The Taunting of a Blinking Cursor: Depression and the PhD

Every day when I wake up, one of the first things I do by habit is wake up my computer. As I do this, I’m inevitably greeted by my in-progress dissertation. Since I advanced to candidacy in Spring 2016, I’ve been attempting to make headway on chapters so I can finally be finished with my doctorate. I started this program in the fall of 2013, and people have been asking me since I began when I would be finished. (If you want a quick track on pissing off a graduate student, ask them when they’re going to finish their degree. It never fails.) The doctorate and dissertation in themselves are quite a daunting hurdle to overcome. For me, when I see that word document every single day, I’m reminded of my own personal demons and the overwhelming sense of anxiety and hopelessness that comes with seeing the blinking cursor and the page counts that never seem to go up, no matter how much effort I promise to and do put in that week.

What most people don’t know is that I was diagnosed in early 2014 with major depressive disorder, along with generalized anxiety disorder. While this has been something I have dealt with for many years before the diagnosis, the pressure and competition in a doctoral program became extremely intense and overwhelming to the point where I decided I needed outside help. I attended personalized therapy sessions and take way more medications that I ever thought somebody under the age sixty would take.

Despite all of my efforts, I still struggle every single day with these issues, and I rarely want to actually leave my apartment, much less work  on something that may well be considered one of the most important things I will have to create during my entire graduate career. I have not presented at a conference since 2014, since the last time I did, I nearly had a mental breakdown from the stress of having to speak to strangers about my ideas, while also accepting their criticism. While some may misconstrue this as laziness, to me, this is my reality. This is an everyday struggle, and as someone who seeks to be a people pleaser, I feel like I let others around me down since I do have these issues. As someone who suffers from imposter syndrome, I always worry that the more people are exposed to my work, the more they will think that I am a fraud for getting this far, despite the fact that I have worked hard for all of this.

The thing about academia is that you don’t hear of many colleagues speaking on issues that they have, especially if they’re related to anything like a mental illness. What people don’t talk much about is how isolating being in a doctoral program actually can be, and when you’re depressed and/or have anxiety, it makes it even more isolating. In general, people mistake depression and anxiety with, “well, yes. I too I get sad and stressed out. That’s normal!” Which, yes. That is normal. It’s difficult to understand what a depressed or anxious person goes through without actually experiencing it for yourself. (I would not wish it upon anyone.) During my presentation for my prospectus and my comprehensive exams, I felt an intensive amount of daily anxiety, and I sometimes questioned why I chose to put myself through this.

My answer is this—I have an intense passion for history. While I don’t necessarily have that same passion for writing, the dissertation is a hurdle that one must get over in order to have a doctorate in history, even if you aren’t at all interested in research academia as a career. So, every day that I wake up and stare that cursor down, all I can hope is that my fight will be worth it in the end.

Ready Player One and Why a Video Game Historian and Avid Player Dislikes It

When I first heard about Ready Player One, it seemed like a book that would be right up my alley. As someone who writes about video game history in the 1960s-1985, an avid gamer, and an aficionado and fan of 1980s pop culture, this book seemed tailor made for me.

Then I read it.

Spoilers below for Ready Player One

Continue reading

It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged–partially because I have had little to say besides that I’m working on prospectus and comps–but since I’ve updated the website a little, I think it is better to give a little update. One of the biggest topics that I will begin blogging about is my progress with the dissertation, including commentary on games, methodology, and updates on the process.

Meanwhile, you guys can view my recent acquisitions!

Meanwhile, you guys can view my recent acquisitions!

 

Let’s Learn Vega!

What is Vega?

Vega is a tool for creating visualizations based on D3.js and JavaScript. For comparison, Vega is the D3.js equivalent to R’s ggplot2. While D3 visualizations require you to think of all of the possible aspects of the visualization, Vega allows for quick visualizations through data manipulation without needing to input all the little details that quickly become quite complicated. As with D3, Vega is creates a JSON visualization that is a representation of the data that is fed to it.

Continue reading

Wrapping Up

This week, we discussed networks and crowds. As someone who has been interested in the utilization of crowds for the purpose of the historical record and memory (currently for my project, I am very interested in creating a memory archive of photographs, videos, and written memories from video gamers throughout the years), I felt like this week was right up my alley. 

Beyond the creation of a repository for the memories, it is also important to create something that is both interesting and useful to the public as well. My experience working with the Center for History and New Media has helped me to further understand more how to work with the public while also creating something that is fun and useful for the members of the public. (My background is originally in Public History, as my MA is in the topic from the University of Central Florida.)

Another aspect that is interesting to me is the idea of social networking for these projects. As we know, social networking immediately makes whatever visible that you post to them. For my Clio 2 project, I utilized social networking to gather memories. I feel that a greater reach through Twitter, Facebook, and even blogs will be important to get a wider range of responses. My project was a way of testing the waters, and I did get many more responses than expected. I will try to continue this line of thought for the dissertation.

I’ve learned a lot this semester, and I will continue to think along the lines of digital history and the field for the exam in the fall. I feel like i further understand the field in which I work, and that experience is so useful for my future as a historian.

 

Digital History Minor Field

I realized as I was writing my last blog post that I never explained fully what was going on with me and my blog. Currently, I am taking my readings course for my Digital History Minor Field. Every week, with my classmates, I read several theory works written regarding a topic in the field of digital history. 

If you’re interested in the readings that we discussed, the order of these topics, and some of the things that have been said, I have inserted a pdf of that information here. 

DigitalHistoryMinorField804

Every other week, I have been blogging about my thoughts on the topic, how i feel I could utilize some of these ideas, and where I think digital history and historians stand in the field. I’m almost at the end of the semester, and I have both discovered more regarding the field that I previously knew and thought about how this would apply to my future dissertation. (Which is important) Please feel free to go through the previous posts to see my thoughts.

Text Mining

Unlike some of the weeks of this course, text mining was something that we had actually done before. (For those interested, the results and process are here through several blog posts.) However, When we did that work in February, we (or at least me) were really new to text mining. Through Programming Historian, we were able to work our way through a version of text mining that gave us some sort of results. The problem with this process was that since we were new to the process, we 1.) missed a few technical steps and 2.) did not really get to read into some of the practicalities of text mining.

This week’s readings help to flesh out some of the missing pieces from the project, as well as understanding the complications, such as the double meanings of words and how words can be entirely different to work with than numbers. Historians, by nature, are very comfortable with working with words and discovering their underlying meanings throughout the context. However, there can be complications, such as dealing with figurative language. Traditionally, we read within the context to understand what these things mean. With a large corpus of texts, it can be useful, and sometimes even insightful, to see what types of patterns exist.

One of the issues that I ran into with topic modeling and the process is how to coax out silences that  historians are used to dealing with in historical texts. I am, however, unsure of how to represent those silences or predict where they would occur. 

Further, a common theme that has occurred in the readings for digital history is the need for legitimacy– to explain how these things work so non-digital historians might understand what we did. Ted Underwood states that we need to understand the black box behind text mining, such as the algorithms. However, we discussed in the class how monographs and historical work tends to cut out the methodology now. Why is it important for digital historians to explain their work, whereas traditional historians do not? I do feel that is important to understand the concepts and ideas behind topic modeling, but I feel that the constant need for explanation and legitimacy could potentially limit the projects that could emerge from digital history.