Can spirituality help you with school?

MeditationAt first flash, spirituality and graduate school may seem to conflict. School requires your intellect; spirituality requires your surrender of intellect. School subsists on logic and realism; spirituality survives on faith.

I used to hold fiercely to these assumptions. Spirituality and school were completely contradictory, I thought, or at least separate.

Privately, though, I’ve often applied spirituality in my longtime academic practice of coaching and advising doctoral candidates wrestling with their dissertations. Spiritual practices have helped me forgive an ornery client, receive internal guidance for the next step on a daunting project, access the right assuaging words before a difficult meeting, and many other quandaries. [Read more…]

For lagging doctoral candidates: How to finish your dissertation and keep your family

work from homeIf you are in the throes of your dissertation, you probably realize that, other than yourself, your family is most affected by your dissertation, and they most affect your progress. It can be hard for family members to understand what you’re going through and must continue to endure for several years.

A poignant example from one of my dissertation coaching clients: Ava wailed to me, “I get calls daily from my mother, my three sisters, and my two cousins! They all say they’re tired of me not coming to the family events. I had to go to the reunion!”

Like Ava’s relatives, family can start squeezing you. [Read more…]

Can I help you in any way? Dissertation

Can I help you in any way? Dissertation“Hello, thank you for visiting. Can I help you in any way?” If you’ve browsed our TAA website, you’ve likely seen those words in the chat box that appears on the screen. We’re often asked by visitors if we’re “real”. Then those who realize that we are, and that we are there to help, ask questions that you may have as well.

In this series of “Can I help you in any way?” posts, we’ll highlight some of the questions people have asked through the TAA Live Chat feature of our site and the responses we have for those questions. In this post, we’re focused on questions about requirements related to writing a thesis or dissertation. [Read more…]

Dear dissertation advisers: Focus on the practical dimensions of the research project

Focus studentsGenerally speaking, this may be the least common of the “bad feedback” issues that I see, but it can be crushingly bad feedback. Many, many professors try to force their students to look at the practical dimensions of the project and try to get the students to do less. Almost every professor I ever worked with told me some variation of “do less,” and many students with whom I’ve worked have also been told to try to do less, so I know it’s no rare idea, but some students could really benefit from this advice.

I have two main suggestions here: 1. Get the students to reduce the scope of their project if possible and reasonable, and 2. Explicitly focus on the practical dimensions as a reason to make the project smaller in order to reduce the emotional impact of being told to do less.  [Read more…]

Dear dissertation advisers: Make sure student has defined the research purpose and question

Disseration adviceDefining a good research question is crucial to developing a successful research project, and it is no easy task. For some, defining a good question comes easily, but for many, especially doctoral candidates who may have never developed their own research project before, it is a great hurdle. And, as I suggested in the previous post, if the research purpose and question aren’t defined, then there’s no point in your looking at other stuff: if your student hasn’t defined the research purpose clearly, they’ll have trouble making progress.

A good definition of research question or purpose is not only crucial, it’s usually really easy for a reader to find in skimming through a paper. Most drafts have several sentences that say things like “the purpose of this research is…” and “the research question is…”. These sentences need to be clear, and they need to agree with each other (multiple conflicting statements of purpose can often be found in early drafts of research). [Read more…]

19 Reasons to start a journal

JournalingA journal is a time-honored writer’s tool to record and develop ideas, work out projects and plots, and save meaningful aphorisms and perfect overheard phrases. We can use a journal for these, other issues, and any aspect of our writing. Whether you’ve kept a journal for decades, or have never started one, consider these tips not only to help you write more but also to make your writing more effective. [Read more…]

Dear dissertation advisers: I have some advice for you

Dissertation adviceDear dissertation advisors, as a dissertation coach, I don’t actually want you to do your jobs better, because that might cut into my business. But if you’re interested in saving yourself effort and hassles in working with your thesis and dissertation candidates, I have a few pieces of advice for you.

As a dissertation coach, most people who contact me are struggling with their work, and often those struggles are exacerbated by poor feedback or support from professors. This biases my view of the general quality of research feedback, but the general patterns of what makes good vs. bad feedback are still useful to keep in mind. Good feedback helps the student effectively, reducing demands on the teacher; bad feedback will hinder progress, and may ultimately increase teacher workload. It’s good when students finish their projects, for both student and professor! [Read more…]

Time and friendship and writing

friendship and writingAs I’ve chosen to reduce socializing in favor of more writing time, I’ve also chosen to keep up or reconnect with a very few friends and realize an essential characteristic of friendship: time doesn’t matter. However long the moments, weeks, or years between contacts, real friendship knows no steel-banded boundaries of time, distance, erratic mobile phone connections, or sporadic emails.

I recall a friend of twenty years ago who lived nearby, and I still cherish our many calls and visits. When we both moved, our interests diverged, and contact ended. [Read more…]

A delicate balance: Humility and self-respect

FeedbackWhether you are a doctoral student wrestling the drafts of your dissertation or an academic author wrestling with the drafts of your book, you have encountered, or will, the often-intimidating presence and feedback of your chair or editor. As with any interpersonal relationship, it’s advisable to steer between abject obeisance and independent arrogance. Neither will get you what you want—approval of your dissertation or publication of your book.

In my academic editing and coaching profession, I suggest to clients that an optimum way to establish and maintain a good working relationship is a combination of humility and self-respect. Whatever your past accomplishments, humility before the perceived power of the chair or editor is required. [Read more…]

4 Tips for writing a literature review

library stacksLiterature reviews are common elements in academic writing, found in dissertations or theses, but also in journal articles, book introductions, book chapters, and even course exercises. Despite its prevalence in academia, the process of writing a literature review is often daunting to an academic author.

In her recent TAA webinar, “Demystifying the Literature Review”, Dr. Daveena Tauber, founder of Scholar Studio, shared four tips that can make the process easier. [Read more…]