The A-Ha Moment: dissertation edition

May 4, 2011 § 7 Comments

Alias: the eureka effect.

You know that moment in older cartoons when the mad scientist would stare contemplatively at his experiment and suddenly holler, “Eureka!” Typically much to the chagrin of a mild-mannered someone or something who inevitably jumps to the ceiling and hangs there by claws or fingernails until such time as the heart rate has been restored to normal.

Dissertation writers (hell, all writers really) experience the “a-ha” moment in fascinating moments.

In the shower.
Something about hot water, steam, and delicious-smelling soap allows seemingly incongruous thoughts to slip and slide inside the brain until: a-ha! They interlock.

Enthralled by television or engaged in a conversation.
Much like Dr. Gregory House, the stuck dissertator will hear that one right phrase uttered innocently by a New Jersey housewife or a dear friend, and all of a sudden: a-ha! The once occluded argument becomes not only clear but obviously so.

Over coffee, tea, or liquor.
The dissertator might whine and bemoan the project, distracted by her own monologue-turned-soliloquy, entirely ignorant of her miserable audience who foolishly asked, “how are you?” And then: a-ha! Twisting in circuitous and disjointed paths, the dissertator discovers her lost little point in the Forest of Angst.

In bed. Asleep…or otherwise.
Finally lulled to a state of ease, comfort, peace, and rest, dissembling barriers disassemble and tumble down to reveal a shimmering truth. Suddenly sitting up (perhaps to the disappointment of her sleeping…or otherwise…spouse), the dissertator exclaims: a-ha! Despite the inconvenience, she conceives the argument in perfect perfection.

Although Oprah, mistress of momentous moments, might pooh-pooh my single-minded construct of the “a-ha” moment, correcting my mistakes and warning me never again to err, perhaps she’s the limited one. Could an “a-ha” moment stretch beyond the sphere of self-actualizing psychological development? I believe so, yes. You see, friends, the dissertator’s “a-ha” moment is a precious commodity; infrequent, sparse, and rare, it lives at the threshold of insecurity and pride. Seek it too doggedly, and it will shrink into fear and doubt, the best cloaks of invisibility this side of Hogwarts. But ignore it, heed it no mind, hell even forget about it, and it will crash into you at full force.

I had an “a-ha” moment yesterday morning while reading, again, Twelfth Night. And, for fear of frightening it, I have only shared the revelation with a few trusted friends. I will attempt to “raise it,” as one of my committee members put it today at lunch. For, she told me, nobody else will do it for me.

In the meantime, if you and I are in a conversation, please disregard any future exclamations of “eureka!” that may issue forth from my entire being. Revel in them with me, won’t you?

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§ 7 Responses to The A-Ha Moment: dissertation edition

  • Fascinating. I ususally have these doing some kind of physical labor–something that is at least completely non-verbal. Interesting that you could have one during conversation. I assume you mean a conversation about something else.

  • Lisa says:

    Congrats on having an A-Ha moment. You know you are torturing me with these hints, but I’m happy for you. πŸ˜‰

  • Robert says:

    I had a professor in college who, when stuck writing, would remedy the situation by washing the dishes. She said the rubbing motion that you do when you dry the dishes with a towel always helped coax her ideas out.

    To me, that seems like a lot of work (what, dish washers don’t dry?). I used to chain-smoke my way to an “a-ha” moment. This got replaced somewhere along the line with taking the Milton for a walk. Somehow physically moving forward helped me mentally progress my thoughts. I guess we all have our little writing quirks.

  • Tori Nelson says:

    Oprah would be proud!

  • Esther says:

    Loved your post! I’m a PhD student, and my inspirational moments come at the weirdest times. I have taken to walking around with a small pad and pen so I won’t get caught out. I think my most unlikely location was in the fresh vegetable section in my local supermarket. I suddenly had an idea and scribbled furiously. You have no idea what kind of looks I got from other shoppers…but I have stopped caring!

    • Mrs. H. says:

      That’s such a funny story, Esther! And welcome to my humble blog. πŸ™‚ I love meeting PhD students across the web like this. Good luck in your research!

  • […] it be nice to live in a world where A-Ha moments happen every second of the […]

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