I met a graduate student who was thinking about abandoning her PhD. She was reluctant to seek my help. When we met she told me that she had lost 50lbs. I didn’t believe her until she showed me her before picture on her camera phone. She brushed it off as “nothing”. I just went to the gym and took a “belly dancing” class. I said if you can lose 50lbs you can complete a PhD. I told her the same skills that allowed you to lose 50lbs are the same ones that you need to complete a PhD. Half of the challenge of completing a long-term goal is just showing up everyday.
Myth #1: I need write alone and in a quite space.
PhD: When we think about completing our PhD some of us imagine going away and writing in complete isolation.
Weight Lost: We think we need the cute outfit to go to the gym.
PhD: Isolation might be impossible. The truth of the matter is that we will be writing our dissertation amidst our real life responsibilities. We might still be working on our experiments, or looking for a job, working a full-time job, caring for our parents or even taking care of children.
Weight Lost: When you are serious about working out, you really don’t care what you are wearing. It’s more important that you, schedule your workout, put on some clothes, any clothes, and get to the gym.
Myth#2: I can’t write unless I am motivated to do so.
PhD: You don’t need to feel like writing to complete your dissertation. Given earlier, it’s important to learn how to write your dissertation in short bursts and write daily even when you are not inspired. You should write even if you are tired, bored, exhausted, or not feeling very smart. Like working out you need to get started and so something every day.
Weight Lost: To work out you might have to face the fact that you do not like working out. Despite not liking to work out you still need to lose weight. Hence, you need to work out on a daily basis whether or not your are inspired to do so. Just get started….you might come to realize that the best part of the work out might be the end of the work out.
Myth #3 You need a substantial amount of time before you begin writing.
PhD: It’s important to build confidence as you go. If you create a to-do lists you can cross things off and feel good about crossing things off. Stop looking for 2 hour or even one-hour blocks to write your dissertation. It’s more important that you do something. You have a list of 15 minute items, some 30 minute items and some 60 minute items.
For example, does your university have a dissertation template? If yes download it and use it as soon as possible.
Begin with your proposal and move from there.
- Start by cutting and pasting i.e. dragging and dropping items into certain sections of the template.
- Next change the tense in your proposal from future to past and present tense
- Print it out and edit it
- Add new citations to the proposal
- Update the methodology
Weight Loss: You need to find large amounts of time to work out. You can work out in as little as 10 min in the morning and 10 minutes at night. Although you can do a workout with a workout schedule, it’s easier to workout when you know ahead of time, what workout you are going to do and when you are going to do it.
Myth #4: I need a coach
Weight Loss: Set your alarm clock, put your workout clothes at the edge of the bed and jump into them when you wake up. When trying to lose weight you can eat smaller meals and eat more often.
PhD: When you are writing a dissertation you can breakdown tasks into smaller manageable tasks and complete them in 15 min intervals. Set your alarm clock. See examples of smaller tasks below:
- Answer your email only twice a day; in the morning and in the evening
- Write an outline
- Write a paragraph
- Work on the bibliography
- Create a to-do lists
- Work on in-text citations
- Write a paragraph about your tables or figures
- Write what you know and edit later
- Hire an editor
- Work on the Table of Contents
- Count down the days until completion
- Tell others what you are doing: Create your out-going message letting people know that you are working on your dissertation and will be only looking at your email in the morning and evening.
- Keep some accountability: Post on PhD completion 2012 Challenge
Myth 5: It’s never going to be over.
PhD: Set a deadline for when you want it to be over and begin working towards that deadline. It’s OK if you have to reset the deadline but don’t begin without one.
Weight Loss: Keep track of your measurements and weight loss. Take monthly pictures or videos in the same outfit, if you don’t want to take measurements. Just seeing weekly/monthly progress will keep you going. It’s OK if you have to begin again.
Your PhD or weight loss is never really out of your reach; it’s about how hard you want to work to achieve this goal. The student in the story above completed her PhD 4 months later.