Part of my job as a linguist in the Ik project in northeast Uganda was to write a scientific description of Ik grammar. In order to cover most important topics, I knew I’d have to write at least 200 pages. In light of this, it occurred to me that I could write the grammar as a doctoral dissertation and effectively kill two scholarly birds with one stone. After my master’s degree work in Dallas, Texas, I had vowed never to set foot in a classroom again. But through some contacts I was made aware of a PhD program in Leiden, the Netherlands, that suited me and our situation perfectly: it involved no classes, no residency requirement, and was free (subsidized by their government).
When I closed the Bible translation program in 2013, I threw myself into writing the grammar dissertation. After drafting each chapter, I’d submit it to my supervisor in Leiden. He’d make comments, and I would revise. In January 2014, I submitted the first full draft of the grammar and waited several months to get comments back from my supervisor and two ‘external readers’ who were familiar with the Ik language. By April of that year, I had their comments back on the whole book and started revising for the final draft. My self-set deadline for finishing was midnight, July 31, 2014. I kept that deadline but with only sixty-four minutes to spare. A journal entry from August 1 recounts what turned out to be a genuine five megabyte miracle:
Last night at 10:56 p.m., I submitted my doctoral dissertation by email to Maarten Mous in Leiden. That was the end of a two-month long marathon of rereading, rewriting, editing, and formatting…
Yesterday didn’t go as planned…which was probably God’s plan. I envisioned getting to the Baptist mission by midday and having the rest of the day to make final adjustments to the document. As it turned out, it took us longer to leave home and longer to get through town than I had anticipated. It was nearly 4 p.m. till I sat down in the Echelon office – hot, stuffy, with rats skittering all around on the ceiling – to finish checking example numbers through chapter 4 (Nouns) and 5 (Pronouns) and then change a few things in the Texts section. Since the previous night when I only got four hours of sleep, my sinuses had blown up, giving me a nasty headache. I felt worse and worse as the evening fell. But slowly I worked my way through the final tasks.
After dark I tackled some knotty formatting problems. What a mess that was: page numbering, header size, the Table of Contents…I even had to learn some things on the go – learning to the last minute!
The girls went to bed at 8:30, Amber at 10:30. The satellite internet [that I was counting on working] hadn’t worked the whole day. Miraculously, and I mean that, I sent the 5 MB file over Airtel [cellular data network that was usually next to nothing] in less than five minutes. I was amazed.