Eight Crazy Nights – Looking back at the Road Home

Firstly, I would like to start this post by indicating that the minor delay between this post and my last has been intentional. The obvious stress, fatigue, anxiety and uncertainty that dominated my previous post (while important to have documented, in retrospect) actually frightened me from blogging temporarily! and it prompted me to briefly resort back to the good ol’ personal diary for a week.. So – since completing my previous blog post, i decided to leave the blog-o-sphere for the final 8 days of my research process, so I could truly put 100 percent energy into my study and attempt to resolve all of the issues addressed regarding my conclusion.

While I had never written a thesis prior to this one, my final week of Honours gave me the feeling that research in all of its extended forms (phd, masters, honours etc.) truly reaches its apex in the final weeks before a deadline. Over the course of “eight crazy nights”, I managed to: heavily condense the wordcount of my thesis (with some help from my supervisor); complete a concise conclusion to a pleasing standard; learn how to use a nightmare-inducing computing software to present my thesis (and do so successfully) and break some unbelievable personal records (which i will discuss further).

Aware that I was going to do a “superblog post” to tie off the semester, I decided to make a conscious effort to engage in some regular photo taking during the home stretch, so that i could document the nature and texture of my research experience throughout the final week of work on my thesis, and make it easier for readers to understand this research diary entry.. Hopefully the pictures allow for some further insight.

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Necessity: Coffee consumed every day . Two in the morning and one or more in the afternoon.

As trivial as it seems, coffee has been a major component of my research experience this semester. Its stimulating effects have been central to my concentration, allowing me to stay focused on the task at hand, and I genuinely think my level of productivity has increased when coffee has been involved. But then again, maybe that’s just what the coffee wants me to believe…. Placebo or no, its been enjoyable complementing my research with some of Melbourne’s finest lattes. Particularly in the final weeks before submission!

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Conclusion – draft number four was a particularly useful one, crafted in the Honours lab with some assistance from my good friend, the bodum coffee plunger. Was full of good material that I used in my final edit

I certainly had a lot of anxiety surrounding the process of writing my conclusion, perhaps unnecessarily so. I continued to feel as though the conclusion could not be properly written out until I was confident that i had completely finished the body of my work, which was not really the case. I set myself up in my introduction to present six guidelines that served as considerations for contemporary artists to keep in mind, if they were to pursue the release of a concept album in the digital age. What i needed to remind myself of in the process of writing my conclusion was that these guidelines were perhaps the most important element of it, and really needed drafting, care and attention.

I presented these alongside a summation of the work that had come in the body of my work, as well as clear discussion about what I felt that future scholars needed to address with concept albums; what I hadn’t had time to address in my own work; and what I would like to do in any further research on concept albums. I also tried to outline how my understanding of concept albums had changed through the research process, and used my six guidelines to interrogate how important concept albums are to music culture. Writing with these sorts of prompts in mind was made easier by pulling out the highlighter and reading my thesis on paper – finding the key threads so that I could be concise and not over-complicate things.

The Honours lab has been a fantastic research environment to work within this semester, with some passages of my thesis that I am particularly fond of emerging over the course of numerous sessions in lab-lockdown. There have been a number of days where the support of “the brotherhood” has been extremely valuable, using the classroom area of the lab to set up for full days, with a list of goals we wanted to achieve, and working closely to some strict “pomodoro” guidelines and a daily time management plan in order to fulfill the goals. This allowed us to avoid procrastination, and also find time to eat meals and take breaks to rejuvenate ourselves where appropriate.

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There were times when the rigors of Honours got the better of us.. Jason and I found the time on Monday to have a lay down and rejuvenate ourselves for the evening ahead.

One of the toughest things to contend with as the deadline drew nearer was the obvious lack of sleep that many of us in the Honours cohort were subject to. I love sleep, and I know how it can benefit the clarity of my thoughts and enhance the quality of my work – but in the final weeks of the thesis writing process, I could not help but feel like I was not going to achieve my goals if I didn’t put myself to bed late and pull myself out of bed early each day – to maximise the time available for me to work. Naps on the Honours floor or on the beanbags in the lab were wonderful when we allowed ourselves to have them – but more often than not, in my case anyhow, the feeling of fatigue was an excuse for another coffee and to try and pull myself out of the rut.

