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Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Milestone Misery

Mental/emotional breakdowns right before academic milestones seem to be becoming a yearly tradition for me (though in all fairness, my mid-2014 one was caused by external factors). After struggling a bit over the Christmas break (both because of depression and because of stress about my mid-candidature review) and having my breakdown a few days into the new year (blubbering at my Nan while I yowled incoherently and waved my printed drafts of my thesis chapters in her face), I went to my supervisor's office and wailed at her for half an hour about how little I had done and how far behind I was and how everything had gone wrong and how I was a failure and was going to fail.

Far from telling me I was terrible and was going to get kicked out (as my dumb brain had convinced me was the only possible scenario), my supervisor said I had actually done plenty and that I was more than ready for the review, and that the majority of the stuff I wanted to have done but hadn't done was stuff I can't do until the programmer finishes coding the system (which could be months off). So, while I am still stressed and gloomy in general, I'm at least not feeling as awful as I was. Also, I got a cute cuddly Pikachu, and adding more Pokemon crap to my collection always lifts my mood.
If only I could be as happy as this little bastard is with that apple.
A lot of the pre-testing work I need to do (designing instruments for participant interviews and questionnaires) can't be done until I know what the final system looks like. We also had issues with the main programmer who was working on the system leaving, and it took a while to find a replacement, so that also set us back (not just for my narrative project but for the system in general; my project forms a smaller offshoot of a larger project being run by one of my other supervisors). In terms of written work, one of the chapters I had hoped to have submitted for my review (my methodology chapter) is too incomplete because - again - I can't add much more to it until I've done my participant testing (I need data before I can write up my data analysis, even though I already know which methods I'm going to use). My theoretical framework chapter is more or less finished, with only a few small additions and revisions required (I can probably finish it in the next day or so), and my literature review is at just under 20,000 words; two sections, learning methods and learning technology, are more or less finished, it's just my language learning bit that needs fixing (and it needs a lot of fixing as it is basically a broken mess at the moment).

The only thing that will take a lot of time is the storyboards and character illustrations. The storyboard designs have all been done and the outlines printed, so all that is left to do is paint them (not a difficult task, but it will be time consuming). I also need to redo my character sketches as the paper I used originally was cheap garbage, and as soon as I tried to paint them, the paper turned to mush. Then, once the coding is done for the system (which almost certainly won't happen before the review), I just have to upload all my image files and text into the modules. I also got new oil pastels, and new art supplies are always fun.
Rex likes my new oil pastels, too.
All through my undergraduate (and in some of my honours, much to the annoyance of my supervisor), I would often leave things til the last minute because I tended to perform better that way than if I started working on assignments as soon as we were given the brief. Obviously I knew this approach wouldn't work for a three-year doctorate (even I can't crank out an 80,000+ word thesis the morning it's due), and I knew that even doing smaller parts of the thesis in one sitting was unfeasible given that most chapters take longer to think about and write up than an undergrad assignment, so right from the start I tried to make sure I chipped away at it a bit every day. Some days I feel really productive, like I'm getting a lot done and making some genuine progress. Other days, when making any amount of progress is a struggle, I feel like this dog. Then there are the days when everything just goes tits up. Even though this is apparently normal, as someone who likes to plan things and do things perfectly the first time, I tend to get a little (read: a lot) antsy when this doesn't happen. And one thing I've learned while doing my PhD: things almost NEVER go as planned, and they sure as hell don't come out perfectly the first time (or the second, or the third).

So, my main tasks for the immediate future:
-MCR report
-MCR presentation
-Finish theoretical framework chapter
-Write design science section of methodology chapter
-Paint characters
-Paint storyboards

Should all be doable, I think (I'm still going to stress, though).


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