If you are working on your dissertation you need not work alone. You need some accountability. Who’s checking on you? You need maintain some integrity with respect to writing your dissertation. What are you doing when no one is looking. Some graduate students write blogs about their writing process, others join an on-line community, while others participate in Dissertation Houses or Dissertation Bootcamps.
I am headed to Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University for a 4 day Dissertation House.
Lately I have noticed that there are a number of on-line resources dedicated to graduate students. There are a number of websites where graduate students can ask question and get feedback from other graduate students, professor, or staff members. This blog is one among many blogs for graduate students. It is clear from these websites that graduate students need help and seek help outside of their respective school and or department. Let’s face it your advisor cannot be all things to you; it’s important to know that there is outside help available.
If you are working alone you might have to rethink that strategy. Some students work alone for a variety of reasons. The common belief that writing a dissertation needs to be an isolating, lonely, process should be discarded. While a dissertation is not a group project, you do not have to complete it isolation either. I knew of a student who worked on her dissertation at home, away from her department that was located many states away. She was not working on an online PhD. However, because her advisor and department was far away she might as well have been. For 3 years I called her or emailed her once a month to check in just to see how things were going. I would call and say :How’s it going? What chapter are you on now? Because I was not her advisor and she was not a graduate student at my university, her husband thought that I was a figment of her imagination. That is, of course, until one day when I called and he answered the phone. We both laughed at his hypothesis. Last year she completed her dissertation and wrote:
Thank you again so much for your encouragement, for your uncanny sense of timing, for your encouragement and for your great advice. Your taking time to meet with me, to call and email to check in on me has meant more to me than you know, especially since we didn’t meet each other until late into our correspondence. Thank you again so much!
While most people believe that completing a dissertation is about setting aside how much you can write or how much time you are willing to sacrifice, it’s about setting a long-term goal. It about breaking down that goal into monthly goals and breaking them down further to daily, or hourly goals. More importantly, accomplishing any long-term goal requires persistence and integrity. It’s also about maintaining the integrity of your writing schedule. I likened this commitment to any long-term commitment.
For example, when I turned 40 I decided to run a marathon. It sounds noble enough but completion of that goal required a 6 month commitment to working out on a regular basis. At the time it was something that I could not imagine accomplishing at 40; I am not sure I could do it again today at age 50. I do however know that if I wanted to do it; I know what it would take.
- First, I knew that I could not do it alone; I joined a team the American Heart Association.
When you became a PhD candidate your joined a team of graduate students who was also working on a dissertation even if the members were not working on the same document and or in the same academic discipline. Although the number of chapters and academic field might be different, the feelings of exhaustion, frustration, anxiety, and stress are the same.
- As a result of joining a team I now had to raise $2600 or pay it myself. I could not afford to write that check. I took American Heart Association suggestions on how to raise money; create a website, and send out to family and friends a letter that was based on a standard template.
As a result of joining that team you now have to write a dissertation that might challenge your confidence daily. I have helped a number of graduate students complete their degree over the past 1o years. I hope you use my suggestions to help you complete your degree. Does your university have a style guide or template to eliminate the stress of what margins, font size, font you should use? Download it and use it immediately. Read my previous blogs. Participate on the online community in the upper right hand side of this page.
- As a member of the team we got a coach who mapped out a plan on how to get it done by Jan 11th.
As a dissertation coach, I strongly recommend setting a deadline. Have you set a deadline for when you want to finish?
- We met with our coach every other weekend for the long runs but during the week we were on our own. That’s where the integrity came into play. I had to get up at 5 am, to run in the dark; on alternate weekend I had to do the long-runs on my own. I managed to get up at 5am but setting my alarm and setting my clothes out at night. I placed my clothes at the end of my bed so that I could eliminate the excuses in the morning. On the weekends for the long runs without a coach; I ran with my friend who was on another team that had long runs every weekend.
At the end of the day do you prepare for the next? Do you create a to-do-list for tomorrow? Do you need a dissertation coach? He or she will not write it for you but will help you to stay on tract or fill in the gaps that your advisor might not fill. Your advisor is should be an expert in your topic area; the advisor is there to answer the technical questions a dissertation coach is there to help you make forward progress and keep you honest. What are you doing when you are suppose to be writing your dissertation?