Archive for August, 2007

I usually don’t watch NBA basketball because while the players persevere, for the most part they show little passion or even a sense of fun. But I will watch Steve Nash, the point guard from Canada who has played on several NBA teams and is the winner of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.

When Nash plays, he shows both perseverance and passion, and he is fun to watch.

He has been on many talk shows, such as the David Letterman Show.  Not only is Nash bright and personable, but on the Charlie Rose Show, Nash also revealed his leadership ability.

The focus of the Charlie Rose show was leadership.  As a point guard, Nash says he “mothers” the other four players on the team, thinking about what they need and helping them find ways to succeed.

But I found myself wondering even if a man earns the huge amount of money that basketball players receive, what does he do to keep himself motivated and at his best?  How does a 6’1” man, a self-described small guy,  play in the midst of those sharp elbows and huge shoulders?  And how does he stay committed during the long season, the training, the traveling, the endless tournament at the end of the season?

Nash knows what he has to do.  This is what he says:

1) Since he’s a small guy in tough territory, he is creative.  He has to come up with new plays.

2)  He is mentally tough.  When he’s jostled or intimidated, he remains “unflappable” because he has decided that “nothing will bother” him.

3) He has no fear.  Without fear, he can charge into the midst of play.

4) He doesn’t give up because he’s committed “to stay the course.”

5) And he does it because it’s fun.

He smiles when he says that, and you believe him.

What does Steve Nash’s strategy to be “unflappable” in the face of intimidation, as well to show leadership for his team, say to you, the dissertation writer? Here is what I think is the take-away for the dissertation writer:

1) Even when you feel you’re out-manned or losing ground, dig deep to find the courage to be fearless.  You will not be intimidated.

2) Like Steve Nash in basketball, you did not get to this level of writing by being a non-starter.  You were training for this long ago. You have everything you need to succeed.

3) Character matters. To be long-lasting, you need grit. Work with both passion and perseverance.

4) Keep your commitment to your team—even if it’s just a team of one.  Or add a coach to your team and have someone along side of you who takes your commitment seriously. 

5) And one more thing, Steve Nash plays hard and plays to win because it’s fun.  You can make your work  fun, too—writing is a challenge and challenges are exhilarating.  Choose that perspective.

You ask about motivation?  Having motivation is a choice.  You must choose to use your courage, grit, and mental toughness to tap into your motivation.

Take risks and charge through tough places. And then you, too, will feel the wind in your hair as you run fast in your arena.

Until next time,


Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach


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Just in time for the first day of classes at many universities, we’re reminded of one of the less admirable aspects of higher education.   

Purdue University’s women’s basketball team has been placed on probation for two years because an assistant coach committed academic fraud by helping a student write a term paper.  In emails sent to the student, the assistant coach implicated herself in far more than just “helping.”  She told the student, “Be sure you reread the paper and make it sound like you” (“Coach Caught By an E-Mail Trail,” http://insidehighered.com/news/2007/08/23/purdue).

In another exchange, the student implicated herself when she said, “Stop cakin’ and finish the paper . . . dang!”

Just this week, the London Times tapped Purdue as one of the Top 200 Universities in the world. 


I’m curious whether the professor of the course in question was aware of the student’s work or had any questions about the student’s being able to write the quality of the paper being submitted.

If you teach writing (or if you teach writing within the context of another course), you know that one of the only ways to detect plagiarism and also to help students learn to write is to require drafts and to hold individual student conferences on the drafts.

I’ve had various experiences with student athletes in which there were red flags and intrusions from the Athletic Department.  One student had not submitted work and had not shown up at a conference, but the next day an assistant coach was waiting for me in my classroom.  He touched my arm and made excuses for the young man, and he followed up with a telephone call.  He had also been in touch with other professors and instructors.

That situation did not end well for either the student athlete or the coach.

I don’t know why the assistant coach was so bold, other than the pressure coaches are under to produce wins, and their teams can’t win if students are ineligible. 

At another university, I also had underprepared student athletes in some classes, but at that school there was more academic support in place for those students and the athletes seemed to know that they were to do the work, no matter what. 

At that school, basketball players were extremely valuable to the school since the team went to the NCAA Sweet 16 finals.  Name recognition and increased applications for admissions were only part of what the school gained from having a team in the finals.

Universities bear much of the blame for situations that can sometimes be called academic fraud.  Too many athletes for the so-called money sports cannot do university-level work.  They need what community colleges offer. 

When universities admit students because of the money and fame the students will bring to the school, ethical dilemmas are almost inevitable

Underpaid, overworked instructors or teaching assistants in the lower level courses can’t be expected to redress the missing academic instruction and academic experiences of the underprepared student athlete and at the same time be alert to ferret out fouls from the Athletic Department.

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Do you know where your laptop is? No matter what, do you know where you could put your hands on your writing file?

Please plan multiple ways to protect your intellectual property. 

Read “Gone With Two Flashes” at insidehighered.com–it’s a horrendous reminder of how important it is to back up every writing project and also to email  your work to friends.  

