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How often have you felt close to giving up completely on your dissertation?

I hear that statement most frequently among my dissertation coaching clients who are practically within a stone’s throw of finishing.

What could make it so hard to keep going? 

The outsider might think that during the long process of writing a dissertation, writers would have grown to self-confidently view themselves as experts.

The fact of the matter is that dissertation writers all too often aren’t encouraged to recognize or trust their expertise. The process is often riddled with self-doubt and uncertainty. 

Even in the best of circumstances, writing a dissertation may be one of the hardest tasks you’ll ever take on.  It’s made worse when an advisor offers little or no guidance or support. The worst stories I’ve heard range from advisors who are completely disengaged and  want nothing to do with the ABD student to advisors who seem not only to lack empathy  but also lack awareness of the effect of their sarcasm and volatile moods.

Since most ABD’s work with the same advisor for months, if not years, what looks for all the world like psychological abuse can take a toll on even the most resilient and determined student.

When dissertation writers are confronted by self-doubt and the desire to quit, it’s time to step back from the process.

As a dissertation coach and an academic career coach, I encourage my clients to view their experiences through various lenses.  This may sound Pollyanna-ish, but you probably can’t change the process, so why not change the way you look at it?

For instance, what might a future employer—even if the employer is not in your field of expertise—infer about you, based on your having a PhD?

The knowledgeable future employer will understand that you know:
•  How to bring the best you have to offer to a project and keep yourself in the game over a long period of time
•  How to manage an extended project, specifically an extended writing project
•  How to be politically savvy

This is just a start– What else have learned during this arduous process? 

When you are honest with yourself, you must admit that you are learning a great deal about stamina and grit as you write this dissertation.  The character strengths you are honing are perhaps just as important as your accomplishments in your field of study. What have you learned that will stand you in good stead after you leave the state of the ABD?

I’d love to hear from you.

Best,

Nancy

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

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Procrastinating on finishing your dissertation’s conclusion?  If so, you have company.  Writing the conclusion can be a time when many people clutch.

Needing Feedback?

One reason why many dissertation writers start to slow down when they’re at this point is that they aren’t getting feedback from their advisor or mentor.  If you don’t have a sense that you’re basically on the right track, stopping dead in your tracks may seem the prudent thing to do.

It’s easy to use lack of feedback as an excuse for not returning to your dissertation.  And if added responsibilities that many academics and writers have to assume in September are triggering a case of the nerves, letting the diss slip may seem the only way out.
 
But hold on — don’t be too quick to shelve your dissertation, even for a few days.  If you’re procrastinating on writing the conclusion, there may be a bigger truth that you need to face up to.

Facing up to a Bigger Truth

Writing a dissertation always involves risks of one kind or another, but what can rattle some writers during the conclusion is a greater sense of audience. Many writers say that the conclusion is dangerous territory. 

Are your advisor and committee members researching and publishing in the very same area as you? If so, that usually is a plus, but when you’re writing the conclusion, it can make things a bit sticky.

Finger-pointing at Current Researchers

Some writers are at an impasse because they want to point out that past (or current) researchers have stopped short or have missed opportunities to advance the field.  Is there a diplomatic way to say that?

Giving Credit

To address past research and to finish the conclusion to your dissertation, consider these suggestions, some of which came from ABD’s and their advisors:

1. State very clearly what you set out to do, how you accomplished that goal, and why your accomplishment is important. 
2. Be sure that you carefully outline the issue before you launch any kind of critique.
3.  Pinpoint where the thinking and thought leaders are going to move next and why.
4. Don’t be dismissive.
5.  Be critical, but be gracious.
6.  Give credit where it’s due.

The dissertation, no matter how polished, is a draft for whatever comes next for you.  Later when you write your book and articles, you will have additional opportunities to critique current research and critical thought in your field.

It is always wise to tread carefully and thoughtfully if you sense a minefield.
 
I’d love to hear your tips for pushing through to the end.  Please drop me an email.

For now, here’s to ending procrastination and ending the dissertation—

Nancy

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

P.S.  Have you been putting off finishing your dissertation? Or maybe you’re procrastinating on starting the dissertation?  All procrastinators—please make a note:  The next issue of my newsletter, Smart Tips for Writers, will feature “How to Become a Recovering Procrastinator.”  Don’t delay. Go to www.nancywhichard.com to sign up.

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By now, you’ve probably heard that Randy Pausch died Friday at the age of 47.

Though known in the field of computer science, he had gained world-wide fame from his wise, clever “last lecture” at Carnegie Mellon in the fall of 2007.  At that time he had been told that because of aggressive pancreatic cancer, he had only months to live.

I remember being moved six months ago when I first listened to a recording of the lecture, but as I listened to it again today, I was struck by the character strengths he exhibited and also by what a model he was and is for academics– professors and students.

His work in virtual reality gave him the opportunity to use what must have been his signature strengths: creativity, love of learning, curiosity, and humor and playfulness.  And his funny and insightful lecture showed him using those strengths to the fullest.

As important as the strengths of creativity and curiosity are, he also valued and used his strengths of perseverance, loyalty, gratitude, and love.  He wanted his students and his children to remember how hard he worked and how he persevered to try new things.

He preached loyalty, and his own life was exemplary in loyalty, gratitude, and love. His family mattered, his students mattered, and his friends and colleagues mattered.

He had learned from a football coach that the way to show interest and caring is to stick with a student, giving constructive criticism and advice, and asking the student to work harder.  He was grateful for those who had helped him as a youth and as a junior academic, and that gratitude gave him the desire to be loyal and generous with help to his own students.

Chris Peterson, who first brought Randy Pausch’s lecture to many people, recently wrote in his blog “The Good Life” that Pausch gave us a compelling example of an actual person who lived life well: “I watched his last lecture wearing many hats. As a teacher, I was inspired. As a lecturer, I was filled with admiration. As a human being, I was proud.”

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Writing a dissertation brings with it many hard choices.  Often those hard choices directly impact relationships. 

One dissertation client told his parents that he can’t talk about his dissertation with them—not when it’s going well and not when he’s stuck—because he feels that it opens him to too much scrutiny.

But he’s always ill at ease around his parents, knowing that his dissertation is the elephant in the room.  He finds that he puts enormous energy into avoiding the subject. 

His decision and its aftereffects remind me of what another client told me about riding a difficult horse inside a large, covered arena where big steel uprights ran from ground to ceiling.

My client said she had been very afraid she was going to hit one of the big steel uprights because the horse was huge and very young and not completely steerable.

There was one upright in particular that worried her, and every time she came around the 20 meter circle, she would worry about that big steel upright.

And of course as she tried to avoid it, she came closer and closer to it.

You know what happened, right?  She hit the one she had been trying to avoid.

The experience confirmed for her that if you focus on what you don’t want to happen, well, you get what you don’t want.

If you are trying to protect yourself from scrutiny, but find yourself putting increasingly more energy into that process, it’s time to reframe and refocus. 

Where do you want to put your energy?

Where is your energy?   I’d love to hear from you! 

Also, go to my website (nancy@nancywhichard.com) and sign up for my Smart Tips for Writers e-newsletter.

Cheers!

Nancy

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

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