software Audacity, here.

One of the reasons I shifted to providing audio feedback was to convey the affect and tone of my feedback, as speaking can avoid a potential scope for misunderstanding. Students can hear the excitement  in my voice when I come across an idea in an essay that I think is really interesting.   I can also clearly communicate when an argument lacks evidence. It also allows me the space to create a more personal and meaningful connection with students. Often I ask a question to my students when I am particularly curious about why they have made a writing move in a specific way or what brings them to a topic or idea. Although there is no requirement on their end to respond to my comments/questions, I find that students write back to me in an email responding to my questions or set-up a time to talk to me and that these follow-up conversations often take us in directions that I did not anticipate.

Before providing audio feedback on a draft, I read the draft at least twice, making a mental note of two things: areas where the essay is already strong, so that I can provide examples of what the essay does well to take the argument one step further, and two instances of where the essay needs more work and in what ways. Once this is done, I record the feedback, addressing the students directly, as if I am in a conversation with the student, guiding the students through specific areas of revision and ending the feedback by inviting students to get in touch with me with questions or if they need to clarify something. I learned this conversational approach in audio feedback from Annette Vee’s piece on providing audio feedback, who takes written notes before recording.

Here are some things that I have found helpful for providing audio feedback:

I usually keep the feedback between three to four minutes for a 1200-word draft. Initially, it used to take me six to seven minutes and I found myself repeating the same things. However, with practice, I have grown out of this practice and find four minutes to be of optimum length. However this may vary depending on the pace of your feedback. Keeping a timer in front of you might be helpful. As a graduate worker, I am protective of my time and I ensure that I do not spend more than three hours providing feedback on a major assignment to twenty-two students (and this includes time for reading the assignment).

I use audio feedback only when I am providing feedback at a more conceptual level rather than structural or craft level, though I can imagine that audio feedback could incorporate both of these components. One could use audio feedback in a stand-alone manner or use it in combination with written feedback.

I quote specific page numbers, paragraphs and sentences while providing feedback so that it is always grounded in an idea and students are not lost about what I am referencing. Initially I was not referring to specific passages, but after listening to feedback from my students, I adapted accordingly and am now more direct about what I am talking about.

I try and keep things as spontaneous as possible. The pauses, “aaahs” and “ummm…” are very much part of the feedback.

From student feedback*, it seems that they appreciate audio feedback because of its clarity. For instance, one student wrote: “I really like the audio feedback! I think that a number of times when professors give comments on essays, the tone of what they are trying to say is lost, so the audio gets rid of the ambiguity.” Another student pointed out, “It was nice to hear from you in that way because it sounded like a conversation, which is a nice change from just seeing comments on my assignment.”

In the future, when I use audio feedback, I might make it optional for students to respond to the teacher’s comments, asking them to listen to the feedback first and then summarize their revision plan either in a written or audio form. Having pointed out some of the benefits of audio feedback and the ways in which students have responded to it, I will note that audio feedback might not work for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and as educators, it remains our work to make feedback more inclusive.

*Student permission has been taken to include comments in this piece.

Tips for Writing a Dissertation or Capstone Project

Writing a doctoral dissertation or a capstone project for a master’s program can be one of the most challenging and intensive parts of earning a graduate degree. This already difficult task has been heavily exacerbated by major global events, such as the Covid pandemic, systemic racism, and visa restrictions on international students. Members of the Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Humanities (CSGSH) share some practical tips and advice for working on and completing a dissertation or capstone project that can help graduate students complete their projects during these challenging times.

 

Didem Uca, Assistant Professor of German Studies, Emory University

DONE IS GOOD

Every semester before finals week at my undergraduate alma mater, Bryn Mawr College, we hung to-do lists on our dorm room doors with the phrase “DONE IS GOOD” and gleefully cheered each other on as we checked each item off. Once I reached ABD status in my Ph.D. program, I learned a different saying with a similar sentiment: “A good dissertation is a done dissertation. A great dissertation is a published dissertation. A perfect dissertation is neither.” If you are in a book field, you have to accept that you may not be able to accomplish everything in the dissertation that you hope to accomplish in the version that will eventually be published as a monograph. There are multiple reasons why this might be the case––perhaps you and your committee do not share in that vision; perhaps there are archival materials that you are unable to access due to COVID; or perhaps you simply are running out of time, funding, or patience. But pragmatism wins out over perfection. Done is good.

