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Posts Tagged ‘dissertation boot camp’

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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One of the joys of life is to visit one’s adult children, whether they live close by or at a distance.

empty highway: an empty highway, leading to a city in the distance.  35W north into minneapolis was closed for construction work at the diamond lake bridge.

After graduating from college, our daughter remained in the New York area, married, and bought a house.

On the way home to Northern Virginia after a recent visit with her,  I thought how each visit to the home of one of our adult children is like a short course or even a Boot Camp. This Boot Camp helps us to adapt to their changing lives and maturing personalities.  I don’t mean Boot Camp in the sense of a grueling experience, but one with boundaries of time and with opportunities of being near to one another, making it easier to spot ways to make life better. 

I coach writers. Many of my clients ask me if Boot Camp would work for them. I occasionally offer a limited-enrollment Boot Camp, tailored to each participant. Boot Camp makes a lot of sense, with its limited time period when someone can focus daily on a specific writing project and where one anticipates making changes to grow and get better. 

The people who enroll in Boot Camp come with an impressive academic and professional history and, typically, have been strong writers. But new expectations and self-doubt have derailed them, slowing and or even stalling their writing.

Boot Camp offers writers a safe place to reshape their usual way of approaching their work, and they are not isolated as they do it.  As their coach, I give support and accountability as the participants streamline their writing process, gain insights and improved skills, and set up new habits that they can use after Boot Camp ends.

Like writers enrolled in Boot Camp, when my husband and I visit our adult children, I see much in their homes and lives that seems familiar. Our personalities and our conversations move in a comfortable dance-like pattern. However, these short visits bring into relief unexpected changes where I trip up. And then I get to try out new steps, hoping to get better in that unpredictable and wonderful dance with adult children.

Boot Camp has much in common with these short visits. Both are worthwhile, good things to do. In both places you need to expect the unexpected and be ready for a bit of a challenge. With each, you can learn something valuable and new in a setting which seems very familiar.

Should you try Boot Camp? Absolutely! If you are trying to get a toe-hold on your dissertation or an article out the door, consider how two weeks where you write every day and are accountable for doing what you said you would do will jump-start your work.

And it will give new life to your flagging strengths of perseverance and resilience.

What would you like to know about Boot Camp? I would love to hear from you.

If you are navigating change in your family relationships, I would love to hear about that, too.

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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Do you think if only I had nothing to distract me, nothing else to do but write, no choice but to write… then I’d write?

How about flying somewhere?

Whenever a dissertation coaching client tells me she’s flying somewhere—on a vacation or a business trip or to see her mom—I sit up a little straighter.

This is great, I say to myself.

While I wonder about the destination, my burning question is, “What will you do on the plane?”

The part leading up to flying isn’t fun. I’ll give you that, but flying gives you the opportunity to unplug, to see only what is immediately in front of you, and to feel almost invisible.

You have the great opportunity of bringing onboard only what you can work with for a specific amount of time.

It’s unlikely that anyone will bother you. You plan for no distractions.

You really could get something done in this nice chunk of time, when there’s nothing else to do but write.

Sort of like Dissertation Boot Camp? Or not?

Increasingly, universities are offering boot camps for graduate students to write their dissertations. Does the boot camp at your university give you the invisibility, no-distraction feel of a 4-hour flight?

In the past I’ve praised on-campus boot camps which have presentations or speakers, but I’ve been told by my clients that often the presentations aren’t all that helpful, even a waste of time.

I’ve heard about less than scintillating presentations or advertised programs being scuttled with last-minute stand-ins offering off-the-cuff remarks.

If a boot camp or a dissertation workshop has become a place where there’s a speaker who talks vaguely about writing rather than a place for writing, the organizers may want to re-think what they’re offering.

The dissertators that I talk with would like to add some input: Could boot camps advertise who will be speaking and the topic and length of the talk? Could ABD’s be asked in advance for questions on a topic so that the speaker will gear the talk toward what the audience needs?

Most of all, dissertators crave a place where they can write without interruption, a super-controlled environment: No chatting, no rustling about, no crackly bags or candy wrappers, no noise from a hallway or a bad AC. A place for writers to write that allows them to let go of internal obstacles and the myriad distractions in their usual writing settings.

I pattern the virtual Boot Camp that I offer on the features my clients tell me that they most appreciate about the workshops/boot camps they’ve attended. When they register for my Dissertation Boot Camp, dissertators know they are committing to do serious, sustained daily writing and that they will be accountable for doing what they say they will do.

The dissertator provides commitment, and I provide accountability. For example, I ask the boot camp client for a daily email after each writing session, outlining how the day’s goal was met and specifics on the next day’s goal.

Commitment/Accountability at some on-campus boot camps involve a charge of some kind or at least a deposit (like the one you give at a rental house to cover property damage). At some boot camps, the deposit check is shredded if the dissertator attends each writing session. Showing up is essential, and shredding a deposit check certainly underscores the importance of showing up.

A boot camp or dissertation workshop at its best provides an unplugged, quiet setting, conducive to a dissertator’s producing text. And the option of attending presentations that are worth the dissertator’s time.

