Thesis Process Deconstructed

Well they accepted my thesis. It’s over.  Read my thesis story and give yourself a pat on the back for encouraging me over the past year writing this beast. 

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I always had a personal interest during my graduate process about working with an idea of fashion or luxury items.  The idea of selective consumerism was interesting and who doesn’t like an item with a label?  Maybe some granolas? No, even they covet the Whole Foods brand and Tom’s.  Finding the type of story I wanted to tell was challenging.  That was until one of my professors sent me a detailed set of current journal articles all about luxury consumption and its economic impact.  This revealed to me the world of conspicuous consumption aka “keeping up with the Jones.” I was fascinated by Thorstein Veblen’s work in the luxury and socio-economic field.  This was my starting point from here I tried to narrow my topic and find an advisor to support this unconventional idea.   Unfortunately, no professors were ready to join my luxury goods interest thesis process and I didn’t really know what to do.  I didn’t want a mathematically biased or financial biased thesis so they were kind of at a loss for what to focus on.  I decided to deal more exclusively with organic beauty items as my cosmetologist background made this area familiar and approachable.  Fortunately for me I took an Environmental Economics class and found a professor who could finally support my interests and get behind my thesis.  An added bonus was that she was a positive female mentor in the economics department – seriously without a female graduate mentor I was sinking fast in my department amongst the male dominated culture.  (Gender – such an influential topic in our decision making processes.)  I decided organic beauty/the environment/gender all had important economic implications and began my journey.  The best advice I received about my thesis was that you wouldn’t know when it was done until it was done.  So true but so hard to accept this truth.  It should be easy to outline a paper and to easily follow said outline to ensure the paper is well organized and completed in a timely fashion.  Well, this is easier said than done and although I had an outline – in fact I had outlines coming out my ears – it was hard to stick to just an outline especially when the social perspective of conspicuous consumption was conveyed.  So I started with what I knew, reading.  I read and read and then read more – journals, books, case studies, articles, websites, and annual reports.  I read until I figured out the story I wanted to tell – err more or less. 

My actual writing began in the late winter of 2012.  I wrote what I considered an amazing 30 pages about the history of the beauty industry and how the organic beauty industry was formed.  These 30 pages still exist in my paper in roughly one to two paragraphs in the first chapter…..  I soon found that what I was writing was not exactly what a thesis is.  From here I re-outlined my main story and started trying to fill in the gaps with you guessed it! More reading! By the start of the Fall 2012 quarter I had a decent introduction and almost all of a first chapter written.  By the end of that quarter (10 weeks) I had chapters 2 and 3 more or less formed.  This was when we actually starting editing.  See, before all those read marks on my paper were just more clarification issues – trying to make the ideas clear to present them.  Now the ideas themselves were being poked, shaped, removed, or morphed to fit the entire paper and my story.  This was hard – cutting out entire pages of writing, expressing my idea in a way that meant something and was not convoluted.  It was painstaking to time and time again remove repeated ideas that I had expressed in a slightly different way.  To work through an idea at first was very clunky and force, but then started becoming easier and more fluid.  The paper shrunk then expanded and before the conclusion was written it was already 80+ pages.  I reorganized Chapter 3 entirely moving topics around and editing content to reflect that.  By this time it was the end of Winter quarter 2013 and I was restless – I wanted to throw together the conclusion and be done.  My ever helpful advisor was there to slap me back to reality – that I would be submitting a paper worthy of submitting not a ‘thrown-together’ version of my original idea.  How dare she want my thesis to be readable, interesting, and worthy of the degree and department!  In the end it took me weeks to write my conclusion – also as if it were the death or slow finality of the process I didn’t know when it would be finished or what that final chapter really meant until suddenly one day it was done.  Just like the advice I had received before my thesis journey, it was finally over and I knew my paper was whole. 

With some slight edits to the conclusion it was time to send it off to my defense committee.  Who had been patiently waiting since Fall 2012 for my thesis since at the end of each quarter I would have to send them an email telling everyone it was not ready yet – sorry for getting their hopes up.  This, believe it or not, was less than a month ago.  The defense which was two weeks ago was brutal.  In every sense of the meaning it was brutal.  My ideas, my paper, “my baby” was ripped apart – every hole or unmentioned topic was brought up and my thesis looked to me more like a festering sore than something clean and cherished.  There was a moment in my defense during the comments portion as a feminist economist brought up the lack of pessimism in my thesis regarding gender equality that I really thought I was going to fail.  But, after further discussion, the comments portion was more or less exploring where my paper could go – given a future dissertation or a book.  Each member seemed excited about the possibility of further research and writing (which was encouraging).  Then I was told I just had a few revisions to work on and it would be finished. 

Thankfully it only took the better part of my lunch break the following week to finish the items we discussed for revision.  The formatting of the paper was actually the most difficult part of the paper for me and required two nights of edits to make everything consistent with school guidelines.  But then I finally got the all clear that it was finished.  I submitted it and now it is over.  It’s finally over.