Backwards Create a Realistic Schedule and Set SMART Goals

Speaking of to-do lists, when you are working on a project that is bigger than anything you have ever completed before and that spans several years, it may be overwhelming to figure out your timeline and path to completion. Speak with your advisor and recent graduates or other students ahead of you in your program to make sure you understand what the precise dissertation or thesis requirements are for your program. Then, open your virtual or paper calendar or planner and begin to schedule your timeline working back from the date when you want to (or must) defend. The following example of an ABD beginning work on their dissertation illustrates this process: If you will run out of funding on June 1, 2023, you will likely need to defend, and in some cases, deposit your dissertation in time for the spring graduation deadline, which may be as early as April. You already have a dissertation outline and have reviewed relevant literature for your prospectus and have one chapter drafted based on a conference paper. After speaking with your advisor, you have learned that you are expected to write 4 chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion, and the three most recent graduates of your program wrote between 250-300 pages.

Using this information, begin to create SMART––Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound––goals to fulfill these requirements in time for your anticipated defense date. Make sure to account for the time it will take for your committee members to read and offer feedback on your work and any other academic and life obligations, such as needing to travel to an archive before working on a chapter, teaching service, or taking a week off before your wedding. Be realistic, build in extra time for the unexpected, and continue updating and revising your SMART goals throughout the process.

Gamify Writing––and Write Every Day

If you think you hate writing, may I suggest that you actually hate the anxiety of not writing? The mere thought of opening a blank document or returning to a particularly vexing paragraph can be paralyzing, and thus, we often choose to focus our energies on everything but writing. For me, this included reading Joan Bolker’s classic Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day, in which she advises dissertators to “Do some work on your thesis every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes. (“Every day” is more important than how much time you spend, or how many pages you produce, or what quality of work you produce on any particular day.)” This advice was transformative at a time when I was plagued by writing––or, more precisely, not writing––anxiety and intense guilt. So I followed Bolker’s advice and began writing. For the first few weeks, guided by my SMART goals and completion schedule, I began to write 150 new words every day. I increased this amount to 200, 250, 500, 750…until I was reliably writing 1500-2000 words a day, managing to add 200 new pages to my dissertation in the final four months before my defense. Anything you write today is something you will not have to write tomorrow or two months from now. Future you will thank you for your diligence. If this abstract gamification strategy isn’t effective, consider that, like all living creatures, you are not above bribery; give yourself rewards for meeting your daily benchmark, such as, as soon as I finish my 350 words for today, I can watch the next episode of The Great. Speaking of which, I have to go work on my book proposal so that I can watch Sarah Cooper’s special on Netflix.

 

Amir Hussain, Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature, Emory University

I have three pieces of advice to offer.

First, think about and seek agreement about what kind of dissertation project you aim to do.

There are many different kinds of dissertation projects that one can theoretically do. But not every dissertation project can be done without the aspects and planning that so often precede the actual dissertation writing, such as the prospectus, language training, archives you may need to visit or approvals you may need to have to conduct your research, and committee support. While a traditional dissertation is typically conceived of as one large project with chapters that are in some way or other organically related, there are many discussions about traditional dissertations and discussions on other innovative configurations for the dissertation. So it is crucial that you, your advisor, and your committee are on the same page about the kind of dissertation you want to do, are expected to do based on previous discussions or on disciplinary training, and would be departmentally permitted to do. Seek input from your advisor and committee on this with the prospectus and throughout the project. And while it is possible that your project may develop as you work on it, there should still be a reasonable consensus and clarity about what kind of project you are working on and why.

Second, keep in touch with your advisor regularly

Your advisor is not merely the main key between you and graduating with a Ph.D. degree. Rather, your advisor is your main and most vital source of help throughout your degree. Ideally, this help should come in many forms: input on your trajectory during the doctoral program, honest but supportive feedback on your dissertation and on application materials, and institutional guidance. It is crucial to get input on your work at crucial junctures, such as between ending one chapter and starting another, or on materials that you submit as part of your applications for fellowships or for jobs. If you are not receiving critical feedback on your work, be sure to ask for it. On the other hand, if you need more encouragement, it is fine to ask for that, too. Regardless, keep in touch with your advisor and avoid long stretches of time without any communication. This way, not only will your advisor know what you are working on, but you will also know if you are staying on track or if you need more feedback and assistance.

Third, take your time with the dissertation.

The authors of The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy argue that the rapid pace in academia and in contemporary society is not conducive for the long form of research and scholarly writing. Their view applies directly to dissertators as well, who are often interrupted by competing demands and pressures to publish their work quickly. But being slow and deliberate with the long process of research, writing, and revision can allow dissertators to get sufficient feedback from an advisor or committee, to revise, to produce stronger work, and to aim for quality over quantity. And on a related note, taking your time on a dissertation relates to how one thinks of graduate school more broadly. Applying for dissertation funding or teaching opportunities during this crucial stage can allow you to spend this time now to write and get feedback during your graduate school years.