The circumstances under which I worked in the last three days of the thesis writing process were less than preferable, and are likely to go down in Honours folklore. With the design software InDesign shrieking my name as i tried to go to sleep, and yelling “Don’t use Word, Use me!”, I felt like it was necessary to give the software a chance and try and learn the ropes with it to give my thesis a more “spiffy” appearance and layout (as Adrian has called it).

I left for Uni at 5.30am on Wednesday morning (23rd of october) and arrived at the Honours lab with a big coffee in hand by 7.30am to start laying things out in InDesign. That I would not be packing up to leave the lab until 6pm on Thursday (24th october) was the furthest thing from my expectations – and with no such nap to speak of in the 36 hours that went by in that time, i was truly “the walking dead” by the time i went to bed after 40 hours of being awake at 10pm on Thursday night.

An hour by hour documentation of the constant frustration and anger I felt throughout the two days i spent preparing my thesis in InDesign would certainly make for an interesting read.. but I would likely self-destruct in the process of writing it. My thesis was finished, and I had a folder full of images prepared to accompany it. Yet InDesign continued to confront me with overset text, anchored images, formatting issues and UNEXPECTED ERRORS that erased much of the work i had done. It is a miracle that by 2pm on Friday I finally felt at ease with the presentation of my thesis and was ready to print!

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With some advice from Steve, a new favourite snack was discovered. BANANA AND PEANUT BUTTER. This became breakfast almost every day and seemed to have positive effects on my morning productivity..

The above caption makes things pretty clear.. breakfast is important.

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Thursday afternoon was always going to be “cutting it fine” for my first visit to the printers.. but having been awake for nearly 40 hours and successfully laid out my front cover – i had faith – and I’m glad that was the case. Auscopy went through numerous complimentary sample prints for me and ensured that my front cover and key pages would be printed just the way I wanted.

While I am by no means a graphic designer and am certainly not renowned for my art or photography skills etc. – I had never put as much work into anything uni-related before as this thesis, and I did not want to skimp out on the presentation and appearance of the thesis as an artifact. Having a friend like Steve around the lab was extremely beneficial in this regard, with his keen eye for design.

For weeks I had been flirting with the idea of presenting my thesis like a “concept album” of sorts, to amplify the effectiveness of the message it contained. However, I didn’t believe that I had the time available, nor the know-how, to pull off such a feat. I asked Steve what his thoughts were on manipulating two key images that I was working with (the first being the record label of Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick”, and the second being an image of a computer motherboard) to evoke the idea of a vinyl record, and it was not long before he assured me that a great design was in fact possible. This kind of support has been constant throughout the Honours Lab all semester, and it has been so valuable for each of us to have friends from a variety of media and communication-based backgrounds to bounce ideas off and seek help from.

By 6pm Thursday, I was heading to the printers (functioning on 36 waking hours and 7 coffees) to experiment with some prints on transparent paper for the first time. With the cover pages finalised by 6.45 – it was time to head home and get some much needed rest, knowing that I would need to complete the PDF of my thesis on Friday (there were a few changes still to be made in InDesign). I hoped to be ready for printing by 2pm on Friday afternoon, so that i would have enough time to get the thesis thermal bound at 3pm, for a 5pm submission. CUTTING IT FINE

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With my transparent cover design printed out, i had some fun experimenting with it.. Misplaced childhood became a misplaced image – but one i rather liked.

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3pm Friday – heart racing. Printing complete. Covers ready to go. Time for Binding!

If I could have had my time again, I certainly would have commenced the InDesign editing process earlier to avoid eating away so heavily at the time I had available for sleeping. I also would not have left the printing process until the final day.. (I did intend to print on Thursday night, but once I noticed some of the “bad edits” i had made in my sleepless state of mind – I knew that it was lucky I didn’t rush into printing and I am glad i left it for that one additional day).

