Posts Tagged ‘dissertation advisor’

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I have coached many people who write dissertations while juggling the demands of family life. It’s difficult to juggle the daily demands, but to give up a holiday with one’s family is a particularly hard choice to make.

As the Memorial Day holiday approaches here in the U.S., I am thinking back to a Memorial Day weekend years ago when I had to choose my dissertation over the holiday weekend with my family. Now it seems as if it was a small sacrifice, and completing a dissertation definitely requires some sacrifices. But at the time, I felt that the dissertation process had demanded too much from me one too many times.

In my Washington, DC suburb, Memorial Day has always been a day for ritual and fun. The day begins with a 3K Fun Run. The day proceeds with a fair and a parade and back-yard picnics. Except for the one year when I had to spend the whole weekend once again revising the intro to my diss.

My defense was approaching. I thought I was on track since the full draft of the dissertation had been revised many times and had finally been approved. Only the intro needed one more rewrite, and I had done that, following the straightforward suggestions for revising from my advisor. I then sent the rewritten Intro off to him.

Just before Memorial Day, he returned the revision to me with a note saying that I should take out all of the newly added pages and re-work the whole chapter.

I was dumbfounded.  I knew better, but because the deadline was so close I wrote to him, saying that I had done what he had told me to do. His only comment was that he didn’t want to be told what he had said.

I hoped that I hadn’t alienated him. And I knew that I had to grind out the new rewrite immediately. I gave up my holiday weekend with my family and sat in front of my computer for the holiday.

As I look back on that weekend now, years later, I have changed my perspective on several counts.

I remember now that when I was revising the Intro, my advisor’s suggestions struck me as a bit off the mark. But I didn’t raise any questions or concerns with him. Of course, the advisor is always right, but it would have been smart to at least give voice to my concerns.

It strikes me now that perhaps I was even a bit lazy in adopting his comments without discussing my concerns with him or without thinking of an alternative approach.

As for that Memorial Day weekend, I don’t think that my kids felt neglected. I did miss out on some fun, but I bounced back. It wasn’t the end of the world. And I think my kids learned something about how much work it takes to finish big projects.

What I had to do was draw on my resolve and my mental toughness to get through this challenge.

Over the long period of time that I worked on the whole dissertation, I learned the value of building perseverance, resilience, and courage. Actually, learning to rely on those strengths may be the life-changing and lasting benefit for me of writing the dissertation.

If you, too, are finding yourself drawing on and building your mental toughness and resolve as you write your dissertation, I salute you. Only in such a long-term, large project do you find such an opportunity.

Warm regards,

Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach

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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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