There were so many emotions during this process.  Sometimes I felt like I was writing garbage – that my topic did not matter at all and that my ideas were not related to economics.  Thank God I had enough people behind me supporting me and telling me to push onward.  I believe my Dad was the person to just tell me to buckle down and get it done (well he may have been a little more forceful and direct with his word choice)– and finally I listened and did.  This process humbled me as a writer and showed me that even a graduate student can feel as bright as a bag of hammers.  In the end I’m happy I’m done – I’m pleased with my 100+ page project.  It’s been a hell of a year plus a few months and I can’t wait to focus more of my writing energy on this blog and not my thesis.

Hopefully I will be able to post a copy of my thesis here – I’m unsure if DU will be okay with that since they technically own my thesis because I was their little academic mignon for so long.  I doubt many would really want to read it – I don’t know maybe some of you would want to read it.  It’s strange to be done, but I’m overwhelmed with the end being here.  Finally I can stop procrastinating my thesis writing and my life and move forward with whatever I chose. Oh and I guess if I feel super egotistical I can be one of those people who writes MA after my name.  Brianna Connelly MA.  Hmmm Brianna Connelly PhD still looks better. 

Careful – a cautionary tale of fitting in – TattoosandTarts style.

I started my graduate process officially 3 years ago, but before that I had anticipated graduate school pretty much right after I graduated with my undergraduate degree.  I loved my undergraduate economics department so I made the simple (if not lazy) choice to just go back to the department I was so fond of.

Graduate school was hard.  I’m talking about days when I couldn’t even understand material and therefore questioned my whole purpose and place in economics.  There were weeks of time, specifically, when I did NOT pass an Advanced Microeconomics class that made me feel like I was dying mentally and physically.  My ‘academic’ ego was so damaged during this time that I even contemplated if I could finish the program.  I was really hard on myself about this too.  I had never ever done poorly in school and to not pass a class was devastating.  Never mind the fact I was working at a very demanding start up oil and gas company, starting my serious relationship with The Dude, and trying to give 100% in every area – feeling like I was half-assing it all.

I did ‘alright’ in most of the classes and really well in less than a handful.  Classes were tough, the material was sometimes written in a special economics code that I could not decipher without looking at it for days or weeks sometimes, and I made it harder by not blending in to the academic economics culture.  My ‘re-do’ of the Adv. Micro class resulted in an A for me and a much better relationship with my graduate peers, professors, and my academic self.  I also quit my job and focused on school like I should have done to begin with. But, fitting-in made the difference.

This is the thing I have regrets about.  “Fitting in”  – I’ve never really fit in anywhere.  High School? Nope.  Undergraduate? Had a ton of great awesome friends, but didn’t really have ‘place’.  Hair School?  Definitely not – but everyone at hair school is an example of not fitting in.  I waltzed into graduate orientation with my ‘hair stylist’ attitude – tattoos showing, alternative thinking, and damn proud to rub ‘my identity’ in anyone’s face.  That, with working and not physically being able to be at school to ‘bond’ led me to be alone.  This stunk because I wasn’t there for the ‘break-thru’ mind melding sessions that allowed everyone else to do WAY better than me.  There were two professors that understood me and knew my potential and my background – the others I had never taken a class with and my demeanor or perhaps my gender made them standoffish and not approachable for me.  This made things really hard.  I could pout even more and say they discriminated me because of my tattoos, my gender, and my lifestyle, but I isolated and discriminated myself.  If I had ‘toned’ down my identity and censored certain parts of my life, I probably would have finished graduate school in 2 years instead of a grueling never-ending 3.  I know what you’re thinking – ‘whatever if they don’t accept you then forget them’  well that kind of thinking doesn’t apply to the people who determine your academic future.  It also doesn’t apply to your employer and ultimately I am glad I learned this hard lesson of censorship in school and not by being ‘discriminated’ against at a job.

I have learned to censor my life and leave some things hidden and secret – no one at work knows I’m heavily tattooed and I like it that way.  There are not assumptions made (good or bad), comments made, or incidents that could be avoided if I had just toned it down.  I don’t feel like I am pretending to be someone else – or hiding my true identity.  I’m simply ‘fitting-in’ – now don’t worry I’m not going to start shopping at Ralph Lauren or Abercrombie anytime soon, but it’s nice to fit in with your professional peers. It’s easy.

I spent two and a half years being angry at graduate school culture, but ultimately I was mad that I could have done something to change it instead of feel like I was suffering.  We have choices we can make to make our lives easier and harder. In my field of work, alternative lifestyles are not normal or easy to lead successfully in the open.  This may change, it may not.  But, I know that by not being so loud my life, my potentials are no longer limited.  Plus when the whistle blows, I can take off my sweater and proudly show my beautiful tattoos and be me without sacrificing the career potentials for a rare tattooed-crafter-blogger-furmama-goofball economist like me.