If you’re writing your dissertation, you’ve probably experienced the all too common range of emotions, from initial elation to paralyzing fear to plunging despair, and in between many starts, stops, and freezes. Here I suggest how you can at least cut down on those maddening swings and coax, invite, and entice the Flow.
You’re knee-deep or, more accurately, file/notecard/article/laptop-deep in your dissertation. You don’t hear anything around you—refrigerator opening, kids tussling, clothes washer whirring. You don’t even hear your name called for dinner. When you come up for air, you realize that your partner hasn’t spoken to you for days. When they do, it’s only to wail, “I never see you anymore!”
If you’re contemplating a doctoral program in which a dissertation is required or you’re already registered and sneaking up on one—and you feel stumped (read: procrastinating)—here are five ways that should help you begin.
The dissertation is the crowning achievement for your degree. Having reached at least the threshold of the dissertation, congratulate yourself. You made it through all the prerequisites and courses, and you’re that much closer to the award of your degree. You’ve done it all because . . . . ? This is the time to remind yourself: How is this degree part of my life’s goals?
Is your dissertation dragging you down? Are you dragging your feet, your manuscript in sorry tow behind you like an annoying younger brother? Are you doing the impossible already—on campus or online, like many other graduate students juggling family, work, and school? Your academic struggles are intensified by the stresses of such multiple responsibilities and, possibly, loss of your long-range picture.
From what I’ve learned and observed as a longtime coach of graduate students and writer of creative projects, here I address some issues that can trip you up. And I share some steadying remedies so you handle your dissertation and other creative projects with less dragging and more speed and even enthusiasm.
Qualitative research methods allow investigators to go beyond merely counting how often something occurs or with how many individuals. Rather, they provide insights in to how or why certain actions are taken or the ways in which people interact with or interpret their lived experiences. This added richness can be critical to forming effective interventions to create behavior change, which is common in not just health and medicine but educational practice as well. Yet, many researchers are hesitant to journey into qualitative research beyond a few open-ended survey questions, due to concerns about qualitative research lacking the rigor and validity of quantitative studies. Although there are many approaches to qualitative research and the accepted norms for conducting and writing up this type of research can vary according to your academic discipline, the following five tips can help provide a solid foundation for starting your qualitative journey.
Early career academics and newly minted PhDs in the humanities and social sciences often want to turn their dissertation into a book. While this is a laudable goal, it is important to keep in mind that university presses seldom publish unrevised or lightly revised dissertations. Instead, they seek books that grow out of dissertation projects and are substantially more developed. Margaret Puskar-Pasewicz’s TAA webinar offered terrific advice about the big picture of moving from dissertation to book. TAA members can review her webinar for an overview of the whole process.
Where most writers get stuck, I’ve found in my work coaching academics for the past decade, is in the early stage of reconceiving their project. Taking the following three steps can help you shake off the familiar old conception of your work that you’ve lived with for years and chart a new map for a truly book-worthy project.
As an advanced graduate student, you face many hard situations: finally writing the dissertation, trying to explain to your family why you can’t spend any time with them, and breaking up the fistfights between your chair and committee members. In my work as academic coach and editor, and especially with clients who are at any of the torturous stages of their dissertations, I’ve noticed two other scenarios that can cause students great anxiety. The first is the professor’s suggestion of a dissertation topic. The second, later, is a professor’s offer to collaborate on a research article.
It is impossible to overestimate the significance of the student-advisor relationship. . . . This is both a personal and professional relationship that rivals marriage and parenthood in its complexity, variety and ramifications for the rest of one’s life. (Zhao, Golde, & McCormick, 2007, p. 263)
These wise observations were made by a new “doctor” in the study by Zhao et al. (2007) of how the doctoral students’ choice of chairs and their behavior affect the students’ satisfaction. The candidate quoted above echoes what many doctoral students learn, with ease or agony, during their dissertations. Your relationship with your chair (sometimes called advisor or supervisor) is absolutely the most important in your entire doctoral haul.
Publishing your first book is imperative for many early-career scholars, but turning your dissertation into a book can be a confusing and difficult process. Join us Thursday, November 7, from 10-11 am ET for the TAA Webinar, “Writing Your First Book: Developing Your Dissertation Into a Manuscript”, where presenter Margaret Puskar-Pasewicz of MargaretEdits will discuss practical strategies and tips for bridging the gap between completing your dissertation and writing a compelling book manuscript. She will also share some of the most common mistakes that she’s encountered in her years as an academic editor and writing coach, the importance of staking a claim that you can defend consistently throughout your book as well as developing your scholarly voice.
In your dissertation trek, you may have a chair and committee who are steady, consistent, and infinitely supportive. If not, my condolences.
Students frequently describe their committees as just wanting to push those dissertations through, get their pittance, devote their time to revising and publishing their own (hard-won) dissertation, and jockeying for tenure. Graduate students also make the frequent mistake of thinking that their committees are reasonable, logical, well- organized, prompt about returning phone calls and manuscripts, and enjoying a balanced life, happy in their work. Rarely.