Dear Dissertation Diva:
Dear Dissertation Diva:
1. Set a timer for 20 minutes.
2. Look over your previous writing for a few minutes to refresh your memory.
3. Freewrite about what you think you may want to write or think about until the timer rings.
Repeat with breaks, altering the small tasks you do in the allotted time.
Dear Dissertation Diva:
Am I a PhD after I successfully defend my dissertation or after I officially graduate? I might not make the deadline for this semester but want to know if I can use the title even if I don't graduate until a few months after my defense.
Can't Wait 2 Gradu-8
Dear Can't Wait,
My understanding is that one is officially a PhD after the degree is awarded at the graduate school's commencement. (Disclaimer: I suggest you check with your university's dissertation office or graduate school administrative office for the exact policy for your situation.) After you pass the defense, you could write, for example, "PhD expected May, 2008" on your cv in the interm months. You could also add the date of your successful defense to your cv.
You might want to celebrate the successful defense of your dissertation and communicate that you will, very soon, be signing your name "Can't Wait, PhD", by sending out a lovely printed invitation to your PhD commencement.
Congratulations on your upcoming defense and degree!
You have a stack of research materials, a nebulous yet promising topic, and a looming deadline. Now, how do you actually write?
In my work with graduate students, I am often asked for concrete strategies for writing. How to transform ideas into writing? How to finish that dissertation, book, or article? And how to stay motivated and sane during the writing process?
I have found that the best recipe for sustained intellectual productivity is a mix of structured writing practices, time management strategies, and holistic lifestyle support.
In the next eight posts, I will be sharing with you my top eight practical strategies for focused, sustained writing—ways to create the space and structure to shepherd unarticulated ideas into a cogently written argument. While targeted at the dissertation writer, this advice can be used by graduate students drafting their proposal, junior faculty members rewriting the dissertation into a book, and scholars working on articles. Regardless of the type of project, healthy writing strategies—as opposed to staying-up-all-night marathons—are crucial. My hope is that these strategies also help advisers to support their PhD students through the nuts and bolts of the writing process.
[The entire article appears as "Practical Advice for Writing Your Dissertation, Book, or Article" by Liena Vayzman, in Perspectives, the journal of the American Historical Association, accessible online.]
"..[A] young writer can't write a book without risking intellectual self-exposure. That risk, by the way, is one of the most important parts of being a writer, even a scholarly writer" says William Germano in From Dissertation to Book (University of Chicago Press, 2005). I agree. Furthermore, I'll add that your dissertation should take intellectual risks. In crafting your dissertation argument, take a definite stance.
Dear Dissertation Diva:
I was set to defend in two weeks but I just got feedback on a chapter draft from one of my committee members. The draft is full of suggested corrections! His exact words were: "This chapter needs substantial revisions before you are ready to defend." I'm freaking out. I don't have time to make these changes by next week. This committee member came on board recently (this past year) and has not followed the project from the start. It's the methodology chapter on a combined quantitative-qualitative social sciences dissertation. I've worked on this for ten years! My outside methodologist approved it, and the chair of my committee also thinks the project works although there are problems. I want to defend, rent a UHaul, and drive my stuff to my new job out of state... a teaching job that starts in mid-August. Any advice?
I Can't Believe This Is Happening
Are you absolutely sure this committee member will block your project if you do go through with the defense? Would it help to have this committee member see the entire dissertation including the results, not just the methodology chapter, if they have not already? Can you ask your Chair to speak to this committee member? What you have on your hands is a serious problem that needs to be addressed by your chair and among the committee members, especially since a defense date is set and you will be starting a teaching position shortly. I can't wave the Dissertation Diva Magic Wand on this one.
You are probably doing this already, but you may want to communicate with the chairperson of your committee and the head of your graduate program immediately about this discrepancy between a green light from your chair and methodologist and a red/yellow light from another, more recent committee member. These two people in charge may decide to move forward with your defense and to let you defend your project in front of the entire committee, which is what your defense is FOR. Perhaps there is a miscommunication about what is acceptable; perhaps the committee member in question needs to see the entire dissertation (not just a single chapter) to fully appreciate that you have addressed these issues elsewhere in the write-up. Hopefully the defense will be the space and time for the committee member's questions to be addressed satisfactorily. Your chair will be there to back up the project, right?
Finally, don't despair. You are at the end of a long and winding road. Your chair and other committee members would not have let you come this far without understanding and supporting your project, and will want to help you make arrangements to make agreed-upon revisions after the defense and prior to the granting of the degree. Get your second (third, forth, fifth) wind and keep sailing forward!
Dear Dissertation Diva,
I wrote two paragraphs today. On a good day, I can do 3 or 4, adding up to a page. This is after taking the subway to the library and locking myself in a room with no internet. It's like pulling teeth. Does everyone write this slowly? I am frustrated that this dissertation is going to take forever!
