I generally empathize with beleaguered graduate students who are wrestling with their dissertations. Most doctoral candidates seem to get little support from their chairs in guidance, writing, or cheering on. However, exceptions exist . . . .
My joyful livelihood for three decades has been as a coach and editor for doctoral candidates in all aspects of their dissertations. So I warn you now—I am partisan. That said, here I’ll describe the (best) duties and functions of a coach, with the basic distinctions too about editing.
A common weakness in novice academic writing is a lack of flow; for readers, this lack of flow means they can’t easily see how one thought follows from another. To combat this problem, we need to learn how to make effective transitions between sentences. Such transitions are usually managed in one of two ways: through transition words or through evident links in the text. Both strategies have a role to play, but novice writers, unfortunately, often see transition words as their main way of moving from sentence to sentence.
We can’t deny it: writing your dissertation is hard. All that time you devote to research is a worthy endeavor but, no matter how many plums you’ve collected, at some point you know you’re stalling. In my longtime dissertation coaching and editing practice, I have witnessed, cautioned, and counseled many dissertation writers on the difficulties of the actual writing. Peter, a new doctoral candidate who came from the corporate world, confided, “I struggle daily with understanding the shift from business and occupational writing to writing as a researcher according to certain expectations and standards.”
Academic writing is one of the main things you’ll be judged on as a graduate student. It shows how much you really learned when you were earning that degree. Now that you’re out into the world, things aren’t much different. Every piece of academic writing you do has to be just as good as the ones you wrote in college – if not better. You don’t have a professor to proofread for you anymore, and now the task rests solely in your hands. It’s sometimes difficult, but practice makes perfect.
Most universities require a final doctoral defense of your precious work. Almost everyone who has a doctorate has a final defense story. Often they are the worst horror stories one can imagine, short of a bedroom intruder, and emblazoned on the mind of the teller forever.
For example . . . A friend of mine was obviously pregnant at her defense. After she successfully passed, her chair, staring at her bulk, informed her with a tone of incontrovertibility that her entire graduate education had been a “waste.” Outrageous, I know. I’m very glad to say she proved the chair wrong. Later, with two kids, she became an award-winning professor at Brandeis.