Archive for May, 2008

You want to be at a good place with your writing at summer’s end?  You can absolutely do that, especially if you approach the summer with a bit of urgency and heat. 

Get a picture of yourself in your mind’s eye of you taking charge. What would your taking charge look like?

1.  See what’s the big deal about writing early each morning.  Even if you’ve always said that you’re a night person, get up early and put in a couple of hours of writing before doing anything else.  No email; no newspaper; no headlines.
2.  Cut back on night-time TV. Turn the TV off before you find yourself watching Oprah re-runs in the middle of the night.  One place in your life where you absolutely have control is clicking “off” on the remote.

3.  Know your cut-off date for research. Have that cut-off date or time in place before you ever start. Reading can go on forever. It’s a wonderful, nearly guilt-free way to procrastinate.  If you need to do a bit more research, you can slip that in later.  For now, be clear on your deadline for cutting off the research.

4.  Boldly wade into the tough parts of your diss.  What needs to be done?  Plan to start working on the parts that have given you fits, or you’ll be tempted to read the parts of your draft that you like and tweak the writing that’s already in fairly good shape. 

5.  If family should visit you this summer, still keep your head in your diss.
Give your mind something to chew on each day.  If demands take you away from writing, open your diss just to read a section or two. Check on how you referred to something in your writing.  Keep the connection to your writing fresh and alive.

6.  Let dust be your badge of courage.  Say to yourself, “I’m brave enough to put my diss ahead of cleaning.”  If you have to move your files for someone to sleep on the spare bed, fine, but don’t move your papers or files too far.  Don’t put them out of sight.  People can accommodate you.

7. What is your mid-summer reward? Tie work to reward. Plan something at mid-summer.  Whether it’s something big (3 days in Italy or Mexico) or small (an overnight camping trip or a day at the museums), put something in place that you can look forward to.  That reward is what you can lock your eyes on and work toward.

Make this summer the one that you’ll look back on with pride.  Work hard, have fun at your mid-summer reward, and then finish your summer with a bang.  Have something to show for your Summer of 2008.

What will you do to take charge this summer?  I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Summer Writing,

Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

P.S.   Did you sign up for Smart Tips at www.nancywhichard.com?  No?  You didn’t?  Hustle over there and sign up.

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I always look forward to Memorial Day week-end.  As I enjoy the current Memorial Day holiday here in the U.S., I am thinking back to a Memorial Day week-end a few years ago when I had to choose my dissertation over the holiday week-end with my family.

In my Washington, DC suburb, Memorial Day has always been a day for ritual and fun.

The day begins with a 3K Fun Run. In the front of the pack are young military people and other determined-looking runners.  Behind them are the kids from the local track teams and other people who love to run.  Way back, and this is a big pack of people, are the walkers.  One reason everyone in town wants to participate is because, for years now, the local Volvo dealer gives away terrific t-shirts to everyone who finishes.

The day proceeds with a fair and a parade and back-yard brunches and that sort of thing.

And it’s fun to spend the day with my family and to catch up with friends and long-time acquaintances..

Except for the one year when I had to spend the whole week-end once again revising the intro to my diss.

I thought I was finished with the intro.  My advisor had given me a fairly straightforward suggestion for revising the diss.  I had done what he said and sent the revision 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.

To meet the deadline, I would have to work straight through the Memorial Day holiday.  I knew better, but I wrote to him, saying that I had done exactly what he had told me to do.  His only comment was that he didn’t want to be told what he had said.

Hoping that I hadn’t alienated him, I gave up my holiday week-end with my family and sat in front of my computer for 3 days.

I got through the revision, and finished the dissertation, but that was one of the times that I strongly felt that the dissertation process had demanded too much from me.

I have coached many people who somehow 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.

For those of you who are facing the dilemma this week-end of deciding whether to spend  time with your family or meet a writing goal, I send all good wishes.  Whatever you decide to do will be the right choice for you.

Warm regards,

Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

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What do you want from your advisor that will make your life as a writer easier? 
Great feedback, some feedback, or maybe just feedback once in a while?  How about an email saying hello?

If you’re not getting feedback or not even getting answers to your straight-forward questions, here’s one idea.  I’m not advising that you take this tack; I offer it with some provisos.

One of my dissertation clients has had great trouble getting his advisor to respond to email. 

The student likes and respects his advisor.  The two get along extremely well and have a long-standing relationship. The problem is that the advisor travels extensively, juggling a huge amount of work, and you know who and what get overlooked or put on hold. 

After waiting weeks and weeks for an answer from his advisor to a fairly straightforward question, my client wrote to a respected member of his committee and asked the specific question.  This question was obviously in his advisor’s area of expertise. 

Of course, my client cc’d his advisor.

The committee member, well aware of the issues students routinely had with the peripatetic professor, replied at length, also cc’ing the student’s advisor.

Shortly thereafter, the advisor was back in touch.

While the problem has not been completely resolved, my client feels less helpless.  And, if need be, he plans to write the other committee member again.

I salute my client for his resourcefulness and courage.  This could have blown up in his face.  What made this strategy feasible is that my client, no matter what, does everything he can to maintain good relations with the advisor.

What do you think?  Could your advisor take being cc’d in this way on an email?
What kind of relationship do you have with your advisor?

I’d love to hear from you.  I’d also love to send you a fr.e.e. newsletter.  Register on my website at www.nancywhichard.com.

Until next time,


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

P.S.   Sign up for Smart Tips at www.nancywhichard.com and get the next issue on “Strategies for Drastic Situations.”  It is going out right away. Don’t delay; the train is leaving the station.