Congratulations: you're writing! Yes, most people write "this slowly" -- which is to say, you are making excellent steady progress. 3-4 paragraphs sounds like at least one double spaced page to me. At this rate, you can produce 20 pages a month, or a 40 page chapter in two months. Not too shabby. You will probably need to add time for editing, rewriting, or reorganizing, as well as additional research and footnotes, depending on your personal writing process.
Keep going. You are doing the exact right thing. Slow and steady wins the race.
Reminder: Send in those dissertation haiku for the Dissertation Diva Haiku Contest!
Fabulous Prizes. Fame and glory. Your name in lights.
Go here and post your haiku as a comment.
When working on your dissertation, it is easy to fall into the vortex of the daily micro-steps. Dissertation writers can get lost in the minute details, obsessing about perfecting tiny details, and thus easily lose sight of the Big Picture. I suggest that you shift to the Big Picture for yourself. For many of you, it is a finished dissertation, not a perfect dissertation.
Decide what is important and what is minor. Does that footnote warrant 2 hours of research? Can you delegate reformatting the margins to a friend or editor down the line? Try to think about the overall outcome you want to achieve. Glide over the details with more ease. Shift to the Big Picture!
Hi everyone and happy new year!
Thanks to everyone who has emailed to give positive feedback on this site and to say "You should write a book!" The Dissertation Diva IS working on a book, gathering years of dissertation coaching wisdom (some of which you find on this site) into a fun and accessible format. The project is currently looking for an enthusiastic agent and publisher. If you have any suggestions, please do get in touch.
In the meantime, I have one piece of inspiration to all you struggling dissertation writers out there, mired (or flourishing) in the intricacies of constructing an intellectual argument, compiling quantitative research, emailing long-lost advisors, presenting at conferences, formatting footnotes, balancing family and work, and, of course, fighting the urge to surf the internet:
You can do it!
Announcing... the 1st annual Dissertation Diva DISSERTATION HAIKU CONTEST!
Send us your haiku poems about the dissertation process. A haiku, you'll remember, is a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five. Send us your English-language haiku. Have fun!
FABULOUS & USEFUL PRIZES: One grand prize winner will receive a 30-minute dissertation coaching session, a featured spot for their haiku on Ask The Dissertation Diva, and bragging rights! All haiku worthy of their seventeen syllables will appear on Ask The Dissertation Diva. Send us your dissertation haiku even if you don't want the prizes, because we want you to get creative and WRITE something, even if it's 17 syllables.
Deadline EXTENDED!: March 1, 2008.
TO ENTER: Submit your haiku as a comment to this blog post by clicking "Comments" directly below this post. Feel free to include your name, university affiliation, and dissertation title or topic, or to remain anonymous. All entries become the property of Ask The Dissertation Diva and may be reproduced. Please include your email (which remains private). Ask the Dissertation Diva reserves the right to decide what constitutes a haiku for the purposes of this contest. We reserve the right to change or cancel the terms of this contest at any time. Thanks and happy writing!
I've noticed that as graduate students in the final stages of their dissertations get precipitously close to actually finishing, a strange behavior may be observed. They (you).. balk. After years and years of "not being finished," finishing -- as in, next month, not next millenium -- is a shock that's sometimes too much to bear.
What's going on here?
You've wanted to finish this project for years.. and you're actually in the final editing stages.. but.. what do I spy here?
You may be resisting finishing this dissertation on many levels, and for complex reasons.
One reason is fear of success. If your dissertation process has been a long and winding road, you may be attached, on some level, to a self-definition of yourself as "never finishing." You may be attached to a sense of failure, as it were, and fear change into its opposite: success.
Changing that definition of yourself involves changing your self-concept.
And any change is difficult.
Be mindful of last-minute self-sabotage. Why might you be resisting going through with the final stages of the dissertation process? Try to notice what comes up for you at this stage in the process and gently let go of old patterns and self-conceptions. Get ready to actually finish. Yes, it's TRUE. You are almost finished. You are going to succeed at completing what you started. Embrace success!
Hello dear Dissertation Diva,
I just wanted to take the time to tell you that your work is deeply apreciated by the struggling PhD student that I am. Juggling a full time job, a passion for life in general, and devoting enough time and brain space to grad work is a real challenge for me. Reading your posts always helps me find my motivation and passion for my subject again, and keep going, even well into in my
I forwarded the link to your site to some of my grad friends, because I love your holisitc approach to grad work (it's about the whole person, not just a system). This is what puts you above and beyond most of the dissertation coaches out there.
My only wish ? That you would post more stuff on your blog, to keep me going.
