Posts Tagged ‘finishing the dissertation’

When the end of your dissertation is in sight, what will you do?

If you’re struggling just to get started on your dissertation, the question “What will you do when the end is in sight” must sound rhetorical at best and silly at worst.

Nevertheless, I’ve learned from my clients that minefields await writers when the work nears an end.

Slacking off. When the work is going well and you’re on schedule to wrap it up soon, do you decide to take the day off?  Or cut back on the amount of time you put into your daily writing sessions?  Some writers tell me that they fight the tendency to coast toward the end, giving rise to their bad habits of sloughing off and taking far too long to wrap up the final chapter or even the last few bits.

Celebrating too soon.  Did you play in music contests or recitals when you were young?  Did you play well through the difficult sections, but somehow always messed up just before the end?  Had you become so impressed by your performance that your overconfidence allowed you to hit a sour note?  Were you rushing to finish and not paying attention?  You never know what might happen to your project if you don’t stay focused.  Hold off on the celebrations until you’ve got the work out the door.

Determined to be perfect.  If your signature strength is Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, do you put yourself through hell until you think your work is perfect?  Is it very difficult for you to say and to accept that a chapter or a page is good enough and move on to the next section? Are you sometimes nearly paralyzed by your perfectionism, particularly when a project nears its end? Striving for excellence is commendable, except when it keeps you from finishing a project.

Perfectionism not only slows down your productivity, but it can continue to disable you with the possibility of fairly dire consequences.  A Canadian study of senior citizens found that more perfectionists died during the study than people “with more reasonable self-expectations” (http://www.miller-mccune.com/news/perfectionism-linked-to-early-death-1229).

People who coast at the end of a project or those who become overconfident throw unnecessary roadblocks in their own way.  However, with a resurgence of self-knowledge and mental toughness, they can make the necessary corrections and follow through with the dissertation to its completion.

Perfectionists, on the other hand, may be unable to crank out the last chapter or it may be so difficult for them that they slow almost to a halt.  If this sounds like you, ask yourself how many people will ever read your dissertation.  Besides your committee, maybe two other people?

If you’re a perfectionist, your dissertation will probably never rise to your expectations.  It’s not worth putting yourself through all of this pain. Hold your nose and email your dissertation to your advisor.

Time to move on!

All the best,


P.S. Are you trying to wrap up your writing in the next month or six weeks?  What would make it easer to get this done?  I’d like to hear from you.  For more tips, check out my website at www.nancywhichard.com.

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


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If you’ve been teaching this past year, isn’t it a joy not to have to work on lectures or grading?  Maybe you have the house/apartment/office to yourself. 

So–how are you doing on your summer writing?

If you are almost ready to get started, but not quite there yet, perhaps you had a project dumped on you as did one of my dissertation clients.

She was co-authoring a paper for a presentation and realized that as the deadline approached, she was, as she described it, “flying solo.”  So she spent a good part of a week working on the paper and in the end produced something she was proud of.  Plus, she was proud of the process she put in place to get it done. She got up each day much earlier than she ordinarily did and stuck with it, hammering it out. 

She had to assume responsibility and look at the work as her project alone.  There could be no slacking off in hopes that the other person would clean up after her and catch any problem she had left dangling. 

She congratulated herself on a job well done, but the problem came about when she needed to refocus on her dissertation.  Her adrenalin had been surging while she was hammering out the paper she was supposedly co-authoring.  When it was out the door, she had a bit of a bottoming out.  She had to work on getting re-started on her diss.

If you’ve become similarly stalled or have fallen off track as you approach your diss, it may help to remind yourself that you are the project manager of producing a chapter or a draft or whatever your summer goal is.  And, no matter what, you are going to deliver it on time. 

While you don’t want to add undue anxiety to your work, you do have to add some urgency.  If we think we have all the time in the world to do something, then it will take all the time available and then some.

1.  Writing space.
To get back on track, set up your writing space.  Rent a space somewhere if you can possibly do so, or go to the library every morning.

2.  No excuses.
Each evening get everything you need ready for the next day. Be very clear what it is you need to have ready in order for you to walk out the door each morning. 

