Lately I have been reading a number of tweets that suggest that advisors or supervisors should be a bit more positive in the feedback that they provide to their graduate students. I wholeheartedly agree. However graduate students also need to embrace the reality and culture of graduate school as well. In graduate school if you are looking for praise and worship you need to find a church. Most of the feedback in graduate school is critical feedback which means that students need to grow a thicker skin if you want to be successful in the New Year. As a dissertation coach, I warn my students that I am direct and to the point. If you do not like my style of coaching you probably need to find someone else. As a coach, I need to focus on getting students from point A (where they are right now) to point B (where they eventually want to be). If I have to focus on my formal language skills then I might be viewed as a nice person but the student might not accomplish the goal or misinterpret my instructions. When students come to my office I need to be able to speak freely to get my point across, I explicitly ask them to check their egos at the door.
- Find the latest version of your dissertation. Read it, and make an assessment of each chapter of what needs to be done to get each chapter from 1% to 95% complete.
- When writing your dissertation focus on clarity instead of trying to sound smart. If you need to hire an editor do so; it is money well spent. When you know that you have an editor to clean up behind you it clears your mind to focus on content and expertise rather than grammar and style.
- Inevitably you will get discouraged when writing your dissertation. Have a plan B; you need to have a plan for what you will do when this happens. When you don’t feel like writing anymore you can focus on formatting, creating tables, figures, illustrations, table of contents, abstract, acknowledgement page, cover page, transition sentences and paragraphs.
- Set a real deadline. Don’t say that you will finish your dissertation next year, next spring, next summer but set a deadline using a month, day and year that you will finish a final draft of your dissertation. Work backwards using your university’s guidelines. For example, if the last day for submission is May 3 and you need to give your committee 4-6 weeks to read, it would mean that you would have to finish your draft by Mar 15-Apr 03. Use a countdown calendar and put in on your desktop so that every time you open your laptop you will know exactly how many days you have left. http://www.timeanddate.com/countdown/create
- Focus on one chapter at a time. You don’t need to write in a linear fashion. Start with the chapter that you know you can complete. If you have the choice between a chapter that is 40% complete and one that is 75% complete focus on the one that is nearest to completion. If you know what methods you will be using then start with the methodology chapter. Don’t spend an exorbitant amount of time on chapter 1 because many people rewrite (or edit) chapter 1 after they are finished with the conclusion chapter of the dissertation.
- If you want to succeed in the new year stop mentally revisiting your past failures. Stop looking in the rear view. Some of us spend an exorbitant amount of time reliving our childhood, our past failures instead of focusing on replicating our past successes. If you are in graduate school I am sure that you have had some successes in you academic career otherwise you would not have been admitted to graduate school. In the past you have written well enough to get a good grade. If you focus on the positive you will have better results.
For more tips read If you can Write a Masters’ Thesis You can Write a Dissertation