I have coached many people who write dissertations while juggling the demands of family life. It’s difficult to juggle the daily demands, but to give up a holiday with one’s family is a particularly hard choice to make.
As the Memorial Day holiday approaches here in the U.S., I am thinking back to a Memorial Day weekend years ago when I had to choose my dissertation over the holiday weekend with my family. Now it seems as if it was a small sacrifice, and completing a dissertation definitely requires some sacrifices. But at the time, I felt that the dissertation process had demanded too much from me one too many times.
In my Washington, DC suburb, Memorial Day has always been a day for ritual and fun. The day begins with a 3K Fun Run. The day proceeds with a fair and a parade and back-yard picnics. Except for the one year when I had to spend the whole weekend once again revising the intro to my diss.
My defense was approaching. I thought I was on track since the full draft of the dissertation had been revised many times and had finally been approved. Only the intro needed one more rewrite, and I had done that, following the straightforward suggestions for revising from my advisor. I then sent the rewritten Intro off to him.
Just before Memorial Day, he returned the revision to me with a note saying that I should take out all of the newly added pages and re-work the whole chapter.
I was dumbfounded. I knew better, but because the deadline was so close I wrote to him, saying that I had done what he had told me to do. His only comment was that he didn’t want to be told what he had said.
I hoped that I hadn’t alienated him. And I knew that I had to grind out the new rewrite immediately. I gave up my holiday weekend with my family and sat in front of my computer for the holiday.
As I look back on that weekend now, years later, I have changed my perspective on several counts.
I remember now that when I was revising the Intro, my advisor’s suggestions struck me as a bit off the mark. But I didn’t raise any questions or concerns with him. Of course, the advisor is always right, but it would have been smart to at least give voice to my concerns.
It strikes me now that perhaps I was even a bit lazy in adopting his comments without discussing my concerns with him or without thinking of an alternative approach.
As for that Memorial Day weekend, I don’t think that my kids felt neglected. I did miss out on some fun, but I bounced back. It wasn’t the end of the world. And I think my kids learned something about how much work it takes to finish big projects.
What I had to do was draw on my resolve and my mental toughness to get through this challenge.
Over the long period of time that I worked on the whole dissertation, I learned the value of building perseverance, resilience, and courage. Actually, learning to rely on those strengths may be the life-changing and lasting benefit for me of writing the dissertation.
If you, too, are finding yourself drawing on and building your mental toughness and resolve as you write your dissertation, I salute you. Only in such a long-term, large project do you find such an opportunity.