Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Operating on the Dissertation Behemoth for Academic Publishing

When I first entered the doctoral program in summer of 2011, I viewed academia as a place where someone else shared knowledge with me.  In that fall's doctoral seminar class, however, the professor shared bewildering information.  We needed to eventually publish.  Whether we co-authored with mentor faculty or were the sixth author on a research article, we would be in better academic and professional standings if we published in journals (although Raul Pacheco-Vega questions this logic in his recent blog post).  So, as a full-time middle school language arts teacher and part-time graduate student, I ignored this advice and focused on providing endless feedback on 8th grader drafts and writing my own projects, articles, reflections, or unit plans for graduate coursework.

Fortunately, a popular writing course at the university cycled the program every few years and fit my schedule.  Writing for Publication brought together students from across disciplines in a joint effort to resurrect old drafts for journal submission.  We dug deeply into Wendy Belcher's Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success.  I wish I had purchased the actual book rather than the digital version, but her website provides the consumable resources so books can stay "clean."  The intense yet practical approach pushed me to write, revise, share drafts, and revise again while also researching possible journals and attending to specific audience needs.  I finished the course successfully and submitted my manuscript, which I described in a previous blog post.  My waiting resulted in disappointment when it was rejected several months later.  With the bustle of other projects and without the pressure of a grade, I let the manuscript and feedback collect dust.

Over two years later, several pieces of writing lurk within my computer, notebooks, and coursework folders.  I have written drafts of literature reviews and reflections in preparation for my dissertation and some did, in fact, make their way into that behemoth of data and analysis.  I proudly and successfully defended my dissertation (Understanding through Narrative Inquiry: Storying a National Writing Project Initiative) on March 28, 2016.  Imagine my excitement when my committee members said they could see possibilities for six journal articles I could develop from this work.  Six!

Six! Imagine my anxiety knowing I should dissect my beautiful behemoth into smaller beasts for academic journal writing.  I wrote a semi-traditional five-chapter dissertation and pushed its boundaries only slightly with creative mini-narratives to describe findings in chapter four.  How do I distill the essential learning found in my research problem, literature review, methodology, findings and closing discussion chapters?  How do I engage in meaningful academic writing that highlights my insights about professional learning communities, teacher-leadership, planning professional development, trust, and invitation?  These are real questions for which I have not yet found answers, even though I feel it is my responsibility to already know.

I do not step lightly into this task.  For many months I raised and cared for each of these 213 pages.  Now, like Dr. Frankenstein, I have to operate on a monster for these insights to live on.  Thank you in advance, Wendy Belcher, for being my assistant.  And thank you, readers, for your own experiences about how you managed this task.