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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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Dissertation writers are largely self-taught academic writers, and the learning process can be a bold and daring adventure.

Over the years many of my dissertation coaching clients talk about the challenges in writing academic discourse.  Academic writing is its own special discourse, with its own particular conventions. My dissertation coaching clients largely learn this discourse by doing.

What they are asked to do and the way they feel their way along, trying to put into practice what they think they’re being asked to do, is not unlike underprepared students in their first year or years of college.

Professors and instructors in composition and rhetoric fields are familiar with David Bartholomae’s article “Inventing the University.” Bartholomae defines how beginning college writers must act as if they know what they’re doing, even if they don’t.

The article opens in this way: “Every time a student sits down to write for us, he has to invent the university for the occasion–  .  .  . or a branch of it, like History or Anthropology or Economics or English. He has to learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing that define the discourse of our community.” 

Bartholomae says that students can’t wait to write academic discourse until after they have learned more or can write comfortably: “they must dare to speak it, or to carry off the bluff, since speaking and writing will most certainly be required long before the skill is ‘learned.’”

Likewise, my dissertation coaching clients have to boldly write and rewrite. Dare to write.

Dare to carry off the bluff.

Warm regards,

Nancy

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

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“How can I do a dissertation quickly,” asked a would-be dissertator.  Quickly, relative to what?  Relative to not doing it at all?  Quickly in terms of jumping back into the process and finishing it up? How rigorous is your university?  How demanding is your advisor?

All of these questions are relevant, but first you have to answer this question:  Are you writing now?

When people come to me wanting help with their dissertations, they most usually have been procrastinating and not only are they not writing daily, they aren’t writing much at all.  It’s usually been a month or three months or ages since they’ve produced a page or two.

To do a dissertation quickly or to do a dissertation at all, you have to write and you have to write consistently.

For people who have found writing to be anathema or repellent, I offer a jump-into-the-deep-end-of-the-pool exercise to help them establish a writing habit — Dissertation Boot Camp.

In addition to dissertation coaching, Boot Camp is the shove many would-be writers need.

Dissertation Boot Campers benefit from these guidelines:
1.  Commit to a daily writing session of a specific length;
2.  Start that daily writing as early in the day as possible, before emailing and before running errands and before cleaning up the kitchen or the bathroom;
3.  Be accountable on a daily basis, recording whether the goal for the day was met;
4.  Plan something resembling a week-end during the Boot Camp.
5.  Look forward to continuing with weekly coaching after Boot Camp to maintain strong accountability.

My job is to provide oversight, support, help with the accountability factor, and to offer whatever I can based on the experiences of my other clients.

Not only do you want to write your dissertation, quickly or otherwise, but you also want to have increased your character strengths, enhanced your writing and analytical skills, and expanded your intellectual purview—all of which you can use after you have your PhD.

Writing your dissertation gives you the opportunity
1.  To learn how to push back against that perfectionist internal critic and other destructive gremlins;
2.  To put procrastination in its place;
3.  To discover how to persevere, even if perseverance is not your top strength;
4.  To know your best “writing you”—the writer who takes to the bank the skill of taking on a writing project, scheduling it, writing it well enough and relatively quickly, and meeting deadlines.

When you’re finished once and for all with your dissertation, you want to have a success strategy in place – in the bank– that you can draw on for your future writing projects.

To finish your dissertation quickly, you need a robust writing habit.  Are you writing consistently?  I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,

Nancy

P.S.  Smart Tips for Writers, my e-newsletter, goes out next week.  If you aren’t subscribed, sign up at my website: www.nancywhichard.com.

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy@nancywhichard.com
www.nancywhichard.com
www.usingyourstrengths.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net

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Putting others first is a strength, but using that strength casually and even irresponsibly can lead to procrastinating on your dissertation.

If one of your top strengths is the ability to love and be loved, you can be assured that you won’t be lonely in your old age.  Probably you won’t be lonely before you ever reach old age.

Since the ability to love and be loved is one of the five strengths that most likely will lead to happiness or satisfaction with your life, how could that strength ever get you into trouble?

Clearly, you could love the wrong person too much, but what if you have a supportive family?  Only a crabby, mean-spirited dissertation coach would ever suggest that you could show too much love to your family.

Here’s a case in point:  I send my clients a welcome packet when they begin coaching with me, and one question I ask is “What usually motivates you?”

Often the answer is “others motivate me,” as in:
•  Grandma is lonely, and it’s been a long time since we went to see her, even if this is a busy time for me, or
•  Of course, I’ll head up the drive for membership for our ______ (fill in the blank:  church, community pool, Habitat for Humanity group).

Others matter, and for some people, others come first, even when it’s a detriment to your meeting your dissertation deadlines.

If this sounds like you, try looking at your ability to love and be loved through a different lens:

1.  Excuse to dawdle?  How happy could you make your immediate family/significant other if you were to meet your dissertation deadline and actually get ever closer to the finish line?  What is your family giving up in order for you to dawdle on your dissertation?

