Archive for the ‘alliances’ Category

When you’re writing a dissertation, it’s likely that you’ll feel isolated.  Many dissertators say how much they long to be back at the university where they could talk with their peers about their ideas and their writing.

Too often the isolated dissertation writer feels less than excited about the writing.  And productivity suffers.

Talking with others helps you to bounce back when you’re feeling down.  But sometimes you think that only others who are in the same situation can empathize with you.

You may avoid the people with whom you could have contact because you think they wouldn’t want to talk about your writing.  You may be right.  But you may have other things in common.

  • Someone with whom you enjoy sharing lunch or talking to about the kids or the football game or the  3K race coming up Sunday
  •  Someone with whom you can compare prices and benefits of one gym over another
  •  Someone to whom you can reveal your less-than-complete knowledge or understanding of a product or the way your car works

Positive Psychology researchers contend that one of the most important ways to improve one’s job satisfaction is by having a friend at work.  Similarly, when you’re struggling with a dissertation, having a friend to chat with can give you a boost and improve the way you look at your job as a writer.

Having a friend helps to bring out the best in you. If you feel that someone recognizes your worth as a person and also shares some of your values, you will probably feel more confident in exercising your strengths and talents.

The more you can use your strengths, the more likely it is that you will feel more resilient about your writing.  And resilience brings greater productivity.

When you’re feeling alone or perhaps that the world is against you, look around for a friend.  Aristotle said, “The antidote for 50 enemies is one friend.”

I’m curious whether you think it would be worth your time to cultivate a friend.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach




nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Six degrees of separation: Artistic visualization.

Image via Wikipedia


“I’ve had very little, if any, support from my advisor or my committee,” and so began another coaching call this morning with the writer of a dissertation. 

Many dissertation coaching clients say that their advisors are hands-off, giving little or no substantive feedback, or not wanting to see a dissertation at all until it’s complete. 

Does this sound familiar?  Do you feel you’ve depleted your resources, and you need some content-specific help? 

What to do? Here are some ideas from some of my coaching colleagues and also from some of my clients. 

1.  You shouldn’t have to look outside your program for content-specific help.  If you have a coach, one of your coaching goals could be improving communication with your advisor (or someone else on your committee) who has the relevant background knowledge. Work with your coach to plan your strategy. 

2. If you can think of someone who might know someone who can get you closer to a source, you will eventually succeed.  Think about Stanley Milgram‘s Small World experiment (which inspired the Six Degrees of Separation book and movie.) 

3. Post a question on Linked-In or make up your own study group. 

4.  Engage a willing friend, colleague, or coach to read some of your text and ask you questions about what’s going on.  Tell your reader to be curious.  You want a naïve reader, not a critical expert. The right questions can help you move toward a breakthrough. 

5.  Take a class!  
As a client phrased it, “Make your own Woody Allen moment—here comes the director onto the stage.”  Figure out who could be your Woody Allen. Who is the person you most want to learn from? Then sign up for a class from that person, and write the paper for the class.  

If your project has stalled and your advisor offers minimal to no support, you need a strategy. Think Small World.  Or make your own Woody Allen moment.  

Above all, prepare for a breakthrough. 

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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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Writing this blog for the past year has been an act of joy for me. 

Many of you also write blogs, and so if you blog frequently, I would wager that you, too, find writing for your blog compelling.

I get to write about something I know, about a process that intrigues me and that is always a challenge, and for people that I respect and that I am sure I would find interesting. That’s a recipe for engagement or flow.

Having a good idea of what matters to your audience and wanting to write for that audience because you revere or feel empathy for them and have much in common with them can be huge motivators. 

When I have other things in my life keeping me from writing this blog –and this month has been full of interference– I feel a bit off-center. I miss the feeling of connection that the blog gives me.  

Writing my newsletter, however, is more difficult, primarily because I write it much less often, certainly not the two times a week I typically write this blog. Writing less frequently makes it more challenging.  Also, I don’t have as clear a view of my readership for my newsletter as I do of the readership for this blog.
What I’m suggesting is that you can make your writing call to you.  To do that, you not only want to feel connected to your writing, but you would also benefit from expanding your feelings of loyalty, gratitude, and caring curiosity for your audience.  Here are some suggestions:

1. Make your writing irresistible to you– write often.
Writing as often as I can keeps me (and you, too?) connected to the work.  Writing frequently always helps me to return easily to the work. 

