How to get your boss’s support for your dissertation

writingIt’s not easy working full-time and writing a dissertation. A few fortunate doctoral students can quit work and devote themselves completely to the dissertation. But if you cannot quit, you can still make time for it—by meeting with your employer or supervisor.

Employers often encourage higher degrees, and some pay for them in whole or part. Your boss may be supportive of your academic pursuit and willing to give you released time and preferential schedules to meet the demands of graduate work. To gain what you need, you need a plan and rehearsal for the talk.

First, Thank and Explain

Preferably with the boss’s door closed, first express your gratitude as sincerely as you can and without fawning. After all, you’re asking for a special dispensation, and you really are grateful for the hearing and (expected) accommodation.

Then explain why you are asking. Go into as much detail as will make your case but without theatrics or poor-me self-pitying stories (“I’ll lose thousands in tuition.” “My wife will divorce me if I don’t finish.”). Instead, for example:

Thank you for this meeting and for listening. I have reached the point in my doctoral program where the dissertation has to be written. (Wait for congratulations.) This “book” requires blocks of concentrated time. Of course, I will keep fulfilling my job duties completely while I write. I would be very grateful if you could arrange my schedule so I could double up on some days and have others off for the dissertation. I’m glad to answer any questions.

If your employer shows interest in your degree program and/or dissertation topic and asks for more information, by all means give it. The boss’s genuine interest and intelligent questions, and your equally intelligent responses, will only help your case.

Next, offer job-related bribes . . .

How Your Degree Benefits the Company

Your employer may be supportive, cooperative, and generous but to grant your request may still need reminders of how your degree helps the company. Do not talk about your personal benefits, such as higher pay, bigger and better title, other and better opportunities, or the degree as an exit strategy. Keep in mind, without voicing it, that all of the benefits you list will reflect well on the boss.

If your degree is directly related to your job, great; if not, you can still point out many pluses. A few:

  • This degree will increase my knowledge, skills, and abilities in doing my job.
  • I will gain more expertise that can be applied to my work here.
  • I will be able to train others more effectively.
  • My leadership skills will be developed, and I will use them as appropriate.
  • With the greater knowledge from the degree, my duties and responsibilities can expand as you need.
  • Then stop speaking. If you haven’t already suggested what you want, let the boss ask or make suggestions for your revised schedule. And thank, thank, thank.

Negotiate What Works for Both of You

Remember that your employer needs you and wants to keep you. But you don’t want to jeopardize your responsibilities or their impact on others. Your task is to negotiate schedules and workloads that honor your job and also allow for steady progress on your dissertation.

Prepare your best plan for a schedule—specific times off and ways you can compensate, such as taking work home, coming in on weekends, staying later some nights. Then wait for your boss to suggest a revised schedule. If it’s not forthcoming, suggest your own. Decide clearly what you will give up—instead of three afternoons off, you’ll settle for two. Maybe you ask for six months for the new arrangement; the boss may suggest three. Compromise at four and a half.

Your boss may have to confer with others to arrive at a workable schedule and workload for you. Be gracious about the time and leeway needed. Showing panic or urgency about your revised schedule only indicates weakness.

Also promise to inform the boss of any changes in your situation. I know it’s highly unlikely, but you may actually complete your draft earlier than anticipated and be able to handle a full week of work once again.

It’s important to get the new arrangement in writing. If you need it for any reason, you can point to the date and boss’s signature.

When you use these suggestions to request time off, you will be showing your employer you care about your job and the company. The benefits you cite, and your sense of responsibility, will demonstrate you are worthy of the special and temporary considerations you’re requesting. And you’ll be able to finish your dissertation—finally.

© 2016 Noelle Sterne


Noelle SterneDissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and emotional counselor, Noelle has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inspire Me Today, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com


The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of the Textbook & Academic Authors Association. Read more about TAA guest posts here.