Thank you to all the brilliant Stanford PhD candidates who attended my workshop, "Dissertation Success: Practical and Holistic Strategies," yesterday. Amazing roomful of scientists and scholars. I am honored to work with you! Much gratitude to the Stanford University Women's Community Center for organizing this annual dissertation workshop for women-identified grad students. I am truly impressed by the range and innovative thinking of emerging scholarship.
I was happy to see participants in the four-hour workshop tapping away at their computer keyboards, writing up their dissertation arguments, freewriting on challenging questions coming up in their thinking, and sharing strategies for writing, life/work balance, committee management, and organization.
The best question I asked was: "Why are you writing this dissertation?" This simple yet profound query allowed participants to connect with their core passion for the topic, cutting through the daily grind.
Remember to take healthy breaks, connect with peers and colleagues, and keep going!
AAUW (formerly known as he American Association of University Women) offers Dissertation Fellowships.
From their website:
"Dissertation Fellowships are available to women who will complete their dissertation writing between April 15, 2011 and June 30, 2011. Degree conferral must be between April 1 and September 15, 2011. To qualify, applicants must have completed all course work, passed all required preliminary examinations, and received approval for their research proposal or plan by Nov. 15, 2009. Students holding any fellowship for writing a dissertation in the year prior to the AAUW fellowship year are not eligible. Open to applicants in all fields of study. Scholars engaged in science, technology, engineering and math and also researching gender issues are especially encouraged to apply."
I will be presenting a workshop on practical and holistic strategies for dissertation success at the Stanford University Women's Community Center on Friday, Nov. 13, 2009. Open to Stanford women-identified graduate students. Please contact the Stanford WCC to register.
See event information on the Events and Workshops part of my main website here.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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,
A key part of the dissertation process is to figure out -- and feel confident about -- the unique contributions of YOUR dissertation. What about your dissertation is original, innovative, in short, your own? How is your project, approach, or methodology different from your influences, mentors' work and all else that is out there? It may be hard to get out from under the thumb of a forceful advisor or from years of writing papers to please teachers. This project more than any other is about daring to say what YOU need to say, based on your findings and research.
Finding your own voice won't happen overnight. Identifying, articulating, and owning your true voice takes time and much writing to discover your true themes (in a humanities or social science or a creative dissertation) or patterns of findings (in the sciences / social sciences). In my work as a dissertation coach, I ask my clients to fill in this sentence: The original contribution of my dissertation will be....
Fill this in for your project. Own it. Update it as you recognize more and more contributions. Don't cheat yourself out of your own voice.
Many people get blocked at the very start of the writing process because they believe their writing has to be PERFECT from the get-go, with perfect word choice, perfect sentence structure, perfect spelling, and perfectly formed ideas.
Does this perfectionist attitude block your writing in the early stages?
I have news for you: Your writing does NOT have to perfect, especially not at this initial stage. Think of the earliest version of a piece of writing -- the draft even BEFORE the first draft -- as the Zero Draft.
You can also call it a Discovery Draft or Notes for a First Draft.
Thinking in terms of Zero Draft allows you to write for the purpose of discovering what you have to say. You are less stressed out about the outcome, which in turn can lead to bouts of brilliance! In your Zero Draft -- of a chapter, thesis statement, or dissertation abstract -- let yourself freewrite. You have the freedom to experiment with wacky ideas, type incomplete sentences, and let the automatic Spell Check underline every word. You don't care. Your job at this stage is to get ideas out from your brain and into your computer. Type, type, type. Don't censor, don't judge. Heck, you can even use an elaborate font in a bright color.
In Zero Draft writing, allow yourself to be messy, wrong, unsure, and grammatically incorrect.
If you get tripped up or distracted by word choice decisions, sentence arrangement choices, and the like, take the pressure off of your writing by titling the top of the page: Zero Draft.
Remind yourself that you can -- and will -- come back to a particular word choice, idea, or spelling question later. It's OK to leave incomplete sentences, dangling participles, and spelling that puts Spell Check into overdrive. These gaps can be filled later, when you put on your Editor's hat during the revision phase. For now, get some core ideas out of your head and into the abstract system of signs known as written language. This is already an accomplishment!
PS: I wrote this post as a Zero Draft.. then went back and fixed spelling and organization. See? It works!
You are a wee amphibian crossing a big pond. You can hardly see the other side. Be brave and hop to that next lily pad! In other words, do the next small action step on your list.
The dissertation process is not one big task that you finish magically, but many small tasks accomplished over time. What is required is steady, consistent effort. Breaking tasks down into small, do-able 'lily pads' (one of my useful terms in working with clients) makes the job manageable.
What is the next lily pad for you? See it, gather your courage, and jump.
The first thing I tell my coaching clients: You do not have to finish your PhD. No one is making you. The world won't implode if you don't finish your dissertation.
You read it right: It is perfectly alright to walk away and not finish your PhD. If the stress, hard work, financial strain, competition, boredom, and striving are too much for you, call the whole thing off. Do an about face at the altar. I give you permission. After all, about 50% of PhD candidates do not complete the degree. You can be among them if that is the best choice for you. Changing paths is a valid decision. There are many other challenges worthy of your time on this earth, like pursuing a non-academic career, taking a university job that does not require a PhD, raising your family, writing a book on another topic, making art, starting a business, teaching high school science, becoming a surfing beach bum in Nicaragua, engaging in political activism, traveling around the world, training for a marathon, etc.
Choose not to finish. Do something else. But it needs to be a conscious decision on your part. If you decide to take another path in your career -- for whatever reason(s) -- just do it.
However, if you do decide to finish your dissertation, dedicate yourself 100% to the task. Don't waver in your commitment. Realizing that finishing your PhD is a conscious decision -- and not a prison sentence -- is the one essential insight to motivate you from within. Knowing you are CHOOSING this particular challenge is empowering.
If you avoid making any decision, you will stay in the ABD/anxiety cycle indefinitely. Fish or cut bait. Decide, commit to your decision, and take consistent action to reach your goal.