So, thank you : )
PhD Student, Paris IV - La Sorbonne
Thank you for taking the time to write and say this, Géraldine. I'll try to post new blog posts more often; I dedicate most of my time to working with clients, and Spring is a busy time. Everyone's finishing! Or trying to finish. Or setting goals for the summer and making lists of action steps. Or applying for jobs.
Good luck to you! If you're in your 6th year, you're almost finished. Glad I can provide some extra encouragement.
Q & A With Recent PhDs #2
Holmes Hummel, PhD, 2007, Stanford University
Exploring Global Energy Scenarios
Holmes Hummel recently completed the Interdisciplinary PhD Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University. I interviewed Holmes by telephone in San Francisco. This is the second in our series of interviews with recent PhDs.
Liena Vayzman: Hi, Holmes. Congratulations! What was the title of your dissertation?
Holmes Hummel: Wait a second...the title page of my dissertation is in my recycle bin. OK, here it is: "Interpreting Global Energy and Emission Scenarios: Methods for Understanding and Communicating Policy Insights." That's the official name... but all of the talks I'm giving based on it are called "Technology and Policy Implications of Global Energy Scenarios on Stabilizing Climate Change." The reason for the difference is that my dissertation is focused on techniques but that would put an audience to sleep unless they do that for a living. In other words, I was investigating specific analytical tools for my research but what people want to know about is what I found using these tools.
LV: In layperson's terms, what did you find?
HH: I found that the potential for energy efficiency improvements is typically underestimated. What that means is that the statements about how much energy humans will need in the future can be overstated and leads us to believe that we need many more high-stakes power plants even before we have taken advantage of all the existing efficiency opportunities.
LV: Where does this insight fall, for example, in relation to Al Gore's film on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth?
HH: It is literally at the very end of the film, where he uses a type of global energy scenario to show how emissions can be contained in the future. There are hundreds of scenarios out there. My dissertation was about using two techniques to put those results into a common framework for initial comarison and interpretation. This is big problem for policy analysts. Investigating global energy scenarios from a wide range sources, I find that the potential for energy efficiency is greater than Gore suggest, which challenges the resigned attitude towards high-stakes technologies like nuclear power and carbon sequestration.
LV: How much time exactly did you spend on your PhD?
HH: My PhD start to finish was 4.25 years. My writing was 18 months.
LV: That’s relatively quick, even for the sciences. What helped you stay motivated and focused?
HH: I had a goal of being eligible for a congressional science fellowship awarded by AAAS, the leading science organization in the country. I had to finish by Dec the 20th. So I finished by Dec. 17th.
LV: How did you put the pedal to the metal?
HH: Actually, I went to China, through a National Science Foundation study program for East Asia (EAPSI). I worked at the Institute for Energy, Environment and Economy in Bejing, which gave me an incredible level of focus on my task. I was in the company of some very talented researchers who are motivated to address energy issues in China. It gave me motivation to be surrounded by their work ethic.
LV: What helped you complete the writing process when you got back to the States?
HH: I unplugged my laptop from the Internet! That was the most important thing. It prevented anyone form reaching me and gave me more control for when I responded to emails. I needed the duration of attention and level of focus.
LV: Can you talk about how you dealt a major challenge in your dissertation process?
HH: I can tell you about something that happened in September, 3 months before I was scheduled to defend my dissertation. I took my work to the research institution that leads my field and I begged my toughest critics to help me understand the weaknesses in my analysis and the extra areas I needed to cover. After that, I needed every minute from leaving their shop to my submission date to write.
LV: I like that strategy. That is an amazingly direct way to anticipate criticism and to deal with it head on. I often suggest dissertation writers in any field anticipate their critics' responses and address them in the dissertation.
HH: It was daunting. Preparing for that presentation was an incredibly intense task. After my visit, the writing rolled. I knew which questions I was trying to answer and in what order.
LV: What are you doing now in your career?
HH: I have received the one of the two congressional science fellowships from AAAS in Washington DC, the goal that motivated my dissertation completion process.
LV: Excellent! Good luck on Capitol Hill! Thank you for sharing your experience and insights.
HH: I'm glad it's over... and I'm glad for all the people who have the benefit of your insights!
Dear Dissertation Diva:
How do I keep from being totally crushed when a top scholar in my field levies harsh criticism against my methodology, my approach, my training -- in short, me -- in a public setting?
Trying to Stay Confident
It's harsh, and it happens. Here are three tangible strategies you can use.
First, depersonalize the criticism. It's not about you personally. It's about a difference of opinion on methodology or approach. This strategy can help you not take the words personally.
Second, look at why this particular scholar is critical of this particular methodology or approach. Why is that scholar invested in their position? What is threatening or groundbreaking about yours? Use your analytic skills to understand their position and to shore up your confidence in your own approach.