3.  Add a structure.
Add another element in your morning if you need to have some sense of necessity at getting out the door on time.  Remind yourself that your favorite table in the library will be taken unless you get there early.  Promise to call someone on your cell phone at a definite time as you walk into the door of the library.

4.  Sit down and wait.
When you get to your writing space, sit still and breathe for a moment.  Don’t grab a newspaper or magazine.  Just sit there and collect yourself. 

5.  Remind yourself of today’s goal.
Do you know what your goal is for this writing session that stretches ahead?  If not, decide what is at the top of your mental list.  What do you want to do first?  Make a decision—remember that you’re taking control of this project.

6.  Don’t over-promise.
Decide how long you will stay at your table and work.  Don’t over-promise.  It’s better to under-promise.  Be steady and deliver a good day’s work, no matter what amount of time you have given. 

7. Make it easy to start again.
Before you shut down your work for the day, set specific goals and make a plan for tomorrow’s writing session.
This is a summer for substance, a summer when you will deliver your project on time.

So what if you meant to start writing last week?  Start now!  Get on with it.

And give yourself a little smile. 

Take care.

Your Dissertation Coach


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Is your university enforcing hard deadlines for finishing dissertations?  Are you getting any signals from your university about what might be ahead for you? Has your advisor become more critical of your work?

Every day I talk with dissertation clients who are trying hard to finish their doctoral degree.  This week several people sounded a similarly unsettling concern.

Two people in particular think their advisors are being less than forthcoming. One person over the past seven years has had an emotional personal life with severe physical struggles but has tried to make progress toward her degree.  With her advisor’s becoming newly critical of her writing, this person thinks she is being pushed out. Another person has had two extensions and fears that he can’t get a third.  He, too, has begun to receive less positive feedback about his writing from his advisor.

Clearly, statistics on completion rates within different departments are being scrutinized more closely.  Some clients believe that their universities are actively pushing faculty to advise students to reconsider their plans for finishing their degrees. 

As one client said, “My department is putting the screws to people who are taking too long because the numbers might scare away the new students the department wants to attract.”

Have you seen or experienced a shift in your department’s attitude toward the time it’s taking you to finish?  Have you seen anything to suggest that some faculty members are choosing to undercut the work of long-time graduate students? 

I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on the enforcement of deadlines and also on finishing the dissertation.

Your Dissertation Coach


P.S.  If you haven’t subscribed to my Smart Tips newsletter, please sign up at www.nancywhichard.com. An issue about strategies for drastic situations is going out Tuesday.



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Dissertation writers occasionally come to an impasse, unsure of which way to go next.  You’ve probably been in this position.  You want to move forward, but it may seem prudent to wait—wait to see what your committee chair or mentor says, wait until you have a lot more time to read or go through your notes, wait for the muse to strike.

Even if you’re not sure you’re going in the right direction, continuing to write will eventually move you forward.

Here are 4 reasons to write everyday even if you’re feeling uncertain about your writing:
1)  Writing generates ideas.  Writing keeps your topic and ideas alive and growing.

2)  Writing every day, even if on some days you write only 2 sentences, fixes the writing habit.  It’s easier to write today if you wrote yesterday.  It will be easier to write tomorrow if you write today.

3) With all that you have going on in your life, you need to write daily to keep your writing in front of you.  If you don’t write for two days, do you even remember where you were when last you wrote?

4)  Writing every day gives you hope.  At the end of the day, you feel more confident and happier if you wrote that day.  You can make a checkmark on your calendar for that day and you can write on your calendar “I wrote today.” 

And you’re one day closer to–

1. Defending your proposal;
2. Finishing your dissertation;
3. Getting on with your life.

How great is that?

This week, as a special gift for signing up for my Smart Tips e-newsletter and to underline the goal of getting on with your life, I will give you a 30-minute call to help you get back on track. Go to my website (www.nwcoaching.com) and sign up for my Smart Tips e-newsletter.

Here’s to moving forward!

Your Dissertation Coach
ancy @ nancywhichard.com

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