This is a blog about writing a dissertation without using my hands, about working within limitations and capitalizing on them, and about making lemonade no matter what ingredients life offers.
My name is Rachel and I’m an English PhD student. I do all the normal things graduate students do. I stay up late studying; I read in my spare time; I wake up in the middle of the night to write down ideas that for some reason won’t come in the daytime; I procrastinate; I don’t sleep enough; and I hope against all hope that at the end of this degree I’ll find a job. But there’s one thing I don’t do that almost all grad students do: I don’t type.
In September 2012, in the midst of studying for comprehensive exams, I was diagnosed with significant muscle and nerve injuries in both of my hands. Poor posture at the computer and too much typing had finally taken their toll. I saw a specialist, signed up for occupational therapy, and began wondering how on earth I was going to take my second exam let alone grade student papers, respond to emails, and write lesson plans.
A colleague came to my rescue and suggested I try dictation software. I purchased Dragon NaturallySpeaking and began to train the program. Things were a bit rough at first. It took over a week to convince Dragon that my name is not Mitchell and that Debbie Debbie Debbie is not how a web address begins. But after only a couple weeks I had trained Dragon in the basics and taught it the pronunciation and spelling for all of the authors on my specialization exam list.
It’s a year and a half later and I’m still dictating. What I thought would be a temporary fix has become a lifestyle change. Because of the recent development of tendinitis in both of my wrists, I made the decision this week to begin going hands-free. Up until now I’ve been dictating but using my mouse and ergonomic keyboard to navigate the web and make corrections in Word documents. I’m now learning voice commands that will allow me to operate the mouse without touching it. Hence the title of my blog, the Dragon and the Mouse. The more I can operate my computer using my voice, the more I’ll be able to use my hands to play piano, cook, and paint instead.
I realized this weekend that I have a choice. I can be frustrated and angry or I can make the most of the way things are and invite others into the experience. My hope for this blog is that it gives me a chance to reflect on the peculiar experience of dictating an entire dissertation and that it will help me connect with other individuals who rely on dictation software in order to complete their work, whether they’re graduate students or lawyers or professors or doctors. I’ll be writing blog entries on a regular basis sometimes about the frustrations of dictating, or about the good things it’s done for my writing, or about how it changes my daily routine.
I’m going to be optimistic and hope that this project attracts some readers. I’ll finish each blog entry with a question and I look forward to seeing your answers in the comments below. Let the hands-free blogging begin!
Today’s question: do you dictate and why?