Third, be compassionate. Some elder academics may shoot arrows of criticism at emerging scholars in the public space of conference hall or panel discussion out of fear of losing their own positions as fields develop and shift. If you can build a bridge of understanding that other person's fear, you can keep from being crushed.
If all else fails, envision a criticism-proof armor of white light! But whatever you do, don't let others' unhelpful comments block your own brilliance. Keep doing your own work!
Where are the peachy teaching jobs the peachiest?
The Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at Harvard has published a report on "Top Academic Workplaces.":
Top colleges: Davidson, Kenyon, and Macalaster. Top university workplaces included Brown, University of Illinois, Auburn.
Tis the season for.. job offers! I was asked recently for help on negotiating an academic job offer. Here is an article that offers succint, sage advice:
"Go Ahead, Haggle" by Rebecca A. Bryant and Amber Marks, of the Graduate College Career Services Office at the University of Illinois-Urbana.
The bottom line: negotiate! In my words: Ask for what you want. The worst reply you could get is no.
Three Magic Letters: Getting To PhD (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006) provides "an
unprecedented look at how students race, walk or crawl to the finish
line — or fail to." Here's the link to "Why Grad Students Succeed or Fail," a book review on Inside Higher Ed:
Dear Dissertation Diva:
Thanks for a great blog site: reading it has been helping me get back on track with my dissertation after a long holiday/working to pay the bills break. But I do have a question. I am working on wrapping up my prospectus, and when I have set deadlines as you suggest on my prospectus, it has ended up stressing me out so much that I don't get anything done at all. And normally I'm a person who works well to deadlines. My advisors have suggested that the prospectus, as a conceptualization phase of the dissertation, is not necessarily suited to setting hard deadlines, but part of me wants to set firm deadlines to get the thing done, and I feel guilty when I fall short of self-imposed expectations, then begin to worry this is indicative of my ability to finish the whole dissertation. What do you think or suggest about this dilemma?
Did you know that the historical meaning of the word "deadline" is "a line drawn around a prison beyond which prisoners were liable to be shot"? No wonder that thinking of the dissertation process in terms of deadlines makes people break out in a cold sweat. Your question is essentially about the dilemma of deadlines: Not meeting them creates anxiety, guilt, remorse, self-doubt -- all sorts of feelings better suited to a criminal confession than to a creative process! You will set and meet and not meet MANY deadlines during this long process. The best attitude is to not become attached to the outcome of a particular deadline, but to use the date as a motivation to work towards. This Zen attitude of detachment is difficult to cultivate, but worth the effort. Set a date to work towards, put in consisent effort towards your goal, but don't attach to the outcome. There's a balancing act for sure!
What helps is to rethink the whole concept of a deadline. You want to finish your prospectus by a definite date. Think of it as a TARGET DATE instead. You are working towards a target. Point all your arrows in that direction.
Also, break down the larger task into mini-target dates. So, in your case, tomorrow could be your mini-target date for updating the draft of Section One of your prospectus. The next day's mini-target is to assess what need to be done next and starting a list of additional research. The day after's mini-target is to download 3 articles from the list. The day after, you decide you need a new target, which is to start reworking the methodology section of your prospectus. Do you see how in this example, you have daily mini-targets to work towards? The focus is on the process, with daily targets for the outcome. I think this could work in your situation to dispel some of the anxiety about having one big deadline and missing it.
Let me know what happens!
Thanks for your feedback and question.
New Year, renewed dedication to your goals. What do you want to accomplish this year? Use these first weeks of January to articulate your mission. Do you want to finally finish your dissertation? You can! Here's how:
1. ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT. State clearly what you want from the universe, and from yourself. Be specific. Write out your goal. For example -- if you are in the final stages of the PhD process and need to make that final push -- write: "I want to finish a draft of all five chapters and submit them to my advisor and committee this summer."
2. MOVE FROM "WANT" TO "WILL". Rewrite what you want using the word "will". Your statement now becomes: "I WILL to finish a draft of all five chapters and submit them to my advisor and committee this summer." Feel the shift internally. You WILL do this. This attitude shift is forward thinking, and does not dwell in the past.
3. CREATE A PLAN TO GET TO WHERE YOU WANT TO GO. A coach, writing buddy, or support group can help create the plan and keep you accountable. But you can do this alone, too. Set aside time to make the plan. Sit down with your current version of what you have, a calendar, and a sense of optimism.. and plan it out! What will you do each month to get to the goal? From each month's goal, what needs to be done each WEEK? What will you do THIS week?
4. TAKE ACTION. Just do it, whatever it is. Move forward boldly. Stay dedicated and focused! You can do it.
With best wishes for 2007,