Writing your dissertation is among the most challenging tasks you’ll complete in your life – not just in your career as an academic. No matter where you are in the process, it’s all too easy to have your progress stymied by the little things. As you work, keep the following in mind to keep you on track:
- Remember, you don’t need to fit everything you’ve written into your final project. It’s tempting, of course, to try to quote all of your research in the paper because, after all your hard work, it’s painful to cut anything. However, if you’re trying to shoehorn in segments that don’t fit or aren’t necessary to convey your argument, you may be making more work for yourself than is necessary. When you’re struggling, take a step back and ask, “Is this something that my argument requires?”
- When overwhelm strikes – especially as you near your submission deadline – you may find yourself questioning all of your work to this point. You may even consider throwing out everything you’ve done to work on something else. Know that this is, almost universally, the nerves speaking. Speak with your advisor and trusted friends about your second thoughts and explain why you’re concerned that you’re headed in the wrong direction with your research and argument. Consult your outlines and think critically about whether or not they’re sound. And know that you’re a capable researcher and writer and that, sometimes, anxiety makes us think unreasonable things.
- Similarly, when you find yourself overcome with the stress of it all, it’s easy to fall into the “so much to do!” trap. Focusing on the big picture – especially if you’re already feeling extra stressed – can snowball your anxiety into overdrive, preventing you from making valuable progress. When the going gets tough, it’s time to start working in bite-sized chunks. Take things piece-by-piece allows you to make progress without dwelling on just how much you have to do before your defense.
- When in doubt, ask for help. All too often, dissertation students end up feeling like solidering alone – in the trenches of academia, convinced that reaching out is a sign that they’ve not mastered their craft. This, however, should not be the case. You have resources through your department and your peers. If you feel like you need more help, you can also consider hiring a dissertation editor, who will guide you on your journey to dissertation success.
What are your tips for overcoming common dissertation struggles?