The purpose of The Minnow

Cyprinidon variegatus, the Sheepshead minnow. Masthead picture for the name of the original blog where Minnow entries appeared. Picture: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Cyprinidon variegatus, the Sheepshead minnow. Masthead picture for the original blog where Minnow entries appeared. Picture: US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Simply stated, the purpose of The Minnow (the name under which this section of the blog was originally published) is to offer practical advice and encouragement aimed at helping doctoral students to complete their theses. But that doesn’t really explain why anyone would create such a publication. The explanation lies in my own experience in completing a PhD, and in the experience of watching others complete theirs.

When I started my PhD, I intended to complete it in what would literally be record time. The rules of my university required that one be enrolled for a minimum of three years before being eligible for the degree, but I intended to complete mine in two and a half years and apply for an exemption from the strict requirements. Six years later, with only half a chapter written, I applied for a one year suspension of candidature with the aim of finally killing the beast which refused to die.

During the total seven years of my candidature, my motivation went from middle level (before I had decided on a thesis topic), to high (when the topic was decided and my proposal had been approved), to something approximating zero as the years dragged on. Distractions were one problem; difficulty in seeing any progress, whether or not I had actually made any, was another; a lack of structure was a third. A serious dislike of poverty, grunge and grind even managed to provide a fourth problem, rather than motivating me to hand my thesis in more quickly. There are numerous additional devils that beset any aspiring PhD. Perfectionism, self-criticism, procrastination, money, depression, boredom, a sense of futility about one’s work, writer’s block, writer’s block, and more writer’s block, are probably just a few of them.

It is now two years since I completed my PhD, and I recently discovered two things. First, that a friend of mine was actually being paid money (real money), by a university, no less, to help people who were struggling with their theses as I had struggled with mine. Second, I discovered blogging. Some people obviously discovered blogging years ago; but years ago I had my head buried in a PhD and “blogging” was not a word that appeared in the technical vocabulary of my thesis area. Anyhow, it was those two things, blogging and the discovery that even some universities recognized the difficulties their students had in completing what they had started, that set me to thinking that a regular motivational and advice column might made the apparently interminable PhD struggle a little less hard.

So here it is. The Minnow. One of three publications of [a now defunct publication at Blogspot]. I hope that there will soon be other contributors to The Minnow, as well as to its sister publications, but for the time being, I will be the writer. My intention is to make frequent postings, but not to a fixed and rigid schedule. I will probably post about once every week.

Once I’ve figured out more about how blogging works, I shall enable comments, feedback, and a means of allowing readers both to make suggestions about future content and to ask for advice.

Contributors: Mark R. Diamond