2.  Don’t let excuses stop you from writing—write first.
Even if I have other things happening in my life, I can make time to write my blog by giving the first 20 to 30 minutes of my writing day to my blog.  Write first is what I tell my clients, and I need to listen to that suggestion myself. 

3.  Know your audience’s expectations and needs as intimately as possible.
Having clarity about my readers’ experiences gives me a sense of what they know and what they may need to know.  Connecting with my audience drives my writing and makes it easier to anticipate my readers’ expectations and responses.  How could you write more specifically for your advisor?  How could you let your audience drive your writing?

4.  Draw often and deeply on resources that can help you to know your audience better.
Because of my working daily with dissertation clients, I have a depth and breadth of specific resources that I can tap into, and I check what I know against those resources on a daily basis.  What resources do you draw on for guidance in writing for your primary reader?

I have a favor to ask of you.  It would be great if you would go to my website (www.nancywhichard.com) and sign up for my Smart Tips newsletter.  It would make writing the newsletter more compelling for me if I knew you were part of the readership.

The next edition is ready to go out.  I think you’ll enjoy the lead article in this issue –it’s “5 Strategies for Drastic Situations.”

Below my picture on my web site’s home page (www.nancywhichard.com), you’ll see the box to sign-up for Smart Tips.  Easy, no obligation sign-up!

My very best to you,


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach


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Curiosity is a boon to dissertation writers, except when it isn’t.

Curiosity is indeed powerful, giving us the will to explore, to persevere, and even to reach a goal.

I’ve suggested in an earlier blog (“To Enjoy Writing Your Dissertation, Use your Curiosity”) that it might be worth your while as researchers and writers to try to increase your curiosity.  Talking with someone about your work or forming a supportive alliance with a coach or a colleague will very likely engage your curiosity.

The more control you have over your work and the more engaged you feel in your work, the more likely it is that you will feel free to be curious.

But can curiosity ever be too much of a good thing?

I have noticed lately that many of my dissertation and writing clients have curiosity as either their first or second strength.  If you haven’t taken the Values in Action (VIA) Signature Strengths Questionnaire at www.authentichappiness.org, you might be interested (curious?) in discovering what your Signature Strengths are.

One terrific client with whom I talk weekly says that he can spend too much time getting “too into” something, past the point where it’s beneficial.

He gets stuck in the analysis of his data.  He can find himself running his data in a hundred different ways, rather than the couple of different ways that had been his intention.  This is a problem because he said that he knew he’d get what he needed from just those two ways.

To prevent himself from going overboard or getting too into the analysis, it seems to me that he needs to ask himself what he’d do if he had a bag of Fun-Sized Snickers staring at him within arm’s reach!  Most of us couldn’t stop at eating just 2, and so we’d have to put the bag away or we’d regret it.

Is your curiosity so strong that it almost holds you hostage, urging you to keep looking for more paths, more possibilities?  If you want to move your work forward, then you have to remove yourself from the temptation.  My client’s plan was to curb his curiosity, as best he could.  He decided he could go to a graduate computer lab and take just the results of his analysis on a flash drive. He not only committed to the plan, but he would also make it hard to back out.  He would go public and tell someone his plan.

Can your curiosity get you into trouble?  Do you sometimes have to keep your curiosity in check?  I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Spring!

My very best to you,


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

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This past week has been a busy one for me, in part because I’ve heard from many of you.

It looks like many dissertation writers have decided that it’s time to bring someone else on board.

And I’m not surprised.

In such a long-term project as writing a dissertation, many writers want
–someone you can tell how you’ve messed up,
–someone with whom you can rehearse where you go next in your writing,
–someone who can help you track the week-by-week progress you’re definitely going to make from now on, and
–someone who will tell you to get in touch with your advisor.

What will make the January surge work for you?

What I’m hearing from person after person is that the #1 reason that they haven’t moved forward is the lack of accountability.

It’s up to you to ask for what you need.

Accountability is available:
–call your advisor,
–buddy up,
–join a writing group,
–or hire a coach.

Give yourself what you need.

Don’t let this last week of January get past you.
I know you can do it!

I’d love to hear where you’re finding accountability.

Let me know if I can help.


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

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Making goals for an entire year seems to me to be self-sabotaging.

