In a recent conversation, a tenured professor at a large research university told me that he left it up to his doctoral students to get in touch with him.
He didn’t say that he doesn’t want to invite more work since he already has more to do than he can get done, but that might have been partially his reason for waiting.
I sympathize with the workload many professors carry. In departments with which I’ve had first-hand experience, primarily those in the liberal arts and social sciences, professors work very hard:
• Preparing for classes and meeting with students from their current classes;
• Actually reading the papers their students write;
• Enduring hours of committee work and departmental meetings;
• Trying to find time to conduct research and write their own papers and articles.
But wait a minute– the truth is that in the relationship with his doctoral student, this kind, intelligent tenured professor holds all the cards. All of the power in this relationship is on his side, or so goes the thinking of most ABD’s.
Many doctoral students feel paralyzed by overwhelming anxiety and unrealistic fears at the thought of contacting their advisor. At times, some even avoid opening their university email account, fearing that their professor might have written to tell them to forget the project.
Even though Joseph Berger, in his NYTimes story “ON EDUCATION; Exploring Ways to Shorten the Ascent to a Ph.D.,” asserts that “universities . . . [are] demanding that faculty advisers meet regularly with protégés,” he doesn’t say precisely which universities are making this demand. My dissertation coaching clients are unaware of any such demands. They haven’t been contacted by their advisors.
So if a student shouldn’t expect a phone call or email from an advisor, then what? Continue to hide out? Living in dread is no way to live.
a. First, state what the belief is that is allowing you to hide out.
b. Second, take a hard look at that belief or assumption. What evidence can you muster to disprove or reject that belief?
c. Third, come up with an action that you could take (will take?) that will let you step over that belief.
Here are some beliefs I’ve heard from my dissertation coaching clients and some potential follow-up steps:
Belief #1: If I write my advisor to say that I’m working again, he/she will be nasty. His/her sarcasm will just crush me.
Action: Ask yourself what’s the worst thing he/she will say? The best? What is he/she likely to say? You know the words he/she will say. You’ve heard them before. Write them down. Assume his/her voice and read the words aloud. Say them aloud several times until the words of ridicule sound ridiculous. Make it funny. Laugh! Let it go.
Belief #2: If I send a chapter or a few pages to my advisor, he/she will hold onto them and won’t return the pages with any comments. And then I’m stuck–all I can do is wait. I don’t want to feel any more helpless than I already do.
Action: You aren’t helpless. Ask for an appointment (by phone or in person) at the same time that you send the text to your advisor. You can help make this process easier for your advisor and at the same time give yourself more control over the process. Give a choice of two specific times that would be good for you and ask to hear back by a certain time. Specific requests are more likely to elicit a response.
Belief #3: Even if I make an appointment, my advisor probably won’t look at the text ahead of time. An appointment or a telephone conference is a waste of time, and afterwards, I feel just as lost as ever. I don’t know where to go next.
Action: You have options. Email and re-send the text shortly before your appointment, highlighting key passages with specific, pivotal questions. You know your work best–give your advisor a perch from which to view your work.
Belief #4: My advisor never seems to have any comments, even when we have an appointment. I have no control over what happens.
Action: What if you act as if you do have some control? Come with specific questions about the text. Don’t hide. Don’t waste the opportunity. Always take notes, or, if all parties agree, tape the conversation. Show a willingness to do whatever it takes to get through this process, and show respect for the time your advisor has carved out for you by having an agenda. Make it easy for your advisor to help you.
What are you waiting for?
Your university probably hasn’t made any demands that your advisor meet regularly with you.
Your advisor is not going to email you to say that you are in his/her thoughts or to invite you over for dinner.
Advisors may not have the best interpersonal skills, but they probably aren’t plotting to do you in.
Stop Catastrophizing—you’re busy; your advisor is busy.
Why not shoot off an email tonight to your advisor? Ask for what you want.
Please share your strategies on how you sidestep the urge to catastrophize and get on with your dissertation. When your Lizard Brain is in overdrive, what do you do? I would love to hear from you.
At my website (www.nwcoaching.com), I offer a free newsletter with helpful tips. I invite you to sign up for it and let me know what you think.
Until next time,