Michael Karlesky

A cabinet of wonders. Minus the cabinet. And possibly the wonders.

That tunnel? With the light at the end of it? Still pretty gloomy in here…

Upon repeated failures to garner a response, I emailed this to a potential dissertation committee member. I heard back in minutes. He said yes.

Upon repeated failures to garner a response, I emailed this to a potential dissertation committee member. I heard back in minutes. He said yes.

It’s been so long since I’ve written that word has reached me suggesting some of you are wondering as to my well being. I’m still here. Still alive. I am so far out of the habit of writing posts that as time passed it began to weigh on me more and more, preventing me from writing and so yet more time would pass. A vicious circle. In particular, this past summer was especially full and entirely exhausting. This post is as much an update as it is an exercise in breaking that cycle.

I will save my various adventures since my last update for future posts. As a teaser, a sample of said adventures includes: a Broadway show, a conference hosted at Facebook, starting a company over the summer, a camping trip and visit to Storm King sculpture park, a once-a-year tour of a historic airline terminal, a visit to the New York City subway system’s sign shop, a participatory theater production set in a sorta New Age Sci-Fi space colony, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a Hip hop version of the Nutcracker, a visit to the most ridiculous and over-the-top neighborhood Christmas lights you’ve ever seen, and a semi-successful attempt to throw paper airplanes from the top of Rockefeller Center.

At the end of 2013 I wrote about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. That light is still there, but the tunnel feels awfully long, cold, and dim right now. I am told I should expect 12–18 more months to finish. I’ve been done with classes for almost a year. Research projects continue as does the far more recent process of assembling a dissertation committee and finalizing a dissertation proposal.

For a brief few days at the end of the summer I was entertaining quitting my program. That was a dark few days. I wasn’t really serious. It mostly just felt good to fantasize about it.

The dissertation phase of a doctorate program operates differently across disciplines, schools, and continents. Suffice it to say that I have found the process and expectations on me to be less than inspiring and much different than I hoped. I am a misfit in my department and a misfit in my own lab. I have struggled to find and refine a dissertation topic and to maintain much enthusiasm about it. Where I seem to be ending up feels insignificant and far from where I hoped I would finish out this program. Motivation and confidence are scarce while questions and work abound. That said, I hear from friends and others that this is quite a common experience—everyone feels this way at this stage. In fact, my own advisor took a year hiatus at the end of her doctorate program until she was ready to engage her dissertation topic and make it down the path before her.

While I do feel rather down, on the other hand, I know my feelings are not necessarily reality. I try to practice gratitude in remembering how blessed I am to have this opportunity. Precious few in the world get to experience the opportunity I have. And it is also true that I have a truly great dissertation committee (see the list below). They even said that what I am working on “is important.” But to be entirely honest, I have not a clue why they said that! I struggle to make sense of all the feedback, questions, and suggestions they provided when I first presented my proposal—I experienced the proverbial fire hose.

I’m now in the throes of finalizing my dissertation proposal. I’ll share the topic another time once it is better cemented and fully approved. My prayers these days are for diligence, creativity, insight, and perseverance. While the light at the end of the tunnel feels faint, it continues to glow nonetheless.