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Two more types of university friends you may have never thought of (part 2)

If you’re a graduate student struggling with your dissertation, you probably crave at least a few people who really understand and can help you get through the long and torturous journey. Many dissertation writers have confided to me as their editor and coach that their chairs and committee members, unfortunately, may not be the most supportive or nurturing. In Part 1 of this series, I recommended two types of individuals you may not have thought of who can be immense help: librarians and secretaries. Here I’ll suggest two more.

Fellow Students

Fellow students and recently awarded doctors can be great bolsterers and sources of hope (You think, “If he got through, I sure as hell can.”). Cohort members are among the only other long-sufferers who have lived what you’re going through. They can relate and commiserate, usually with their own horror stories.

A caution, though. Fellow students and new doctors, as well-meaning as they may be, can also give you misguided advice. Remember, these colleagues are not your current committee. Your peers likely have or had a different set of professors. Even if you are in the same department with the same degree, some of the requirements may well have changed over time. And even if you have the same committee, the professors may respond differently to different candidates (meaning you).

My client Edmund gratefully accepted help from a recent graduate who had completed his dissertation with the same chair. Thinking approval was assured, Edmund proceeded to copy his friend’s description of data collection procedures, inserted it into his draft, and sent it to his chair. I wasn’t surprised but Edmund was shocked when the chair slashed almost the entire section.

Nevertheless, your fellow-student friends can be wonderful allies. They can urge you not to give up and promise it will get better (as one cynic remarked, after you graduate). They can be very generous with time and suggestions, exhort you to keep on plugging, and remind you of the proverbial light at the end of the seemingly endless tunnel. Don’t forget to thank them in your acknowledgments.

Former Professors

Another excellent resource for your dissertation troubles is past professors whom you’ve particularly liked, who’ve liked you, or who have given you A’s. Maybe you even shared a few beers with them and found them not only approachable but sympathetic and easy to talk to. These professors don’t have your present committee’s vested (ego) interests and generally welcome contact from former students (I know I have warm spots for previous clients who get in touch).

Your former professors may even be willing to read your draft and give their input to the pervasive dripping red track changes from your chair. From their combat experience in the academic trenches, they can offer you sane perspectives, suggest alternative approaches, recommend additional research materials and sources, and provide salving moral support.

When my client Reynold emailed a favorite professor from a required course and told her about his dissertation and difficulties finding prior research, the prof answered immediately. She congratulated Reynold on reaching the dissertation stage and included a reference for an important recent study close to Reynold’s that no one else had turned up.

Former professors can mightily sustain you, prod you on, and become friends during your entire dissertation journey, and even beyond. And they too appreciate your acknowledgment.

So, don’t be reticent in contacting fellow students and former professors. They will probably be flattered and eager to help (who doesn’t want to share their expertise?). You will gain needed support, advice, and courage as you make your way to the coveted land of academic Doctorhood.

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.