Here’s a link to the page: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2007/08/20/gorelick

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One of my amazing dissertation clients had had a few bad writing days.   

She emailed me, saying, “I tried every strategy I could think of,” but she kept meeting a “deep physical resistance.”   She couldn’t  force herself to go into the library. It seemed to her as if an “impenetrable force field” prevented her from entering.

“Feeling that desperate times call for desperate measures,” as she described it, she spontaneously checked herself into a hotel for two nights.   

She said, “I let people close to me know I was going into DEEP LOCKDOWN and would be incommunicado. No TV. No internet. No phone.”  She said that her email to me was the only email she was sending. 

Once in the room, she took a shower, spread out her books, opened her laptop, and was able to re-focus.  The pressure of paying money for the space was an added incentive. 

She said she was determined “to regain motivation” and to meet her goal.  She added, “I can’t do this often, but for now it’s working!!”

Sometimes it’s important to surprise ourselves with what we’re willing to do to make progress on the diss and to meet a goal.

I’d say this was money well spent.  What do you think?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,



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Is it possible for you to experience happiness when you’re writing a dissertation?

Do you say that to complete your dissertation successfully, you have to smack yourself around the head and shoulders to make yourself keep going?  And you can’t think about feeling joy in the process?  Tal Ben-Shahar, author of the book Happier, would disagree.

He says that you can be both successful and happy. ”Peak performance and peak experience go hand in hand,” he says.

One of my clients speaks of how she gets a rush of joy or happiness when she finishes one of her training sessions for running a marathon. 

When I asked how that might also be possible with a writing session, she said that she has tried to make a connection between the activities, but she cannot.

But as she talked, her training reminded me of a successful writing session.

She says that she has an overall plan as she trains—the number of miles she will run any one day are pre-determined.  In addition, she has a machine, as she calls it, that she sets for the number of miles she’ll run that day, and it counts down. 

She chooses her music in advance, knowing what will help her over humps.

Even with this planning, she’ll sometimes want to quit, but she never sees quitting  as an option.  She just makes a small adjustment, like slowing down and changing her pace for a bit.  That small adjustment relieves the pressure and also distracts her. 

At the end of a session, she has a rush and a feeling of joy from staying with her plan and meeting the challenge. 

As she talked, she admitted that when she’s actually accomplished something in her dissertation, she experiences a similar surge of joy.

My client didn’t use the phrases “hitting her stride” or “getting a second wind,” but I find those words from running as apt metaphors for my writing.  It often takes a while for me to find what I want to say or for me to feel at one with my writing, but if I keep trying, I do hit my stride and I do feel I’ve experienced a second wind.

To have flow or joy in writing, that state in your writing process when you are both challenged and engaged, as in running, you have to stick with it and meet that day’s  goal.  It’s likely that you will have to make slight adjustments during the writing session in order to get past humps.  The joy of mastering yourself as well as your writing is a happiness that’s worth the effort.  

To see a video clip of Tal Ben-Shahar, author of Happier,  on “The Daily Show” go to
http://www.comedycentral.com/shows/the_daily_show/videos/most_recent/index.jhtml and click on the box for the Tal Ben-Shahar video.

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So perseverance isn’t your strong suit?

But finishing the project no matter what is your goal?

When playing cards, what can you do if you can’t follow suit?  You play your trump card!  So what is your trump card, your ace in the hole?

Even if perseverance is low on your list of strengths, you can finish what you start by using one of your other strengths as leverage to achieve perseverance.

One strength usually found in academics’ top five strengths is “Love of Learning.”

Consider how you could use love of learning to help you finish your work, even if you find it difficult to keep going.  Ask yourself (yes—say this aloud!), “What is it that drew me to this project?” and help yourself, even when you’re weary, to find that nugget that still attracts you.

Finally, when the going gets tough, remember that you have one other trick up your sleeve. If you have played all your love-of-learning cards, then even if perseverance is not your suit, don’t show your hand.

Rather, act as if perseverance is your top strength.  Practice and see what it would be like if it were #1 for you.  Sometimes merely the acting as if  will make all the difference and may allow you to stick with your work a while longer.

Or to continue our card-playing analogy, you will come up trumps.

Remember, you can take the Signature Strengths Inventory at

If you think you lack perseverance, what strength could you draw on to help you keep going?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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If you find you cannot put two sentences together in your dissertation, or you cannot decide how to move your argument forward, then maybe it’s time to take action on some other front.  Where might that be, you ask?

Well, if you feel stuck and you’re not moving forward on your argument, you may be procrastinating.  So where else are you procrastinating?

How about the drawer in your desk, that one right in front of you?  The one that is so full of pens and red paper clips and light blue post-it pads and random free-floating staples that you can barely open it.

That drawer that you’ve been telling yourself you really must pry open and throw half of those pens away and move some of those stacks of post-it pads to somewhere else.

De-cluttering is an amazing tool toward empowering yourself.  Removing clutter from your desk drawer clears the way for mental clarity.  Mental clarity was what you were looking for, right?


What is your favorite decluttering strategy?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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