Are we talking about making a big change that you’ll be so disciplined that you’ll do that action you’re contemplating every single day for the next year?  That’s too much time to deal with. 

Chunk it down.

If you decide where you want to be in 3 months, it seems far more manageable.

So where do you want to be in 3 months?

1.  Write it down and post it where you will see it.

2.  Put it in your calendar.

3.  What help do you need? Ask for it.
• Help from friends?  Partner?  Family?
•  Alliance with a writing buddy?
• Coaching?  Hire a dissertation coach?

4.  What resources do you already have? Pull them up.
• Advisor?  Mentor?  Friend whose opinion you trust?
• What is that resource you’ve been meaning to dip into?  Now is the time.

5.  What’s the first step?
• Use your top strengths–your signature strengths– to make this step easier
• Make the first step realistic and manageable

6.  Go my website (www.nwcoaching.com) and sign up for my Smart Tips newsletter. You will get support and tips that you can use.  I’ll also send you a gift.

Here we go!

Until next time,

P.S.  Plan for 3 months of successful writing.   

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The experiences of some of my clients with their dissertation advisors may be explained by research shared with me by Chris Peterson, author of Character Strengths and Virtue and A Primer in Positive Psychology.

According to Chris, the educational level of a person correlates negatively with some of the interpersonal strengths.

Social intelligence is not a top strength for many academics.

While many students have good relationships with their advisors and praise them for being caring, kind people, I often hear a different story from my clients.

One said that he thinks that people who make it through the doctoral program, get a job in academia, and then become advisors for doctoral students are a different breed from most other people.  He thinks it’s really hard for successful academics to understand the struggle that so many people have.

Another client said of his advisor, “He breezed through this process in record time.  He really truly struggles with anyone who doesn’t bang it out in record time.”

Such comments suggest that it is a challenge for many ABD’s to negotiate good relationships with their advisors. 

Strategies are needed. 

If you have any strategies that you would be interested in sharing, please write to me.   Feel free to contact me through my website www.nwcoaching.com, and of course, I will keep your identity confidential. 

At my website I also offer a free newsletter. Please sign up for it.  I’d love to hear what you think. 

Until next time,

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First there were 2 and now there are 5… 5 foxes living next to us on my cul-de-sac inside the Washington DC beltway.

We first glimpsed the parents in early morning or late at night.  During the winter, when new snow and a stillness of the day gave them claim to our street, we would watch from our windows, the two of them walking and playing in front of our house and up and down the street.

This spring three pups were added to their family.

Fearless and fun, they roam around our back yard and travel to our neighbor’s yard.  There they have dug holes and deepened indentations where trees once stood, making a work-and-play site.

In that large yard, they hone their inborn instincts, playfully and relentlessly.

They set boundaries:  They own their space, digging holes for themselves, enlarging holes to fit their needs both for protection and for living. 

They are self-sufficient.  They take charge of their environment, find their own food, stay on the alert, guard against intruders and danger, nurture their relationships.

They set schedules that work for them.  Most often we see them early in the morning and after dark, probably when they are most alert, least likely to be disturbed, and also when they are safest.

They combine work and play—their amazing leaps and speed, combined with their rough play as they wrestle with one another, must be great fun for them but is also their work, strengthening their skills.  Even as they play, they’re wary of danger and alert to the possibility of real or imagined prey.

They take strength by being with one another. They form alliances.

This is just one moment in their lives. They won’t be here forever.  The situation will change for them because the trees in the wooded lot where they hide away and sleep are marked by developers for removal.

Sometimes we forget what nature can say to us, or we just don’t take the time to watch and muse.  As I watched the foxes, here are some takeaways for writers of dissertations that occurred to me:

  • Set boundaries:  claim your space and dig in.
  • Be self-sufficient:  take charge of your work and don’t wait until you have gained permission, feedback, or pats on the back.
  • Be opportunistic:  Trust yourself and go after what you need.  Stay alert and dedicate time and energy to where you might succeed.  Take risks.
  • Combine work and play:  Feel the exhilaration that comes from doing what you do best in writing.  Enjoy the moment. 
  • Make alliances: Find a writing partner or a someone to work with.  Make connections. Stay connected.
  • Don’t wait for perfect:  Go with what’s available and get the job done.  

And remember how you have been preparing for this task since you were, well, a pup.

Best to you,


Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Dissertation Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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