When I graduated my master's program, I got an A on my thesis, but they said I would have knocked it out of the park had I included a literature review.
A literature review?
I thought I knew what it was. I thought I had included it. Guess not.
By the time I reached my doctoral program. I still had no idea how to do it. It took doing my comps two times to get it right.
It's the area where I see most people struggling, too.
What the heck is a literature review?
It's when you find the literature relating to your topic, put scholars in conversation with one another, and make a case for your argument/contribution.
Kristin Luker, in a super friendly way, will tell you how to see what kind of literature you need and how to put it together.
I also recommend searching for LITERATURE REVIEWS on YouTube and watching the videos there.
There are many ways to go about it:
For me, the literature reviews required two full boxes of index cards and days at the library sifting and sorting materials. It does become kind of fun after I surrendered.
Two of my colleagues also really enjoyed their literature review process.
One flew off to Mexico City to do hers. Another retreated to the libraries of Tuscon, Arizona.
They liked being able to dive into the scholarship that really interested them. You don't have too many more times in your career where you will go through this process. It's really a privilege to focus in this way.
Please comment below on your experiences with literature reviews so others can benefit.
It's 6:30pm, I've written somewhere around 6 hours, today. The cleaning staff has vacuumed the halls, emptied the trash and every part of me wants to pack it in and say, "I'll just do it tomorrow."
But "Future Me" keeps saying..."No, please stay seated. Things will run far more smoothly if you finish this tonight."
I text a friend, tell her my commitment. Beg her not to let me leave until I make these changes to chapter 6.
Present-Me is fighting Future-Me...
Every day has its own challenge...today it is the final changes to Chapter 6.
Just do it...maybe bring Van Morrison with me.
Good luck when you are at a similar cross-roads. When debating whether to press on or pack it in, remember to let the Future You have as much of a say as the Present You.
In Hurricane Eye, Paul Simon sings...
"You want to be a writer
But you don’t know how or when
Find a quiet place
Use a humble pen"
I say, if you have a laptop then all the better. And if it isn't too quite don't worry, either. We often don't write because -- well, we don't have the right chair, we feel tired, we need to be in a library or not in a library.
Paul Simon's point -- just skip the pomp and circumstance and write the darn thing. He should know...he's a fine and prolific lyricist, indeed.
American University of Paris kindly invited me to come back this April and speak about my research -- a project I had started there about six years ago. I decided to spend an additional week doing more interviews for the book and grabbing any place I could find to do a little more writing.
Journalists know how to do this...they know how to write on the back of a steam engine or on the back of an elephant.
As a doctoral student accustomed to an office and the Library of Congress -- then a 6-week writers' retreat at the Carey Institute for Global Good, I had little experience with on-the-go writing. Paris is a good beginners spot. I figure, if my colleagues can write between bullet shots and while climbing over the rubble caused by flattening earthquakes, I can learn to write in a Parisian café.
Yes, they mock me a bit for being the petite bourgeois as compared to their shooting out 4 articles a day in the midst of mayhem, but I suspect there are others like me. And, I do think there is something to be stepping back and taking time for another level of reflection.
I set up this little writing space in my apartment in Paris to do just that. I was astonished to learn that the little dog that barks all morning in Arlington, VA seems to have a brother in Paris. I turned on the stereo and let Haydn blow him out.
Sarah Federman, PhD