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Here you can more easily see the design of my front cover – a 1970s record label enshrouded in a web of computer chips – as if to symbolise to existence of concept albums in two different eras, 40 years apart (and also to indicate the re-emergence of vinyl as a prominent medium of distribution in the digital age)

It is hard to describe the surreal feeling that buzzed through me as I headed upstairs from the Honours lab at 4.45pm Friday to submit my Honours thesis. I submitted three copies (totaling nearly 50,000 words) of a year’s worth of engrossing study and research down the chute in an instant, and the sense of relief I felt is something I will never forget.

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That said.. I must admit that I have been quite afraid to open up my personal copy of the thesis and read it closely (in fear of editing errors and mistakes) now that it has been submitted. I wonder if this is how most researchers feel at the completion of such a significant body of work? It felt as though the research was done, and there was nothing more that I could do, so the approach I chose to adopt was one of oblivion. The waiting game..

I reflect upon the final eight nights of my study process and shake my head in disbelief at the hours I put in to complete the thesis, and the associated sleep deprivation that came with the territory. It was nothing short of crazy! But the memory that overpowers it all, and makes the process feel so worthwhile, is the feeling of relief associated with leaving Building 9 on Friday with the work no longer in my hands, and a big grin on my face.

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Here – i leave you with one of the happiest moments of my year. Photo courtesy of Wil Polson, my brother in submission.

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Conclusions

The time has come to conclude my thesis, my labour of love for so much of this past year. Fittingly, finishing this task will also serve as the conclusion of my honours year – sending in the work for printing and leaving it in the hands of the big man! A lot of talk has circulated in the Honours lab recently about making that switch from writer to reader, and edit accordingly.. It seems as though it is one of the main distinctions between a good researcher and a great researcher. I just wish I could handle it better..

I’m feeling some pretty extreme angst at the moment, now only a fraction more than a week away from submission. I have been throwing everything I have got at the process of editing my thesis down to size, even attempting to shift large quantities of contextualising information to an appendix.. but I still have a lengthy monster on my hands.. worse yet, it is one without a conclusion.
Writing about the contemporary music scene, and the position of concept albums within it, has been comparatively more simple than writing about the 1970s and 1980s eras (Jethro Tull and Queensrÿche). This is because I operate within the current scene as a progressive rock musician and have engaged closely with the trends effecting it for quite a few years now, particularly since starting university four years ago. Consequently, I have had a harder time editing out words in my 1990s and 2000s case studies (Radiohead and Coheed and Cambria), but I realise that a lot of the material there can perhaps be shelved for future writing endeavours.
I do, however, read back over my case studies of these earlier eras and realise just how much I have learned from exploring the technological states of the music industry in those decades and the social/political/cultural affairs that these bands sought to address in their concept albums.
Now that it has come to the point at which my focus needs to switch to the writing of my conclusion and the editing of my bibliography, I feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of material that still needs to be axed from the body of my work. I am realising that there are so many thoughts, ideas and key concepts that need to be tied off and succinctly addressed in the conclusion in order to make my desired claims convincing, and deliver a fitting finale for the year of research.
This afternoon, I had a “click moment” that perhaps explains why this task seems so daunting – it’s the sheer scale of the work.. As a 21 year old student straight out of my Bachelor Degree and into the demanding world of Honours, the reality is that I have never dealt with such a large piece of work before – and it is natural that I should find it harder to control the amount of research material that I have compiled. Before I commenced Honours, the longest academic essay I had ever written was 5000 words. Of course the task of piecing together 12-15000 well-developed, well-referenced, thoughtful and academically correct words was not going to be easy!
While at the start of the year I genuinely feared that I might not be able to compile enough words to fulfil the submission guidelines.. the amount of research I have undertaken to prevent such a fear from becoming a reality has left me with an entirely different problem – having too much material to cohesively and concisely address in my Honours Thesis! With one and a half weeks left to go to complete my editing and appropriately format my bibliography, the simple solution is to throw EVERYTHING I have left to give at this. I want to finish the year and be able to say that I was the best researcher that I could possibly be.

