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Archive for the ‘mental toughness’ Category

You have made time to write, and you and your family have sacrificed for you to have that time.

Finally you send the chapter off to your advisor. You have put your best effort into this chapter to lay out a clear statement of your argument.

When you hear back from your advisor, her negative feedback and comments are not what you had expected. You must rewrite the chapter. You don’t know where to start.

You may feel that you have been treated unfairly, but mostly you feel that you have failed.

Many dissertation writers are dazed not only by the negative criticism from the advisor, but also at the thought of the time that was eaten up by the writing.  The reaction can be physical as well as emotional, and to protect themselves, many writers walk away.

Perhaps the writers shouldn’t be surprised—they may have expected too much from an early draft or even a seventh draft, they may have not received the mentoring they should have from their advisor, or, mistakenly thinking they were protecting themselves, they may have resisted showing their draft to others.

Regardless of the causes of the failed text, the writer has to deal with that failure, and a writer’s reaction to the rejection of a text can be powerful.

What comes next after failure?

In the book, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, Sarah Lewis contends that failure can clear the way for a better idea, an idea that lets us change and transform a project.

 

But first you have to find a way to re-engage with the failed work. What do you need to pick up a failed work and even reread the comments?

To start again and seek the better idea can happen, but the writer has to make some conscious choices first.

Where do you find the fuel to re-engage with a failed project?

Lewis contends that the character strength of grit gives the writer the means to return to a failed work and to tolerate the discomfort of sticking with what was formerly seen as a failure.

She credits Angela Lee Duckworth’s research on grit for making the point of how important it is to look at failure as information and to use your grit to return to the project.

As a doctoral student, Duckworth learned first-hand what near-failure is like. She was ready to walk away from her dissertation and the degree, but she says that she and her husband had worked out that he would hold her accountable. He reminded her that earning the Ph.D. was her choice and that she had chosen this path.

And so, you should ask another question or two or three: 

Does grit come from some deep inner reservoir within you? 

Or does someone call forth your grit?  Or is it a combination of things?

One of my dissertation clients told me her story of sacrificing a large amount of time to write an important dissertation chapter. To open up time for writing, she engaged help to care for her children. When she received negative feedback from her advisor, she was so stunned that she couldn’t take it all in.

She stopped working on her dissertation and threw herself into work and family life. She told herself that she didn’t have time to write.

How did she eventually find the determination, motivation, perseverance, resilience and self-management—that is, the grit– to return to the work?

She gradually found the will to use those strengths to re-engage with her text after discussing the so-called failed chapter with her husband.

She said, “For the first time (probably in years) I asked my husband to let me talk through some of the issues I was having with my work.”

“We ended up talking about the chapter for several hours (until late into the night),” she added.

As a result of that conversation, she came to terms with what she had to do to turn the work around.

My dissertation clients often say that what has made all the difference in their managing negative feedback and restarting the dissertation is having someone to hold them accountable so that they could continue to build their sticktoitiveness, or their grit.

So what builds grit? What triggers it?

Failure indeed can be a gift.  However, to come back from a failure, you need multiple gifts that help you build that essential strength of grit.

To build your grit, you must use the following strengths:

  1. Self-management
  2. Honesty
  3. Living your values
  4. Accountability

Self-management

To build grit, you need self-management. Strong emotions, from anger to shame, can pull you into that big soft chair in front of the TV, far from your work. You need the willpower and self-discipline to do what is hard, and not what feels good.

Honesty

You need to accept your own role not only in your setback and but also in your delay in taking the initiative that would have led to your comeback. To get a project back up and running demands that you take ownership for what you haven’t done, as well as what you have done. Only you can move the project forward.

Living your values

Coming back to rewriting a rejected text will undoubtedly once again bring up your insecurities and fears. When faced with returning to the work of managing your data collection, finding the right structure for your ideas, or writing text that for once is more analytical than descriptive  overwhelms you, makes you angry, stressed, or anxious, think about why this project is important to you.

What brought you to this topic or this work?  What will continuing this work give you and give others?

Who has been a giant in the area you are studying?  Why do you admire that person?  Make that person your role model.

Think about what is the larger picture in your finishing this project. How are you showing your values by getting back into the work?

Accountability

You need to be called out on your all-too-human tendency to not do what you said you were going to do, and likewise you need to be challenged to acknowledge yourself when you show up and do the work. A spouse, friend, mentor, or your coach who holds you accountable will be a key strategy for building grit and achieving success.

To Make Your Comeback, Consider the Coach Connection

Are you beaten down—is your writing project going nowhere fast and leaving you overwhelmed? Toying daily with the urge to just hang this all up?

