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The Dissertation Marathon

April 6, 2009

I’m getting close (hopefully) to submitting my dissertation proposal (on music corpus visualization, natch).  This has been something that’s been a goal of mine for a long time, and I feel like my enthusiasm alone has carried me up to this point.  So, maybe I feel lucky that only recently have I started to feel very run down and disenchanted with the process of writing/editing/reviewing for 4-6 hours everyday.

Anyways, I’ve started doing some things that I think help greatly, and since many of my friends/colleagues are also going through this same process, and mentioned the same problems, I thought I could share some of what I’ve started doing that seems to help.  I’ll give them here in order of importance:

  1. Mood:  It’s really easy to get into weird mood swings, particularly if you’re like me, and are no longer on campus, and don’t have a bunch of others around to keep you in check.  If you have serious emotional problems, then this advice is not for you.  However, I think most people will go through some sort of strange mood while writing, it’s just part of the process.  What has helped me a lot in this area has been a simple amino acid called L-Methionine.  This is a biochemical precursor to Sam-e, a more expensive natural hormone related to joint strength and mood control.  I take L-Methionine, and have noticed a marked improvement in mood with no adverse side effects.  I realize of course that all of this is unproven according to the FDA, and some people consider it useless.  However, it is perfectly safe.  YMMV.
  2. Sleep: I’ve always had problems sleeping, and it gets worse when I travel.  Some of my collegaues suggested Melatonin, which they use to get over jet lag.  I have to give it my endorsement as well.  I’ve tried prescription strength sleep aids, but this is far better.  No side-effects, non-habit forming, and it doesn’t even make me dangerously drowsy.  I just feel ready to go to sleep, and sleep better than I do without it.
  3. Exercise:  It’s remarkable to me how exercise can change my mental state.  It only takes about 30 min. of jogging, etc. before I have a new perspective on things.  It’s also my “canary in the coal mine” for my weekly routine.  If I’m not having a good workout, it usually means I’m not getting enough sleep, or not eating right, etc.  Then it’s time for a change.
  4. Diet:  Some people are able to control all of these factors with diet and exercise.  More power to them.  I like more of  a variety, so I tend to eat whatever I want (within reason).  I’ve got nothing really profound here:  the wrong kinds of food can throw everything off kilter, so it’s good to be aware of how they affect you.  Generally, I eat first, and ask questions later.  It doesn’t get me into too much trouble.

Anyways, these are just tips that seem to work for me, and aren’t supposed to be a guideline.  I also don’t consider myself one of the “all-natural” crowd, nor do I endorse any sort of chemical stimulant/barbituate (everything I’ve referenced here has weaker side effects than caffeine/tylenol pm).  Writing the dissertation is shaping up to be a long, drawn out affair, and I’m very aware of the percentage of people who end up being A.B.D, which may be as high as 50% in some areas.  I just am going to use every tool I have available, and wanted to share them as well.

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