PhD Update 2

It’s been a few months since I posted an update (see previous) on my PhD project.

As it stands today, my funding runs out on the 31st of July – which is functionally my deadline, even though technically I have until the 31st of October. Hoping I’ll be able to get an extension to make sure everything is up to the kind of standard I want to be held to. We’ll see about that in due time – I certainly have good cause for an extension (though I can’t really talk about that here).

I have five chapters at advanced draft stage, one with a very rough mostly complete draft, and one that doesn’t yet exist in any meaningful way. The current word count is 43676, which seems low, given that the maximum limit is 80000. However, the chapter that is partially drafted still needs approx. 2000 words, and the non-existent chapter will be around 7500. The introduction and conclusion altogether will be around 10000 as well, so the final word count for the first draft will be about 65000 – which gives me a healthy ceiling for editing and clarifying things.

I had the somewhat regretful realisation that I am not likely to go to any more conferences during my PhD. The only one I am considering still is the meeting of the Australasian Association of Philosophy in July. But then, given my tight deadlines, that’s looking like a bad idea – I certainly wouldn’t have much time to prepare a new paper.

With that realisation comes the more worrying one, that from August, I might no longer ever have an academic job of any sort. I don’t yet know how I feel about that. On the one hand, I’ve been working towards that for about ten years; on the other, it’s not like I didn’t know that there isn’t really a job market any more. More on that as the situation develops.

In more positive news, a group of which I was one of the founding members, the Friends of Mary Astell, held its first meeting at the recent APA Eastern meeting in Philadelphia. It was heartening to see so much interest in Astell’s philosophy. Incidentally, she’ll be the focus of the yet-nonexistent chapter, and I look forward to immersing myself in her ideas for a while. She was great.

Umberto Eco’s Advice for Compiling a Research Bibliography

umberto ecoI’ve been in a bit of a rut with my own research lately. It was nothing devastating (though it certainly seemed so at the time), but it showed me the necessity of stepping back and re-evaluating and re-thinking a big chunk of my thesis. This prompted me to further go back and reach for Umberto Eco’s How to Write A Thesis. Over the next few days I’ll write up some of the things I find most interesting as I get through this text. So far it’s a trove of useful advice!

Today I’ll start with his advice for beginning a working bibliography. I’ve expanded on it a little bit, including both what I’ve learned works for me, but also what I think would be acceptable given more modern research methods (in humanities). Most of this is in Chapter 3 of the book.

  1. Start with a preliminary search of the library catalogue. Don’t just search for the exact research topic you’re interested in, but also surrounding ideas and concepts.
  2. Once you have a number of sources, skim through the relevant chapters/sections and copy down their bibliographies (be exact and complete).
  3. Cross-check these with some general reference works on the topic to see which works are cited most often. This will help establish a preliminary hierarchy and give priority to the readings.
  4. Write down the full bibliographical details for each source on a separate index card (Endnote or Mendelay will do that these days).
  5. To avoid duplicating sources, organise them alphabetically by author’s name. These days Endnote or Mendeley will do such things automatically. A spreadsheet will also do nicely.
  6. Annotate this bibliography with details of where to find the text (i.e. what library if you search in multiple places) and its call number at the library.
  7. Once complete, the bibliography should be organised according to the hierarchy. That is, must-read and important texts should be flagged somehow (something Endnote and Mendeley will excel at – you can just chuck a bunch of references into their own folder) and given priority.

I really love this approach to building a bibliography, and I really love the idea of building an index card library, like Eco suggests. Even if it isn’t entirely practical, there is something romantic about it. My own approach is to build a working bibliography as I go along in Endnote. I’m horrified that I’ll accidentally delete the file one day though. But then, I’ve got ten backups.