Or are you reeling from having a chapter or a prospectus rejected?

What you need is to make a comeback. A comeback that gets you back on your feet, taking an honest accounting of what you can do and what you have done, in control of your emotions, and living your values once again.

A comeback has you working smart, talking to your mentor or coach, and keeping to a plan.

To turn around a failed project, it is important that you be held accountable so that you take responsibility for your work and do what you said you would do.

Coaching can be of help in adding accountability.

How can I be of help to you?  I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

 

 

 

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At this point in the summer, writers face a decision. How will you make the most of the time left this summer?

And what happens when you ask yourself that question? Do you check your calendar and start to feel a bit of panic when you see that you’re overbooked with meetings and trips and projects, not to mention the promises you have made to your family?  Do you sink into a lethargic trance when you realize what little time you have for yourself?

Or—and this is the best choice— do you decide that your writing will be a priority, starting now, and you pat yourself on the back for thinking to check your calendar?

Boot Camp—a writer’s space

After my midsummer vacation, I started receiving many emails from people about Boot Camp, which is one of the coaching services I offer writers.

It is a short-term coaching service and comes with day-by-day support, and a gentle push for the writer to move forward at a faster clip than you might ordinarily produce text.  Boot Camp can definitely help you to make the most of the time available.

Work closely with your dissertation coach

During Boot Camp, I work closely with you. Part of your commitment is to keep a daily log/journal confirming that you did or did not meet your original goal for the day and how you dealt with a need to change your goal, as well as focusing on the coming day– when you will write, where you will write, and what will be your specific writing goals.  I ask that you share that log/journal post in an email to me.

A benefit of Boot Camp is that you draw boundaries around you and your work. You give yourself permission to pull away from the hub-bub of your usual life as much as you can. You shelter yourself from the pressures and distractions that had been partly responsible for your not writing up til now.

Insights and practices

In Boot Camp, clients notice what works well for them, and they adopt new strategies for greater productivity.

My clients tell me of the many insights and practices that have helped them and that they continue to use, such as:

–Don’t think too far ahead; work with what is coming up for you.

–Take time off to play, go for a walk, leave your work behind, and let your mind wander.

–Be patient with yourself and don’t rush to label a work session or an idea as a failure; you may surprise yourself after going for a walk or taking a nap how your so-called failure now yields something interesting.

–Give yourself permission to come up with new ideas.  Be open to a-ha moments.

–Don’t expect this to be easy.

–Don’t be afraid of a little discomfort.

Stick with the process

Boot Camp keeps you in the process. It helps you to stick with the work during the down days when you cannot see what you are doing or where this is going. Then, often, it takes you to a surprising place, and you see yourself rise from the uncertainty that only a short time before had made you think your project was hopeless.

And what a joy that is to see, both for the writer and for me!

Boot Camp could be the very best part of your summer.

Good summer writing days,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

www.nancywhichard.com

nancy @ nancywhichard. com

 

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You are trying to make progress on your dissertation, as well as fulfill the responsibilities of your job. Add to that a family, and even if you have help with your children, sometimes it seems as if you’re walking on a high-wire without a net.

Most of the time, despite the odds, you keep all systems going, but then, with no warning, you’re knocked off-balance. You didn’t see it coming and had no time to ward it off. You miss an appointment, or you forget a commitment.  And you feel that you have failed. The question is how do you choose to view this failure?

Failure

In his book Smart Change, University of Texas Professor Art Markman reminds us that “despite the many successes you have had in your life, you have failed at lots of things as well.”  “Failure,” he says, “is not inherently a problem.”

A Dissertation Boot Camp client was doing spectacularly well in meeting her commitment to write every morning. My client routinely got up early to go to her writer’s location and wrote until she had to go to her day job. Her husband took over getting the children off to school. All was going well until one morning one of the sons at the last moment remembered a letter he needed to have that day, and so he dashed it off and rushed out the door.

The letter was a last-minute request to try out for a sports team. The problem was that the boy left out some key ideas that would have ensured his being considered for the try-out.  When my client came home and realized what had happened, she felt that her careful plan for balancing her family needs with writing her dissertation had fallen through.

My client blamed herself for forgetting to help her son complete the task ahead of time, and she saw the situation as her failure.

In your balancing act, there is the occasional wobble, or failure, but it isn’t necessarily a setback.  Professor Markman would say that this failure was not a problem since such things did not happen routinely.  Furthermore, he would say that this situation showed that my client was allowing her writing to take precedence, which spoke to her commitment.  That is important.

It is important that you continue to let your writing take precedence,  and keep going.