What has been your experience with boot camps? What would make a boot camp really worth your while?

Here’s to producing text!

Nancy

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

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Doctoral students who have finished their course work, but not their dissertation have been given the inglorious tag of “All But Dissertation.”  Although many doctoral students proudly add “ABD” to their signature, what those three letters signify is that more work needs to be done. 

For many writers of dissertations, the process drags on and on.  Even though the average time for finishing a degree is less than at any time over the last 20 years, some studies say that the average time-to-degree is 7.7 years.   Actually, in a high percentage of disciplines, a ten-year completion rate is the norm.  Along the way, many ABD’s become discouraged and never finish. 

The percentage of those who “walk away empty-handed” is said to be more than 30 per cent. 

What are the universities doing?

In the past, I’ve thought that graduate schools make little effort to reach out to ABD’s and offer too few opportunities where ABD students could get a toe-hold in their dissertation process.

But in some quarters there have been changes. Recently, Dissertation Boot Camps have blossomed on many university campuses.  Dissertation Boot Camps profit primarily those ABD’s close to campus, but for those who attend, Boot Camps are a boon.

As recently as 3 or 4 years ago, only a handful of universities had a Writer’s Retreat or a Boot Camp. Currently, many schools post notices of Boot Camps and how a student can enroll. Among the many schools offering Boot Camps for ABD’s are Lehigh University, University of Delaware, Claremont Graduate University, and West Virginia University. 

What do Boot Camps Offer?

Most Boot Camps offer a day or a weekend of distraction-free writing time.  And just that one day or two days or writing time away from your usual demands and in the company of other writers can allow you to mentally retool and to produce text.

Some Boot Camps offer workshops as well as writing time.

The Writing Center at The Claremont Graduate University offers not only a Boot Camp, but a community. Posted on the CGU Writing Center’s website/blog are schedules for the semester’s Boot Camp and for a series of workshops geared toward writing the dissertation.  

At some schools, Boot Camp is a week in length.

If you are a PhD candidate in Humanities or Social Science at West Virginia University, you may have hit the jackpot!  The WVU Writing Center offers a Boot Camp from May 9 thru May 13.  It meets from 10 am to 4 pm (with an hour off for lunch).  Each of the 5 days has unstructured writing time, but each day also includes a presentation. The topics for the daily presentations include goal setting, balancing writing and researching, the proposal, the lit review, and intros/conclusions/abstracts.

This unique Boot Camp also offers workshopping. Workshopping gives you the opportunity to receive feedback from other participants on what you are writing.   

How do I get in?

If you are a Ph.D. candidate at a university sponsoring a Boot Camp, most likely you are eligible, although a few Boot Camps stipulate the field. 

Some Boot Camps have an application process in which, among other topics, students need to address their goals for the Boot Camp or retreat. 

Some ask for a refundable payment of $50. Most are free, though in case of Boot Camps that run for more than a day, you will have the expense of overnight lodging.  Often, the expense is modest.

At least one school has several sessions each academic term, but this is rare.  Clearly those schools which offer several sessions a year serve the greatest number of students.   

One school advertises that past participants can apply for another session.  However, many schools have limited space, and so returning students aren’t encouraged.

I am puzzled by several announcements that I have seen.  For example, in one case, four universities band together to offer a retreat for four participants from each of the four universities.  It would appear that for those four schools a total of only sixteen doctoral students will have the chance for a retreat. 

Other opportunities

Boot Camp is a wonderful opportunity for you to be removed from your everyday distractions and to be able to focus on your writing. Many writers find being around others while they write is helpful.  Occasionally you need the energy and companionship other writers can give you. 

If you’re not on campus, not eligible to take a Boot Camp, or your university doesn’t offer a Boot Camp, what other resources or choices are available to you. 

You can also enroll in my virtual Dissertation Boot Camp.  Do you need accountability?  A little low on hope?  Or how about some help in forming your own writing group?

Watch this space for more information on my Dissertation Boot Camp / Writer’s Retreat.

I would love to hear about your experiences in finding a Boot Camp or participating in one.

Happy distraction-free writing!

Nancy

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

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Are you one of the lucky ones with Spring Break in the offing?

Have you been thinking and hoping and waiting for Spring Break?  Finally, you say, I’ll make some headway on my dissertation or book.

Visualize how it will work when you have none of the usual demands that take your time and distract you during each day.

It may be a bit of a challenge to be organized, to guard your time, to find the balance between thinking you have to research this and write that.  Feel a little scary?  Are you starting to put the stressors in place just at the moment when the usual demands may let go?

What would make for a more relaxing and a less stressful writing?
What are the fears?

Just at the time when you see some daylight, here come the fears.  Try this: See yourself as a cartoon character and imagine a little balloon above the character’s head. Put those scary thoughts up in that balloon—the fears that give you that debilitating tightness in your chest. Every time one of those thoughts or pains come up, think of the words or fears and mentally write those words in the balloon.

You’re bigger than those words-in-the-balloon. Put those fears in their place.

