Monthly Archives: March 2012

And then there was…a completed dissertation!!

This past Monday marked a monumental moment in my life: I finally (and successfully) defended my dissertation, now officially making me Dr. Johnson. Well, I suppose I technically have to walk across the stage and get the actual Ph.D. come May, but for now I’m basking in the glory of finally making it so to speak.

As I sit here pondering this monumental moment, I am left amazed. Amazed I have come this far, amazed that after five years in graduate school I have finally come to this: the end. But really, it is just the beginning. As I wrap up my time here at Baylor in the small city (town?) of Waco, I am left amazed. I’m amazed at the love and support from countless friends and family members I’ve had along the way. I have spent many a disgruntled late night studying for an exam or trying to get a data set to work or just moaning on the floor while I thought about actually having to finish the dang document (i.e., the dreaded dissertation). And all along the way, I had fellow graduate students/ friends/ colleagues and loved ones who groaned right along side me, knowing how painful it could be at times. I’m amazed at the good friendships I have made in my time here and even more amazed at how much my life has changed over the course of graduate school.

At the start of year one in my graduate program, I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a social psychologist. I was just “trying it out.” Now, five years later, I am obsessed with my job – I LOVE it. And I’ve grabbed some amazing things along the way. Most notably my best friend and dear husband, Patrick, whom I married last May. And so I sit here, ready for the beginning, not the end. I thought getting my Ph.D. would feel so final, so “end of the road,” but really it just makes me feel like a million new exciting possibilities are opening up for me. It’s a hopeful feeling.

The next step for me is to wrap up my time and life here in Waco and head to the big city (quite literally – moving to NYC) for my new job at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine as a researcher in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. It is so weird to think of moving forward, and yet I can feel that my time here is done. Like the end of a good chapter, so is my life here at Baylor. My time here is coming to a wonderful, beautiful close. I am ending on a happy note with the city of Waco. But I am excited to start the next chapter of my life, where the girl who’s spent far too much time in an office with no windows (this still kills me) gets to see even more of the world. It’s a new step in so many ways for me. Wait a second. Come to think of it, my new job doesn’t have a window either. But you get it – figuratively I’m seeing more as I move to NYC. And there everything will be new. A new city. A new line of research. A new job. A new way of living. But I am excited. With my Ph.D. in my hand (well, figuratively), I am joyously ready for the next step in the adventure. Thank you to all of you who have loved and supported me along the way. This has been an accomplishment that I truly could not have done without each of you.

Oh yeah, writing and creativity are social acts

In my mind, writing has always been this mysterious, God-inspired and God-given talent. I always imagined myself at a beautiful desk, overlooking a huge bay window out onto either: 1) a glorious mountain scene, 2) beautiful beach, or 3) the French countryside. I mean that’s how all of the great artists and writers of history have done it, right? There’s Van Gogh and Monet, who were both inspired by the brilliant and radiant light of the Provencal South of France. And I mean, come on – what about 1920s Paris with Ernest Hemingway and the gang? (Side note: I have to remember the fact that Van Gogh cut his own stinking ear off and Hemingway was one of the most depressed individuals alive. I’d say they didn’t have it so well and still managed to create brilliant works.) Clearly I need to be either in a thriving metropolitan city or, even more preferably, tucked away in the beauty of nature. It’s there, I’ve always imagined, that my brilliant ideas which are oh so, so, so hidden would poor forth. Birds would sing, I’d sip my warm comforting cup of tea, and then God would gently send down His angels, and they would all tell me exactly what to write. In fact, my work would finally be so brilliant I wouldn’t even recognize it as mine.

Enter reality.

How my writing actually feels

How does my writing go in reality? I BARELY make it out the door with said warm cup of tea. In fact, getting the tea (and lunch) made in time to get out the door stresses me out. It has the exact opposite effect of what I want it to have. But I still want that dang cup of warm tea to so that it can freaking comfort me when I roll into my office.  I roll into my office, somewhere around 8:15-8:30am, although my intention is always to be there by 8:00am. This rarely happens, and when it does, I reward myself by not doing anything of substance for the first 15 minutes of work, thus completely nullifying any effects this earlier arrival time may have had. I keep going, reminding myself I’ve already gotten in an hour-long workout and shower in before this. That has to be an achievement, right? I make up achievements so that I can feel like I’m achieving. The denial and lying to myself already start. It’s only 8:30am.

I normally then have to go teach class. But I don’t want to. I’ve got to get my writing in so I don’t feel so horrible about myself all day. But alas, my students call and I go teach. I’m invigorated. This feels good. Wait. They’re not laughing at my jokes. They have blank stares. I’m not connecting with them. How do I connect? How can I be more interesting? Defeat sets in again. But sometimes, I have amazing days and my students and I create this exciting synergy. I love those days.

Enter back into office. STOP STARING AT ME COMPUTER. I know I need to write. But first I’ll grade. Yes – grading is important. Once grading is finished, I look at my white board with all of my “to do” tasks for the week. I start to take on as many small (and generally less important) tasks so that I can check things off. I’m obsessed with that; it’s the achiever in me. I often do this all day until in the last 30 minutes to hour of my workday, I finally get some writing in to get it out of the way and say I did it. But at this point in the day, it’s not very productive writing time.

But something has changed today, and I’m hoping that change will remain. After meeting and chatting with Paul Silvia, author of How to Write a Lot and visiting scholar on campus, I had a revelation. He said something that really stuck with me: “Creativity is a social act.” He talked about how almost all ideas and creativity are created outside of ourselves by interacting with other people. Through talking with people, meeting people at conferences, reading journal articles (interacting with our field), etc., we can begin to get “a-ha!” moments or moments of insight. And it suddenly hit me that I’ve been trying to write and be creative without making it a social act.

So today I tried something new. I tried reading several journal articles to get my juices flowing and get me excited about writing up this 8-study manuscript on which I am currently working. Some of the articles were directly related to my sub-field. Some were completely un-related. None were directly related to my research project. But it did something to me. It got me excited about getting my ideas out there to the world and to interact with my colleagues in this social world of learning. It reminded me what a great article looks like to model and base my own writing off of. And strangely, it gave me the energy and inspiration I needed to write.

So I’m trying something new the next couple of weeks to get me going during my writing time. I am going to ritualize my writing time by starting off reading 1-2 articles. This way, I’ll be tapping into the exciting field of research and getting pumped about my own research. Additionally, it’s less anxiety-provoking to “start” my writing time because I’m actually reading, which I can do anytime and not feel anxious about it (unless it’s advanced-level calculus-based derivative formulas for my Item Response Theory course, then I’m anxious). I’ll see if it works, but I’m hopeful. It’s been a long time since I felt this way about my writing. I actually wanted to write today as opposed to forcing myself to do it. Both are good and needed at different times, but I hope this pushes me toward enjoying the writing process a little more. And although I don’t have my scenery, I know I can still write in the ordinary places. I must choose to see the beauty and brilliance of the world around me. I must remember that writing is a social act. Our writing is nothing without the world and minds around us.