Rising from failure

In The Rise: Creativity, The Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery Sarah Lewis addresses the role of failure in one’s life, particularly in the lives of people who used their failure to give rise to greater creativity or to a transformation.

She contends that “the word failure is imperfect” because when we “are ready to talk about it, we often call the event something else.” That is, the failure may have cleared the way for a new idea.

Grit and achievement

The title of the last chapter in Lewis’s book is “The Grit of the Arts,” in which she links creativity, failure, and discovery to Angela Lee Duckworth‘s research on grit. Failure can fuel us to work harder and to see a situation in a new light, and grit gives us the ability to withstand the discomfort and to tolerate the need to return day after day to hard work. Duckworth says, “I think in life, most people are giving up too early.”

Duckworth argues that a person’s returning to hard work, again and again, no matter how uncomfortable that work is, makes all the difference in what a person achieves.

 

Working hard consistently on the dissertation

In The Rise, Lewis describes Angela Lee Duckworth as a fast-thinker and fast-talker. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania describes Duckworth as “about as fast mentally as it is possible for a human being to be.”

Interestingly, Duckworth, whose research is about keeping people on task and helping them not give up so soon, found that she had great difficulty herself in sticking with her dissertation.  Because writing a dissertation is a slow, and, sad to say, often tedious process, the pace did not mesh with her quick way of working and her mindset.

She was ready to walk away from her dissertation and the doctoral degree.  But she did not because, in part, she had given her husband the job of holding her accountable, and he reminded her that she had chosen this path. She says,” I realized that working hard is not enough.  I needed to work hard consistently on a given path to accomplish anything.”

Art Markman, Sarah Lewis, and Angela Lee Duckworth would probably all praise my client for continuing to write each morning, for letting her writing take precedence, and for arranging with her husband to get the children off to school, even though my client might on occasion experience some kind of failure. For anyone who wants to finish a dissertation, working hard is not enough; one must surrender to the need to “stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve, and to do it again and again.”  That’s grit.  Grit is also “connected to how we respond to so-called failure, about whether we see it as a comment on our identity or merely as information that may help us improve.”

When you’re on that high-wire of balancing your dissertation with your work and family, know that you can tolerate the discomfort of returning over and over to hard work and that a so-called failure can clear the way to a better idea for going forward. Indeed, grit can see you through to solid ground.

Any thoughts?  I would love to hear from you.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

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In The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, ABC news reporter Claire Shipman and BBC anchor Katty Kay write that women suffer from a lack of confidence to such an extent that it undermines their success in the workplace. Similarly, a lack of confidence among women writing dissertations can cause them to get stuck often and even derail the dissertation process.

To build confidence, women not only need to learn helpful strategies, but they also need to take note of where they allow a lack of self-confidence to sabotage themselves.

Some dissertation coaching clients allow their lack of confidence to potentially damage their critical relationship with their advisor. A lack of confidence can allow a dissertation writer to let months go by without reaching out to her advisor.

Years ago, during a check-up with my internist, she asked about my dissertation. Before I could answer, she related how fearful she had been when she was writing a thesis during her master’s program in science that at one point, she said that she waited until her advisor had left his office and then, to avoid talking with him, slipped her writing beneath the door and then waited weeks before she had the courage to ask if he had comments for her.

Lack of confidence undermines success

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay discuss the research on which they based their book.  From the data obtained from neuroscientists, they learned that “confidence is somewhere between 25 to 50 percent genetic.”  However, perfectionism, which the authors say is largely a female issue, most likely comes from nurture. Perfectionism can extend throughout a woman’s life, undercutting her confidence and success.

A good girl

Shipman and Kay quote renowned psychologist Carol Dweck who points out that the early years of school is where girls learn this behavior. Dweck says that “school is where many girls are first rewarded for being good.” Since her research shows that little girls have a longer attention span than little boys, as well as having greater verbal and fine motor skills, she says, “Girls seem to be more easily socialized . . . [and] get a lot of praise for being perfect.”

Because women for most of their lives work so hard to be perfect, whether it is in writing a paper or in planning a vacation, they waste time and increase their lack of confidence. “We spend too much time ruminating, stewing, thinking over our actions,” Shipman says.

“When I am planning an activity or when I am learning a new idea or getting started writing, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get it right before I ever get started,” says one of my clients. “I worry and read more and put off jumping into writing. It is hard to admit that I am a perfectionist, but, yes, I’m spending too much time worrying about getting it right.”

The authors argue that many women do not know how to fail and do not know how to use failure as part of the process of getting better at something. Women remember failure longer than men, but not as an opportunity for learning. They often return to “stew” over the episode which, they think, shows their inadequacies and gives evidence of how easily they could fail again.

Test your confidence to build your confidence

To increase your confidence, it is important to put yourself in challenging situations and stick with the hard work and frustration of learning how to do the work.

And only you can put yourself into situations that test your confidence. Katty Kay says, “I have gotten to where I want to be, but only by forcing myself to do things that tested my confidence – going on shows I found intimidating, applying for jobs that seemed a bit out of reach, and standing up to bosses to insist on doing things my way.”

Continue to struggle

A dissertation client who has had issues with intellectual self-confidence for most of her academic life now appreciates the strength that comes from struggling and from tolerating academic frustration.

She thinks that had she been taught differently in her early years of school, she might have adopted a different mindset toward learning and have had more self-confidence. She says that in Japanese schools, the main point isn’t that a student gets the right answer to a math problem, but rather that the student continues to struggle and learns to tolerate the frustration that goes with the struggle.

Psychologist Jim Stigler writes of his firsthand observations of Japanese educational methods. Professor Stigler compares the methods he saw in Japan with those often used in American schools. He says, “For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in schoolchildren is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated but is often used to measure emotional strength.”

Psychologists tell us the consequences of an American education which downgrades the merit of intellectual struggle become clearer during the high school experience when girls increasingly doubt their ability to think through thorny problems or texts.

My dissertation coaching client is gradually learning how to tolerate the frustration that goes with intellectual struggle. She said that when she had to do statistics and math in the past, she was afraid to show when she was stuck or had questions, but the dissertation has changed that. Now as she writes her dissertation, she says that she uses various strategies that will help her stick with the task, even when it feels frustrating. She has found it helps to recognize what she has done right and to talk herself through those specific, successful steps. She says that she then feels more competent and that she recognizes that she knows enough to continue the work.

Had she been taught as a child that tolerating frustration was the way to academic success, she might have avoided the tongue-lashing she says she received from a department head in graduate school when she made a self-deprecating remark about her abilities. He quickly let her know that such a remark was not acceptable. Not only did he want no excuses, but he also wanted her to show that she could tolerate frustration during  the learning process.

Recently another client reminded me of something I had told her a few weeks ago. She said it had helped her when I said that “writing a dissertation is not supposed to be easy.”  Of course, that statement is not original with me, but I’m glad that my passing it along helped my client. Over the years I have also reminded myself that writing is not supposed to be easy.

Any thoughts?  How are you testing your confidence?

All good wishes,

Nancy

 Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
 Your Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

 

 

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This month finds many people in the U.S. watching the March Madness tournament of college basketball teams (and that includes a couple of people in my house, too).

In honor of the college basketball players who are serious students as well as successful athletes, I am sharing today a revision one of my favorite posts from a few years ago.  It is a profile of the exemplar athlete Steve Nash—a successful, astute, and articulate professional basketball player– who inspires many people, writers included.

This post ranks high in overall readership among all of my posts.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I usually don’t watch professional basketball games because while the players persevere, for the most part they show little sense of fun, and the only passion I notice is an easily aroused anger. 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. Not only is he fun to watch, but it seems like he is having fun, too.

 

He has been on many talk shows, such as the David Letterman Show.  Nash is bright and personable, and on the Charlie Rose Show, Nash also revealed his leadership ability.

As I watched him being interviewed, I found myself wondering how does a 6’1” man, a self-described small guy, play in the midst of those very tall, competitive men with their sharp elbows and huge, muscular bodies. Regardless of how much money he earns, how does he stay committed during the training, the long season, the traveling, the pain from the inevitable injuries, and the endless tournament at the end of the season?

Nash knows what he has to do to stay committed. 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 that he does have fun.

What does Steve Nash’s unflappable strategy in the face of intimidation 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. Decide that 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 work with both passion and perseverance.  Some people call this grit or stick-to-itiveness. I also call it mental toughness.

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 alongside of you who takes your commitment seriously.

5) And one more thing, Steve Nash plays hard and plays to win because the competition is fun. The fun keeps him engaged. You can make your work fun, too—writing is a challenge and challenges are exhilarating. Choose that perspective.

To stay committed for the long-term, even when the going gets tough, use your courage, grit, and mental toughness. Take risks and charge through tough places.

And then imagine how the wind feels in your hair as you run fast, dribbling the ball down the floor toward the basket.