Sail on, Silver Girl

A client once said that sometimes “it feels like I’m strong and sailing forward like ‘Sail on, Silver girl; Sail on by’ in that Simon and Garfunkel song,”  but then everything just piles on.

Guard your Spring Break.  People may know where to find you and start making requests that are hard to ignore.

For your Spring Break, find quiet moments, with no stressors where you can sail on.
That Hotel Thing

Maybe it’s time for that Hotel Thing.  If you need solitude and the boundaries that seeming-to be-out-of- town will give you, why not find a good deal for 2 nights in a hotel? Bring snacks, but be sure you can get room service for that evening when you’re in flow, but you’re hungry for something more than Trail Mix.  That’s no time to tramp around, trying to find a cheap eatery.

Bring your dissertation coach’s phone number, but leave all of your other phone numbers at home.

Give yourself an evening to settle in and to tame your surroundings. Feel at ease and comfortable with starting gradually.

Ah, just writing about solitude and co-existing with no other living creature allows me to relax and breathe deeply.
A Retreat with a Friend 

Some writers combine a writer’s retreat with reconnecting with friends or being with like-minded people.  Consider renting a beach house or going to a Bed and Breakfast with a friend or two and setting up compatible writing schedules.  Having someone to walk with before dinner sounds pleasant.

 

Accountability

My dissertation clients primarily hire me to provide accountability.

Why not combine your plans to write during Spring Break with Dissertation Boot Camp/Writer’s Retreat?  Boot Camp, or at least my version, includes 3 coaching calls over two weeks and short, daily check-in’s via email. And if a client is having a week-end retreat at a hotel or in another hidden location, I’m glad to schedule a coaching call on the week-end or at some random time to help get the writing off the ground and keep it going.

Being accountable to one other person who isn’t your friend, your mother, or your spouse can be very important.  No drama, no complications. A similar dynamic is probably at work in organizations like Weight Watchers.

If results count, find a way to include accountability during your Spring Break.

If you have been longing  for some time alone, with no appointments  or  scheduled must-do’s, go ahead and take some time off.  If you are one of the lucky ones with Spring Break, seize the opportunity and dedicate it to your writing.  I would be glad to help you create a productive and relaxed writer’s retreat.

And if Spring Break isn’t in sight, take a long weekend.  Remove yourself from everyday life and give me a call.

I’m on your side. 

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

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You’re frustrated that it is taking so much time to get to the dissertation finish line. 

Do you minimize your efforts and withhold any sense of accomplishment for the work you’ve done to get this far?  Each week you look back and dismiss your work “Is that all? Well, really, that wasn’t good enough.”

 

Is it all or nothing for you?

Here are three approaches that may be of help in beating back that all-or-nothing mentality

 

Practice an old virtue

Are you impatient with how long it takes to accomplish a significant piece of writing?  Impatient with how long it takes to do something big? 

With never enough time, we may feel that patience is a luxury that we can’t indulge in. We whip ourselves to work faster and to produce more, without acknowledging ourselves for the work we have accomplished.  Practicing patience encourages us to work steadily and moderately, rather than throwing ourselves into a wildly exhausting, desperation move to meet a deadline.  

To remind yourself that patience has a place in your life as a writer, try something that might remind you of your mother.  Think of something that your mother would encourage you to do on a regular basis, something you would resist, but when you finally did it, you would grudgingly see the benefit.  I’m thinking of something small that you could try, like improving your posture.  Every so often, say, once an hour, throw your shoulders back, raise your head, and take a deep breath.  Let that action serve as a reminder of the beneficial results of doing something patiently, consistently.

Slow and steady.  Little by little.  Patience.

 

Add a new strategy

Set a 24-hour goal for yourself. Is it hard to value the small steps you are making and what’s possible in the short-term?  Put your focus on a manageable goal for each day, rather than the goal for week’s end.

Ask yourself what writing goal you can do within the next 24 hours.  What one thing?  Whether you have four hours a day or one hour a week to accomplish the goal, think about what is reasonable for you to complete in the amount of time that you have.  Write your 24-hour goal in a very conspicuous place, such as on your white board.  

Then the next day ask the same question of yourself — what one thing can I do within the next 24 hours?

Be sure to keep a record of your success in meeting the 24-hour goal.

 

Put a better routine in place

Recently I received an inquiry about my two-week Boot Camp that I offer writers.  The person asked how people who work and have families can find time to do anything more. 

Finding time to write during the week when you have so many demands is tricky, but not impossible.  Boot Camp is adapted to each person’s needs.  What many writers want is a retreat, an oasis in her day which she can dedicate to her writing project, and someone to whom she can be accountable on a daily basis.  Whether we call the time a Writer’s Retreat or Boot Camp, the critical elements are reasonable, daily writing goals and a moderate, consistent writing routine.

What might help you to work moderately and consistently?

I’d love to hear from you. 

Watch your email for the February edition of my newsletter—Smart Tips for Writers. If you aren’t receiving my newsletter, you can sign up on my website (www.nancywhichard.com).

All good wishes,

Nancy

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

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.  ~John Quincy Adams

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