 

Viana Anette Hara, Ph.D. student in Romance Languages, University of Oregon

On Taking Care of Yourself

I have no idea the amount of mental, physical, and emotional energy that the ultimate goal of writing a dissertation requires. I remember attending a workshop on how to initiate your dissertation by organizing material, choosing your project’s topic, and the importance of communication with your advisor—all of these are crucial steps. However, it was not mentioned that physical and mental health are pivotal to accomplish this goal and that life also happens. 

While writing my master’s degree thesis, my beloved dog of 16 years old died. I was already stressed, physically, and mentally. This event caused me great sadness, and I hit a wall on my thesis. Life can happen to all of us in many ways. So what do you do when you are mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted? And, what do you do when life happens while you are writing a thesis or dissertation?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to these questions, but I’d like to share with you some humble suggestions that worked for me and could work for you:

Seek help: It is vital to have a support system, whether it is a family member or someone you trust, or a healthcare professional. Seek help. It is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that you are human, and not only a graduate student. 

Sleep: Sometimes, there is so much to do and not enough time to sleep. But remember that sleep is essential for brain function. Rest makes a difference in mental, emotional, and physical states.

Eat: I am not referring to a diet, but instead, to the mindfulness of nourishing your body. The act of eating away from distraction, including your dissertation is important. Focus on taking care of your body by fueling it with food.

Walk: The act of walking helps the body physically and mentally, and you are moving. It lightens the mood, and it helps support sleep. It is not a strenuous exercise, and it can be done anywhere.

Meditate: I was very skeptical about meditating, but it helped me greatly–physically, emotionally, and cognitively. It is not really about quieting your mind. After all, we are graduate students. We are always thinking. Instead, it is observing those thoughts calmly while being aware and connecting to your body. Great ideas can flourish unconsciously in meditation.

Do it all over again: There is no formula to deal with life’s curveball. Making a habit of these small practices could help you while writing a dissertation or thesis, which you can carry over in other life stages.

 

Ari Wolf 

I’d like to offer some suggestions regarding the MFA thesis project. I completed my MFA in Creative Writing last year with relative ease of mind, and I hope you can learn from whatever small fragments of wisdom I picked up along the way.

First of all, start early.

If you begin writing your MFA thesis during your final year, you are probably going to find yourself far more crunched for time than you expect to be due to one small problem–human inclination to change our minds. Every single person I was in the Master’s program with changed our minds at least two or three times about the topic of our thesis, and often also the genre, timeline, and basically every other significant detail. This is to be expected, but these are not the kinds of questions you want to be asking yourself while going into your final month of your second-to-last semester of your MFA program. These are the kinds of questions to be asking yourself in your third-to-last semester of your MFA program, and to resolve over summer break. That way, when it comes time for you to write your thesis, you can actually write your thesis, instead of spending that time and brainpower trying to make decisions about who is going to narrate your story, and by the way are you going to write a memoir or a hybrid work? 

Second, and this is advice I learned the hard way, keep a separate draft for just yourself, and show this draft to no one.

Look, every class you take in graduate school is an academic class. Your advisor is not G-D, she is a professor, and it is her job to help you with your writing. Listen to what she is telling you. However, if you have only just written the last thirty pages of your draft, and by the way you decided on nonfiction after all, and so you are literally editing stories about your parents and sister…you need a spare draft. Trust me. Mark up the draft you hand in to your professor, make the edits your Thesis Advisor and Reader asked you to make, but hold a draft back for yourself. That way when you inevitably change your mind about story or direction later on, you can refer back to the original copy without finding yourself drawn astray by your need to make the grade. It is necessary to make whatever edits your professors require of you, in order to earn a healthy GPA. It is not necessary to edit your life’s work based on someone else’s feedback that you accept under the duress of GPAs and graduate school aspirations.

Finally, do not kill your darlings, move them.

Whenever I sit down to write a long paper, I keep two documents. One document is my working  draft of my paper. The other document is my “extra” draft, which has every line I wrote and loved but don’t quite have a place for. This is good advice whether you are working on a book or a Literature paper. Write your essay, but hold onto the ‘extra’ you love but can’t use right now. You might come back to it later in your paper, or you might use it to write a different paper altogether. But don’t throw away your words just because you don’t know how to use them quite yet.

Everyone take care, and don’t take this all too seriously.