Dissertation Tips

Dissertation Tips

The developmental task of shifting your self-image and self-presentation from student to junior colleague, is as important as the intellectual knowledge and the academic skills that you will gain during graduate school.

Why the Dissertation is Hard
How to Make the Dissertation Process Easier

Why the Dissertation is Hard

Sheer Size – The dissertation is the largest academic project that you have tackled to date. This instigates intimidation.

Self-Structured Project – The content of your thesis is up to you. So is your use of time.

Newness Factor – You haven’t developed a completely original project of this magnitude and exploring uncharted territory provokes anxiety.

No Clear Cut Deadlines – The lack of short-term, externally imposed deadlines.

Perfectionism Trigger – Your self-imposed pressure to write a brilliant dissertation evokes fears of failure (and possibly, fears of success).

Loneliness – No one else can know all the nuances of your topic. The individual nature of the dissertation project makes it an inherently lonely process.

Culture Shock – For students from a different country, or from a minority racial, ethnic, economic, religious, sexual or academic background face special challenges in adapting to the culture of graduate school.

Competitive Strivings – Peer dynamics within departments may bring up issues similar to sibling rivalry within families.

Meaning in the Family – You may experience complicated psychological reactions to your families view about your career choice. (This is a complicated topic that will be dealt with in-depth in a future newsletter.)

Authority Interactions – The nature of your relationship with your advisor may trigger transference reactions.

Gratification Delay – The time line is so long from the conception of your topic to the reward of graduation that it is hard to maintain motivation.

How to Make the Dissertation Process Easier

(Developing the following “solutions” is the focus of my coaching practice and workshops).

Problem: Size
Solution: Break down the project into smaller and smaller units. (Of course, this is easier said than done and one focus of many of my workshops.)

Problem: Self-structure project
Solutions: learn to organize the work, your time, your space and to develop systems to monitor your progress.

Problem: Newness Factor
 Thoroughly research available models.

Problem: No Clear-cut Deadlines
 Develop the ability to follow through on self-imposed deadlines and to create useful external deadlines.

Problem: Perfectionism Trigger
 Understand and combat unrealistic expectations and learn to let yourself write really awful first drafts.

Problem: Loneliness
Establish social support networks: join a support group; find a dissertation buddy; hire a coach.

Problem: Culture Shock
 Take a multifaceted approach that includes: understanding and managing your own reactions; educating others; developing a strong support network.

Problem: Competitive Strivings
 Study the political and group dynamics of your program and realize that most professors want all the students in their program to do well.

Problem: Meaning in the Family
 Work to understand the unique psychological aspects of the dissertation for you and your family. (A coach can be extremely helpful in this process.)

Problem: Authority Interactions
 Understand your own transferential reactions to your advisor. Approach all interactions with professors in a professional manner.

Problem: Gratification Delay
Learn to provide yourself with short-term rewards and to pace yourself in order to maintain motivation.