2.  Family as human shield?  Impossible?  Are you at least sometimes using your family as an excuse to avoid your work?

3.  Leverage your ability to love and be loved.  Is perseverance not a top strength? Instead of organizing trips, dinners, and family Facebook pages, consider leveraging your ability to love others in order to persevere with your dissertation.

4. Promise to celebrate a milestone in your work with your family later on. Have you asked your family what they want?  Does your mother or your extended family in Ohio really require you to come to the various family reunions/weddings/birthday gatherings and thereby eat up the last precious weeks of August?

5.  Show your love by saying no to 3 requests this week.  Use the time gained to work on your dissertation.

All the best,

Nancy

P.S.  What deadlines have you set for yourself over the next four weeks?  Want some suggestions?  Go to www.nancywhichard.com or www.usingyourstrengths.com.

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

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Writers, particularly dissertators, often share the character strengths of curiosity and love of learning.

Do you have both of those strengths?  If you’re writing a dissertation, I’ll bet you do. Many of my clients possess those two powerful strengths (I ask all of my coaching clients to take the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire at www.authentichappiness.com,).

Those two strengths are the drivers behind the great research and a-ha moments that many of my writers have achieved.

Unfortunately, they’ve also caused many wild goose chases, dives into rabbit holes, and forgotten deadlines.

Take note that while love of learning and curiosity may help to define you, indeed, they may be your signature strengths, they can also derail your writing plan.  If your chosen trajectory toward finishing is important to you, you need to know when and how to reign in your curiosity.  It’s a skill worth learning.

It might be wise to ask this question of yourself: Are you meeting the deadlines you set for yourself? 

If not, then consider these suggestions:
1.  Enough’s enough. Give yourself a firm end point for research of any sort. Whether you’re reading on a big topic or looking for more information on a small fact, set a stopping point.  

2.  No more rudderless writing.  What content are you developing in this writing session?  Clarify your writing goals. To keep yourself from drifting away from your writing and into checking out ever more research, know the focus of your writing session and stick to it.  Hint:  Outlines still work!  They can keep you on track or close to it.

3. To produce text, you need destination writing.  Push to produce text—that’s the goal for you.  To do that, set a minimum of what you will deliver in a two hour session. Don’t overpromise, but promise something.

Academic and professional writers must be practical.  Your job is to write.  Time to toughen your resolve, and reign in your curiosity.

All the best,

Nancy

P.S.  Do you have a deadline in your sights?  I’d love to hear how you’re doing.  The next four weeks are critical for many writers.  If you’re interested in how you can ratchet up your productivity, check out my website at www.nancywhichard.com.

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

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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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When I’m in line at the grocery, I read the latest celeb magazines.  If there’s an article about Tiger Woods, I’ll read about his wife and his yacht and, of course, his relationship with his father, but I’ve never been interested enough to take the time to see what are golf’s and Tiger Woods’s hold on so many people.

However, a column by New York Times writer David Brooks gives me a new perspective on Tiger Woods and also on Brooks himself.

According to Brooks, writers, in particular, “get rhapsodic” over Woods’s ability to focus, partly because “Woods seems able to mute the chatter that normal people have in their heads.”

Brooks contends that in our over-extended, overwhelmed lives, Woods is “the exemplar of mental discipline,” “stone-faced,” “locked-in, focused and self-contained,” “self-controlled.”

Woods “achieves perfect clarity, tranquility and flow.”  There!  Now I’m on board! “Flow” I understand.  In flow, he is using his top strengths and talents, but he is also being challenged.  He can be at one with his game when he is in flow, unaware and uninterested in the world about him.

Brooks, who is no slouch and obviously has been in flow many times himself, confesses that his own focus as a writer is far from perfect.

He describes his restlessness and inability to stay focused, in contrast to that of Woods’ intense focus, saying “As I’ve been trying to write this column, I’ve toggled over to check my e-mail a few times.  I’ve looked out the window. I’ve jotted down random thoughts for the paragraphs ahead.”

Brooks also suggests that his readiness to yield to distractions are fairly normal.  For sure–I prefer to check email rather than steel myself to surrendering to the writing, but I wonder what would it be like, if, like Woods seemingly has, I could silence those gremlins in my head for good and never be distracted by them.

What would it be like to step into a writing challenge and yet be perfectly calm?  To breath regularly and to hear nothing–no negative chatter rising to the deafening level of a rock-concert?   I’ve had those moments of calm focus.  I’ve been in flow when at I’m at one with my writing, and I want more of that.

What would it take to have more of the steeliness that Woods has?

What do you think?  Does Woods give us a model for mental toughness, the kind of mental toughness it takes to finish a dissertation?

I’d love to hear from you.

Here’s to flow and mental toughness,

Nancy
Your Dissertation and Academic Career Coach
nancy@nancywhichard.com
www.nancywhichard.com

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