Holidays can be welcome respites from our daily routines and the seemingly relentless pressures to produce. But at holiday gatherings we also risk what are often inevitable and often embarrassing questions from well-meaning relatives and friends. Whether you’re writing your dissertation or, post-dissertation, sweating through the first article from it, a book chapter, or an entire book, at least one person asks those questions that make you squirm. They’re right up there with the personal in-your-face ones: “How come you’re still single?” or “When are you going to have kids?”
To help you field the equivalent questions about your academic project, maintain your self-respect, and even jab a little in return, here are several of the most common questions and suggested replies I’ve collected from my academic coaching clients who are agonizing through working on their scholarly projects. Clients report, I’m glad to say, that these suggested responses have worked well—meaning they’ve shut the other guy up. Tailor your responses as appropriate, but curb your impulse to throw a punch.