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Conclusion planning

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Brain pain

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Conclusion ideas

Find reblogged here a useful blog post from Professor Pat Thomson, which shares some nice ideas to help those of us who are struggling to  structure their thesis conclusion (raises hand)..

after a day of doubt and anxiety, these pointers should help me build a conclusion ‘roadmap’ that may allow me to more clearly articulate my arguments and ensure that I am not introducing new material or irrelevant content in my conclusion

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Any of you who watch cooking programmes will know the cheffy talk about mise-en-place. It’s a term used to describe all the various kinds of preparation that need to be done in order to whip up something that can be described as “freshly cooked to order”. In reality many restaurant meals have components that are precooked and cut into the right portion sizes – they need only to be added, heated, stirred and assembled, with a minimum of actual cooking time between order and service. That you don’t have to wait too long for your food is down to lots of mise-en-place.

The notion of mise-en-place is also helpful in thesis writing. There is a lot of preparation than can be done before a draft text is begun. And just as in cooking, the more preparation you do, the quicker and less painful the actual writing time involved.

It…

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Rower’s Dilemma

Lately I have been feeling a little bit unsure of myself as a researcher – However, as I have found in my previous posts, I feel that I am able to more easily express these feelings by comparing my research processes to an entirely different endeavor. The current dilemma is that I do not know which stream I need to follow in order to row my academic kayak to the island of thesis enlightenment: The editing stream or the writing stream?

It’s no longer a secret to the blog-o-sphere that I’ve ‘overwritten’ my thesis.. It feels as though I’ve been out rowing for too long in less than ideal conditions, and there is now a bit too much rainwater weighing down the boat, preventing me from smoothly gliding through the ripples of the river..

As it stands, my draft exceeds the required word length significantly and is not particularly concise, but within it are most of the points that I am hoping to get across. While I have left myself with the task of editing down this dense and detailed thesis.. there are still key sections (try introduction and conclusion on for size) that require much more attention from a ‘writing perspective’.. Do I keep on rowing in the heavy boat and see if I can make it to the island if the conditions improve (writing)? Or do I pull the boat up to the side of the river to catch my breath, empty the rainwater and patch up the boat’s leaks and dings (editing) first?

While some of my peers suggest that just going ahead with the writing is a positive idea – others (myself included) understand that when the task of cutting words down is already oceansize: adding to the challenge is somewhat counterproductive.. Besides – won’t my conclusion arguments be made stronger once i have well written, streamlined chapters to navigate??

No matter the approach, this past week has been stressful.. I have been caught in this slipstream, which has been dragging me in the direction of one canal and then the other.. While at first I just kept on rowing along – allowing the currents to steer me at their own will – Yesterday, I sought some nourishment on the shore, and the boat benefited from a patch up and some time to dry out in the sun…

My focus shifted to the ‘housekeeping things’: addressing presentation ideas, refining in-text references and working through my bibliography and discography etc. This is because my supervisor has warned me not to edit too brutally on my work just yet.. I need to drain some of the pollution from the ocean before it is safe to keep swimming in it.. But I need to be sure that I know exactly what is polluting the water and what is not..

With so much content in the thesis – i do run the risk of editing out or ‘butchering’ certain passages which i may dismiss quickly after one glance, only to realise later that they may actually be pivotal to my broader arguments.. TODAY, however, is a milestone day that i have been waiting eagerly for: a sunny, peaceful day for me to take on the “editing stream”. My supervisor has been gazing over my first completed thesis draft this week and is ready to offer some feedback.. So I think from here, the editing process should be made slightly easier – I hope that soon enough, “the island” will be in sight.. I can’t wait to pull the kayak up to the shore and dive head first into its beautiful waters.

All rights reserved to Thomas Peschak

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The Barbershop Approach to Editing my Thesis

This morning, as I read over the draft version of my Honours thesis with only 3 weeks to go until submission, i continue to feel anxious. I feel like the effort I have put into my Honours year, as well as my personal development as a researcher, is evident in the work. But I know that I have significantly exceeded the wordcount and have to work some miracles in order to cut my thesis down to size.

