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.
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.
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
Solution: Thoroughly research available models.
Problem: No Clear-cut Deadlines
Solution: Develop the ability to follow through on self-imposed deadlines and to create useful external deadlines.
Problem: Perfectionism Trigger
Solution: Understand and combat unrealistic expectations and learn to let yourself write really awful first drafts.
Solution: Establish social support networks: join a support group; find a dissertation buddy; hire a coach.
Problem: Culture Shock
Solution: Take a multifaceted approach that includes: understanding and managing your own reactions; educating others; developing a strong support network.
Problem: Competitive Strivings
Solution: 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
Solution: 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
Solution: Understand your own transferential reactions to your advisor. Approach all interactions with professors in a professional manner.
Problem: Gratification Delay
Solution: Learn to provide yourself with short-term rewards and to pace yourself in order to maintain motivation.
Above all, KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR!