Interwebs, Gratitude, and Dissertations

On August 23, 1991, the World Wide Web was first introduced to the public. Being a student and a researcher changed forever. Dissertation students should give thanks today…

Research has shown time and again that one of the best indicators of happiness is gratitude. Gratitude can take on religious significance or not. But, the notion of recognizing aspects of your circumstances as being positive influences is closely associated with overall happiness in psychological studies.

When I was a student, my professors used to tell their war stories. They always started with “In my day” or “When I was writing my dissertation.”

A popular theme was that students had to “write” computer programs to analyze their data on a series of punch cards. The cards were about the size of a large post card. They were called “punch cards” because they literally had holes punched in them in specific patterns that the computers of the time could read and process as instructions.

And, students had to create a lot of these cards. One story, likely apocryphal, recounted the time when doctoral students had to carry several shoe boxes full of these punch cards across the quads to be processed by one of the few computers on campus.

As one such student hurried to the computer lab to submit his dissertation data for analysis, he tripped and fell. The boxes flew skyward, opening as if in slow motion. Slowly, one card floated free, and then another. A fraction of a second later the punch cards resembled confetti, as if to announce some great karmic surprise party with the poor dissertation student the undeserving guest of honor!

I was expected to give thanks that I could save my analysis on a magnetic disk drive or tape system. And, I was certainly grateful to be living in my advantaged time in history.

But, the wheels of progress roll on. Technology has progressed. New advantages have presented themselves. And, a new generation of students is in desperate need of reminding how fortunate they are.

You see, in my day, we didn’t have Proquest or EBSCOhost. Our libraries were actual buildings. I had to leave my dorm room and trudge across campus (again a physical place in my day). At times budget cuts even forced the library to close for certain hours each day. So, I couldn’t even go whenever I wanted. I had to arrive and leave on their schedule!

The main floors of the library were brightly lit. There, the shelves were festooned with books one might read for entertainment or enjoyment. Classic literature and contemporary novels. Popular science and historical surveys.

But, this was not my destination. I had to climb several flights of stairs into the stacks — level after level of dimly lit rows of dusty tomes. These shelves were loaded with books and journals only the truly demented seekers of knowledge would even open.

There I spent hours consulting card catalogs to find Dewey Decimal codes which I then decrypted to receive the next clue on the cruel academic scavenger hunt that was my dissertation research.

I could go on to recount the paper cuts, the copier machines, the sacks of dimes (and later quarters!) I sacrificed to the gods of academia…

But, you don’t have to worry about such things. Thanks to the wonders of the Interwebs, you can find dozens — even hundreds — of articles for your literature review with a simple search query in the online library right on your laptop! No need to trudge across campus — or even be oncampus. You can conduct your research from the comfort of your own home or the convenience of your local Starbucks!

So, give thanks for the fact that your library is always open and at your beck and call.

Be grateful that you can find articles on any topic you devise within seconds rather than hours.

Recognize how lucky you are that saving an article takes a single click instead of the laborious and expensive process of photocopying each page, one at the time.

For as much frustration as is still inherent in the dissertation process today, you are immeasurably better off than I was “back in my day!”

If you need extra support and guidance to make it to graduation, I may be able to help. If you'd like to find out whether you qualify for the support we offer throughout the dissertation process, then...

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.

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