This week on Five Things Friday: maybe my graduate school career isn’t as stuck as I thought it was.

I’m trying to earn a Ph.D., which means I have to write a 300-page dissertation of original research and brilliant insights. (It is not fun.) It’s taking a lot longer than I wish it would, but recently some small things have happened that, taken together, feel like some pretty good progress:

1. At the church dinner on Wednesday, someone asked me what my dissertation is about. This is always a difficult but helpful exercise for me: it forces me to summarize the topic in just a few sentences. I answered, briefly, that I was studying Methodist circuit riders—preachers who travelled around on horseback and preached wherever they could find people to listen—on the American frontier in the early 1800s. Not only was it nice that she asked, but it made me feel better when she said, “Wow, that sounds really interesting.” I was like, yeah, actually, it is interesting…

2. I re-discovered Google books. Many of the autobiographies and journals that I need are out of print and difficult to find; fortunately, some of them have recently been put online.

3. I forced Dad to listen to a rundown of all the theorists I’m using. Last weekend we were working outside and I said, “So, you’re a captive audience; let me tell you about the theories I’ve working on.” Helped me organize my thoughts. And he only rolled his eyes a little.

4. Last Sunday’s sermon included a quote from John Wesley that I hadn’t heard before, so I went and looked it up later—and realized that it will help tie together two sections in my first chapter. Funny when coincidences happen like that.

5. I devoted part of a lecture in my university class to presenting a portion of my research. I was almost certain that all 83 students were bored to death. Then, after class, one of them came up to me and said thoughtfully, “I thought this was interesting. I’d really like to take another class with you.” It reminded me of the reason I’m working so hard on the Ph.D. in the first place: to help me be a better professor.

And that’s progress.