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The doctoral experience is rife with minefields and potholes and all other kinds of things you don’t want to step in.

It’s important to be politically savvy in order to make your way to the other side of this experience. 

1.  Are you writing for your dissertation advisor?  If you’re not writing for your dissertation advisor, then for whom?  Unless you’ve had an irreparable rupture with your advisor, and maybe not even then, write for your advisor. Many problems can be averted by recognizing that your dissertation advisor is both your audience and the gatekeeper. 

2.  Avoid finger pointing. What if your research isn’t coming to much?  If your advisor has an investment in that research and you feel that it’s coming to a dead end, assume blame (without being transparent and pathetic).  This isn’t a time to alienate your advisor.  Be smart.

3.  Put yourself in a public place where you can shine.  Consider giving a talk at a graduate forum or a gathering that your advisor nd perhaps other professors in your department attend.  Don’t be afraid of the questions that will be raised because generating a great discussion among those gathered is a place for you to score big or sort of big.  It can work wonders in how your advisor looks at you and how you look at yourself.

4. No sighing; no whining.  Try to be positive, both about your work and about your relationship with your advisor. Particularly when you talk with her or email her. Try to take energy from a positive thought or place.  This isn’t the time to roll your eyes or sigh. (I’m right there with you in controlling the sighing—I sigh far too much.  Try to sigh only in private.)  You want her to gather that helping you now will be good for both for you. If for no other reason, helping you now will get you off her back! 

 5. Ask for what you want.  Don’t assume that your advisor won’t help you get a postdoc or that she won’t introduce you to the big guns or muckety-mucks in your field or that she won’t talk strategies.  Just because you haven’t had such discussions with her doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be interested in helping you.

What strategy have you used with your advisor that surprised you in the good way it turned out, particularly one that would upend any suggestion I’ve made here?

Looking forward to hearing from you,


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

P.S. It’s not too late to sign up for my Smart Tips newsletter—go to www.nancywhichard.com.


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I’ve been carrying a black L.L. Bean bag filled with writing projects.  I keep thinking that I will surely have a moment here or there when I can dive into my bag. 

That write-now moment just does not jump out from my current what-the-heck-is-going-on-here life. 

So what do I do when I can hide out for a half an hour?  Do I dive into my black L.L. Bean bag?

No, I turn on my email.  Why? I can’t seem to help myself.  Email has a stronger pull than Fun-Sized Snickers. 

Tonight, my personal email was full of this and that, but I got snagged by an email from a colleague: “Help! Things are going awry.” 

Did I say, “Wait a minute–I have time for myself now.  I have done what I had to do.  I’ve made my daily call to my 89-year-old mother.  Now I can look into my black bag”? 

Of course, I didn’t say that.  I was snagged.  Answering that one email led to reading more emails.  You know the drill.

My dissertation clients tell me how email is the black hole.  We know that to be true.  But even though we know that whatever we do, we must not go there, we go there.

What to do?  A client told me about a program that locks her email so that she can’t open it.  I want to know more about this.

Email?  Snickers?  Indulging in either leaves me with that low, crummy feeling of what-was-I-thinking?  In the end, of course, it’s about mental toughness.  Isn’t everything? 

But if there are warnings or signals or blocks that we can put in our own way just so that we pause and think before we act –before we open up our email—that would be helpful to changing this behavior. 

Sounds like a smart tip to me! 

What works for you?

Looking forward to hearing from you,


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

P.S. My Smart Tips newsletter is going out—sign-up at www.nancywhichard.com.

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Are you hoping to do a bunch of work over the summer?  You’re not alone.  Almost every day I hear those very same words from my clients.

What can you put in place now that will help you be a productive writer this summer?

1.   Find out exactly how much time you are working now and what you are producing during that time.
When you start a diet, the first step is often to record every bite that you are eating.  If you’re serious about writing a bunch this summer, you first need to find out exactly how much you are working now.  If you are working, you’ll have something to show for it.  Track your work—keep a log.  How are you spending your time each day?  What did you produce?  How many pages did you write?  How many pages did you read?

2.  Analyze your findings.
Did you find that you spent 5 hours at your computer, but have no writing to show for it, or very little?  What had you planned to do during that time?  So what were you doing?

3.  Make a Weekly Time Commitment Record.
For every week of the summer, starting now, make a detailed plan that includes every day. You need to write your commitment or goal for each day and then record what you actually did produce each day.  You must be very detailed, very specific.
Your log/schedule needs to have several columns, with each column labeled:
a.  Date
b.  Commitment of what time of day you will work
c.  Commitment of number of hours you will work each day
d.  Actual time of day that you worked
e.  Actual number of hours you worked each day
f.  Notes:  What you did during each hour, even if it was organizing your desk.  Be sure to include exactly how much writing you did—in number of words or number of pages.

4.  Be accountable to someone.
Keeping track of how much writing you produce each week and how much time you spent working will work best if you are accountable to someone.  If you know that you are going to show your Weekly Time Commitment to a dissertation coach or your advisor, you will be much more likely to stick to the commitment.

You’ll be smart to get started observing and making commitments now.  Don’t put obstacles in your own way.  Plan for productivity.

Here’s to a great summer!

Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

P.S. I’m just about ready to send out my Smart Tips newsletter.  I think you’ll enjoy it – the lead article in this issue is “5 Strategies for Drastic Situations.” Go to my website at www.nancywhichard.com, and underneath my picture on the home page, sign up for Smart Tips.


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