Earning a PhD takes resilience, perseverance in facing the impossible, self discipline, social support, and flexibility. During that important third year (when coursework ends and the lonely journey of the dissertation begins) is when doctoral students may be offered a great position somewhere and no one cares if that doctorate is ever completed. And sometimes a student just leaves the program without any concrete plans. It’s a tragedy – leaving the student unemployed, steeped in debt, and unsure of the next step. That is not the desired outcome and, if you have arrived at this entirely uncomfortable place, there are ways you can obtain the support you need to move forward and successfully complete this new phase of your program.
- Find support. This can be one of the most difficult tasks but it is well worth the effort. Find both a support person (e.g., trusted friend, partner, etc.) and a support group. A support group can help you overcome the barriers you’ll discover on your way if they are doctoral students, themselves. A support person can help you problem solve, provide support during lonely times, listen to you vent, and encourage you when you’re about to quit.
- Celebrate small victories. Schedule a treat or a small celebration each time you’ve completed small milestones. Whether it’s drinks with friends or cupcakes with the kids, you will come to look forward to these small celebrations each time you meet with your advisor, finish a section of your writing, or complete a portion of your analysis.
- Approach your dissertation with concerted self-discipline. Work on your research model or research theory each day at a scheduled time. Inspiration will come – but it comes when you are paying attention to your topic so you will need to do that every day. Life does have a way of taking over – and it will at some point – and if you don’t continue to reserve at least half an hour each day to working on and thinking about your dissertation, you’ll find yourself struggling to even look at it. You know what work is left and it’s very difficult to get back into it once you’ve lost track.
- Make time for personal pursuits. Just as you need to reserve some time each day for your dissertation research and writing, you need to attend to your personal needs and interests. At some point, inspiration will occur and you will find yourself having to tear yourself away from your dissertation work. This is good and you should go with it in order to complete your doctorate in a timely manner.
- Remember your advisor is not your friend and may not even be a good mentor. Do not take your problems and frustrations to your advisor unless it is dissertation related. Treat this relationship the same way you would a boss – employee relationship. When your advisor hands you a copy of your chapter with almost all of it revised, do not moan, whine, or cry. Be professional and save your comments and sorrows for your support people who will be understanding and commiserate with you.
Congratulations for arriving at that doctoral space between qualifying exams and dissertation production! And condolences. You are facing a very difficult task that will take determination and resiliance but you can do it!
Article by Dr. Sherry Thompson