Whether you’re a new PhD student or treading the ABD waters, there are common struggles that tie dissertation students together. Recognizing them and overcoming them isn’t easy, but it’s essential to completing your dissertation.
1. Working in Isolation
All of you research and writing can make you feel insulated from everyone. As you’re juggling deadlines, notes, books, work, classes, and all of your other obligations, it’s natural to retreat into a fortress of dissertation solitude. However, the moment you start trying to tackle this process on your own, you let go of one of the most powerful assets you have: a community to support you.
No matter how overwhelmed, overrun, or overworked you feel, it’s important to keep your connections alive. Speak often with your mentors. See your colleagues and fellow PhD students regularly. Find strength and motivation with time away from your keyboard. Whether you’re reaching out for assistance, working collaboratively, or just taking a break, your dissertation isn’t meant to be written in insolation.
2. Setting Unreasonable Deadlines
Writing your dissertation requires a lot of personal fortitude. Setting and meeting your own deadlines is hard and often done while sporting our rose colored glasses. Stay on schedule by being honest with yourself about your own ability to meet your deadlines. This is a good time to remember the first point above and find someone to work with as an accountability partner or dissertation editor to help you stay on target.
3. Staring at a Blinking Cursor
Researching and writing your dissertation can be paralyzing. Whether you’re trying to formulate your arguments, structure your paper, or put the finishing touches on your final product, that deer in the headlines phenomenon is hard to shake. Once the overwhelm hits, it’s important to recognize that you’re stuck so you can refocus. Take this time to shift what you’re currently working on, remembering that you don’t always need to start at the beginning. Redirect your attention to a different chapter, pick up a different book, or move on to a different task to get the proverbial creative juices flowing again.
4. Striving for Perfection
Your dissertation should be good. You should work hard. You should want it to be great, but – the moment you strive for perfect – you set yourself up for failure. Remember that your dissertation is an exercise is learning. That is, your dissertation is a part of your education, not the pinnacle. It will improve as you continue your education and, assuming it’s your goal to work in academia, you’ll continue to polish ever after you’ve got those three letters after your name.
As a PhD student, what have your biggest struggles been?
Photo credit: Nic McPhee