Until next time,

Nancy

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

 

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You want a prediction about the weather? I’ll give you a prediction. It’s going to be cold, it’s going to be gray, and it’s going to last you the rest of your life.–Bill Murray, playing a weatherman in Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day

The weather this winter in at least half of the U.S. has been cold and gray, and many days it seems as if it’s always going to be this way. Dissertation coaching clients tell me that they’ve never felt as exhausted as they have this winter. Many are balancing their dissertations with a full-time job and a family. One said, “This winter when I go home from work, I’m done. I go to sleep.”

 Another said, “I’ve never been like this.”

Perhaps you, too, have been thrown off your stride this year. Like many other writers, you may have become exhausted trying to keep up with your dissertation and so you took a break.  It may have been a break enforced by the flu or sick children or kids home because of the weather.

Many people say that they are uncertain where they left off in their writing. One client says she wound herself up, asking, “Why am I not more on top of this?” Trying to get clear on where you are in the process can trigger the imposter syndrome. You don’t know when you will finish, and now you wonder if you can ever pull this off.  You start to doubt that you have ever had what it will take. 

How do you talk yourself down, break through your catastrophizing, and find your way back to your work?

Some writers call on their mental toughness and head back into writing, but resilience doesn’t come about without careful planning and practice.

Break out of your slump

If isolation and torpor, aggravated by the weather, are to blame for your writing slump, break the pattern by talking with someone. Talk aloud about your options for restarting.

Make modest plans

Plan an easy way in with short work sessions dedicated to specific tasks.  When you reach the 30-minute mark, or whatever amount of time you had promised yourself you would work, stop.

Keep a log

Make a record of what you have done during the session.  Give yourself credit for showing up.  Then note the time spent and what you worked on.

Before stopping, plan where you will go from here. My favorite advice for getting ready for your next writing sessions comes via Joan Bolker: “Park on a downhill slope.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

She says to sketch “out in writing what your next step is likely to be, what ideas you want to develop, or follow.”

Stay focused on the present

Put off thinking about the long-term goals for now.  Don’t start fiddling with a timeline of when you can finish or when the next big mile post will be.

Enjoy the work

As you work, remind yourself occasionally that you want to keep this writing routine going. In part, you want to do this because you can. You are able to do this work, and you have everything you need. You like the way it feels when you stick with it.  One dissertation client told me that he has a goal to make his writing fun.  He plans to enjoy the work just as if it is karate.

Smile

Collect cartoons, particularly those making light of the dissertation experience.  Keep a couple close by where you can read them.

Between writing sessions, make time to exercise; talk to a friend; read to your children.

Bill Murray was wrong—it may be cold and gray, but it will not be this way the rest of your life.  For now, keep writing, and buy yourself some spring flowers. 

I would love to hear from you.  How have you pulled yourself out of a writing slump?

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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Kicking the can down the road has been given a bad rap.

Political usage of the game’s title has come to mean a shirking of responsibility or procrastinating or hoping someone else will take care of a problem. This meaning has little connection to the game of years past.  While foreign to most children of today, the game in its simplest form consisted of moving a ball down a street to a goal, despite challenges or attempts by others to interfere.

Political usage aside, this game would have few players today for many reasons.

You say that the idea of kicking the can down the road is antiquated, not in keeping with the demands and expectations in your life. It’s a joke.  Who works or lives this way now?

Kicking the can down the road

You are impatient.  You demand achievement that speaks to your high standards and to your big vision.

You don’t have time to fool around with a kid’s game. You have to finish your dissertation.  You should have finished it two years ago.

Unfortunately, though, because of the project’s enormity, your dissertation process is out of control.  In fact, it has stalled, and you’re stuck.

There is another way. The alternative to living with an impasse and doing nothing is to narrow the process, focus on what is doable each day, and make the execution manageable.

A big project of any kind particularly that of writing a dissertation, needs to be divided into manageable chunks. Instead of approaching the dissertation like a house on fire, as my grandmother would say, you need a straightforward, doable plan that you can approach one step, or one kick, at a time. Something simple and elegant.

I like the image of a kid on the road, alone and calm. If you look closely at the kid, he is not aimlessly kicking, but focused and determined. And he is moving the can forward.  Sure, there may be some learning involved if you want to try this.  Such an old-school approach may not come naturally. You need practice.

kick the can

Focusing on the goal of small, steady gains takes determination and mental toughness to keep at it. But with the feeling of success that comes only from moving forward, your motivation will grow, helping you to stick with the project. And you will eventually reach that destination—of finishing your dissertation.

Kicking the can down the road seems about the right pace to get things done.  It suggests the old adage of “slow and steady wins the race.”

slow and steady

How about you?  How is your approach working?  Would small, steady gains help you finish your dissertation?

I would love to hear from you.

Here’s to small and steady gains–

Nancy

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

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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