To do this, I need to remain objective, so as not to lose sight of the central things that I really want to communicate to my readers.. the things that make the thesis interesting to read, and the things that make it ‘work’.

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One of the case studies in my thesis is concerned with the American progressive rock band, Coheed and Cambria, who have released a discography consisting entirely of concept albums.

As it stands at the moment – I feel as though my thesis could be likened to the hair of Coheed and Cambria’s lead singer and chief songwriter, Claudio Sanchez:

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It’s really cool! But………

I do feel like my thesis makes a statement. It is rather unique and i am of course, personally attached to it. But in all seriousness, It would greatly benefit from a serious trim, as there is just too much of it!

To put things into ‘hair terms’ – it is currently too wooly, thick and scruffy: and in need of some close attention with the scissors and razor.. I need to try and stop seeing the editing process as a “battle” and embody the mindset of a barber – treating every chapter as a gentleman and giving each the neat and tidy haircut they deserve: assuring they get their money’s worth.

Once I have served all of these clients, and the snipped hair has been swept up and thrown in the dustbin, I hope that the end result of my thesis will be like one giant MOHAWK: held up tidily with plenty of gel (references and interesting personal views), minimal frays and strays (unclear or unsupported arguments) – and with even distribution of perfectly cut hair extending from the forehead to the upper back (with the central threads of my argument evident to my readers from start to finish).

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That is correct – i would like my thesis to resemble the haircut of this little badass

Is the amount of studying I am doing driving me crazy? I think so…

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All aboard the Edit train – departing: constantly

This morning as I sat on the train into Uni, planning out the day of intense editing that lay ahead – I felt some unease as I thought of the considerable amount of work that I still have to do, with just over three weeks until the submission deadline…

However, as i discovered from the process of writing out my previous blog post, which became a creative writing piece that likened the task of heavily editing down my thesis to fighting out a war: it does make you feel somewhat better when you can externalise your anxious thoughts and set some clear goals about what you want to achieve next.

I am coming to terms with the fact that my paper, as it currently exists, is much too long for an Honours thesis.. and at least until it has been considerably cut down to size – i have to refrain from doing too much writing, so I don’t overcomplicate the editing process for myself.

I am going to need to leave some ideas behind entirely and start swinging the editor’s axe more ruthlessly if I am to meet the submission guidelines required, because no matter how hard I try to condense the entire paper with small and fiddly edits here and there – it is still going to be too long, and may overwhelm my examiners.

This is certainly a process that I can learn a lot from. My supervisor has reiterated the fact that editing your own work effectively is an extremely demanding task.. and it is precisely the reason that professional editors stay in business! But i am determined to fulfill the needs of the task to the best of my abilities..

Deciding what needs to be left behind is the challenge.

In my paper, which explores the development of concept albums and their ability to reflect the technological and socio-cultural contexts of their time – i have attempted to provide a chronological framework that traces the concept album from the 1970s through to the 2000s. I begin with an introduction, followed by a literature review, and then providing case studies of releases from each decade (4 chapters), each of which explores the two streams of thought mentioned above. My conclusion should then tie everything together and propose a guiding criteria of considerations that contemporary artists can keep in mind when pursuing the release of a concept album in the 21st century.

The structural challenges i have faced throughout the semester, which led me to present my case studies and contextual writing in this way have been discussed in a few of my earlier posts – and while i feel that this structure works nicely and makes a lot of sense – the amount of words required to cover each component of my research in adequate detail has forced me to reconsider my structural options once again.

I will pick up on this in my next post, after another busy day of editing today.. The stress levels are creeping up again just thinking about what to do with my thesis structure from here – although i think this blog post has on the whole done the job of making me feel a bit better and more focused for the day ahead.

Maybe some metaphorical inspiration will hit me in time for my next blog post as well, so as to spice things up a little bit! A laugh here and there never hurts.. Choo Choo!

The Edit Train

The Edit Train

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