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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

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

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

 

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Several ABD’s have told me over the last few days about issues with parents, spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends, and even friends.

The boyfriend of one of my clients has made it clear that he thinks it’s taking far too long for her to finish her dissertation.  And the process drags on because she hesitates to work late at her office or to work on week-ends because she doesn’t want to irritate or even anger him. Another of my clients broke up with her boyfriend because he said she wasn’t giving the relationship the attention it needed. 

One young woman has told me how she lost friends when she was getting her master’s degree—they said she didn’t spend enough time with them. Now she’s resistant to throwing herself into writing her dissertation.  She doesn’t want to give even more friends a reason to desert her.

Most parents of ABD’s are incredibly supportive, but some parents want to give advice that isn’t welcomed—the unwelcome advice can be barbed or worse. 

I’ve heard stories of parents undercutting their offspring’s decisions in various areas, such as choice of topic.

When one year drags into another, the parents of some ABD’s have compared their adult child’s lack of progress to the quick attainment of a PhD by someone they know. 

 I’ve even heard a couple of stories about truly intolerable behavior from parents who had never completed dissertations themselves.  They had had to settle for remaining an ABD. 

No ABD should put up with emotional abuse, whether it’s from a boyfriend, spouse, or parent. 

But if your dissertation process is affecting your relationships with people who are important to you, people you love, you do have choices. 

People matter.

Has your dissertation process affected your relationships with others?  I hope you’ll contact me and tell me your experience.  I’m sure many people could profit from what you have done to maintain relationships and what you’ve done to take care of yourself.

Until next time,

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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Family and friends tend to give advice to ABD’s.  It’s usually well-meaning.  Sometimes it comes from personal experience and sometimes not. 

Rarely does it help.

What I often hear from my dissertation clients is how difficult it is for them to deal with family members’ over-investment in the dissertation process. 

Most ABD’s say that their family or others close to them have unrealistic expectations and don’t understand the process, topic, or research.

Or the role of the advisor/mentor/committee.

Or the politics involved. 

It’s easy for a casual remark to draw blood. 

One ABD avoids going to her parents’ house when she thinks her father may be there.  He doesn’t respect her boundaries.

If you have had others overly invested in your dissertation process, what have you done?

I’m sure some of you have helpful suggestions for how to deal with this common problem.

ABD’s need all the support they can get.

 I’d love to hear from you. 

All good wishes,

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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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.

Try this:
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,

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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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,
Nancy
www.nwcoaching.com
 

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