Posted on

Two types of university friends you may have never thought of (part 1)

Graduate students on the road to doctoral Oz often feel more isolated than a vegetarian at a barbecue. Especially if you have a laissez faire chair and committee, you may believe you’re abandoned and unloved. You’re not. In my work as editor and coach for struggling dissertation-writing students, I know well that many other people in the university community can comfort, calm, and care for you. Here I’ll remind you of two types who can help ease your dissertation traumas. (Next post: two more.)

Librarians Love You  

Even in this age of access to many online databases, librarians can help you greatly as you plow through the dissertation. Once you recognize the immense resources at their keypads, you can enlist their aid to save yourself time, effort, and digital runarounds.

These days you can connect with your university librarians not only in person but also by email or phone. The librarians skate easily among and within the vast virtual databases, their own university holdings, and, if needed, other libraries through interlibrary loans.

Librarians still love real books, journals, and people who wander in (The Writer magazine once published an article called “Who Loves You Like the Library?”). Despite the miraculous online conveniences, I am an inveterate library lover and feel heartened by librarians’ undeterred appreciation of physical books. When I recently phoned a reference librarian to verify a reference, she confessed, “I love placing a book or journal into a student’s hands and seeing that amazed and relieved look.”

So make friends with librarians.

Secretaries Stand by You

Often called administrative assistants, secretaries too can be great aids and, I believe, are secretly on the students’ side. Secretaries have superpowers: With one withering look, they can remind the chair that you’ve been sitting in the waiting area for two days without food or drink, clutching that sweaty proposal draft. With apparent telekinesis, they can float your manuscript to the top of the pile. With the speed of an e-text, they can announce the incredulous news of an approval.

Paula, a client who was on her last extension and fighting a tight deadline, needed all the cooperation she could get from the departmental office. The chair’s secretary had been pleasant but distant. Paula noticed a muffin wrapper in the woman’s wastebasket. The next time she visited, she brought a batch of her homemade blueberry muffins (baking assuaged her dissertation anxieties). Delighted, the secretary thanked her, and they discovered a mutual love of old-fashioned bakeries and cookbooks. With the secretary’s invaluable help, Paula walked at graduation.

As Paula did, notice secretaries’ offices, their accessories and even garbage, and engage them in conversation. Maybe you spy their prized World Series baseball cap displayed on a file cabinet, a bobble-head of an action hero, or a photo on their desk of three kids at a lake. Ask about their families and show interest in their work and leisure activities.

With both librarians and secretaries, invest in the time to “warm them up.” They will welcome your contact and requests for help. After all, you’re showing respect for their expertise and appreciation of their knowledge and ability. You’ll obtain needed resources and support for your dissertation trek, you’ll feel less alone, and you may even gain great friends way beyond graduate school.

Excerpted from Noelle Sterne, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015).
© 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

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.