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Surviving the Dissertation: Tips
The final tip is, “You can do this,” a hopeful message to not give up. I am proud to say, at this
point, that I have, indeed, mostly done this. There’s still a long way to go between here and the
final submission. But I have an actual draft! Whole and comp lete. Sitting right there on my hard
drive (and in dropbox, and on a USB drive, and my backup hard drive, and on my friend’s
This post isn’t just
struggled the most.
done differently, if I
to brag about my accomplishments, but to offer tips for getting through the
from someone who mostly has and is now looking back on the places where I
The (occasionally contradictory) tips below represent the things I would have
Set deadlines early on in the process. Having a goal to work towards is incredibly important for
sustaining motivation over a long period of time. As someone who needs the pressure of a deadline
to get anything done, I found that a list of due dates was essential for keeping me on track.
But make sure those goals are flexible. That said, I pretty much immediately blew past my
deadlines and had to keep adjusting them back. Life unexpectedly happens often over a year -long
period (or more!), and knowing that your deadlines will likely change will help to prev ent you
feeling guilty about that. If you’ve set early deadlines, you should be able to move things around
without throwing off your schedule.
Ask for feedback early, and often. The sooner you can be communicating with your committee
about your writing, the smoother your editing stages will go. Sit with your advisor with just a rough
outline of the chapter and find out if it works. Send partial drafts to anyone willing to read them.
This will not only prevent feelings of isolation as you write, as it will k eep you connected to your
committee and other writers, but it will also help prevent situations where you have to rewrite
As long as you can handle feedback, anyway. There may be times when you don’t need actual
criticism, and instead just need to write, or to have someone say something encouraging. One of
my biggest stumbling blocks while drafting came from receiving negative feedback on a chapter. My
fragile ego interpreted the critique as a condemnation of my viability as a scholar, and I moped
around for several weeks, wasting time assuming I was worthless. At a time when I needed
encouragement, hearing any criticism, no matter how constructive, hurt my productivity. Knowing
yourself and the kinds of feedback you need as you write is imp ortant on a project like this. If you
need someone to say “yay, good job!” find someone to say that to you.
Find out what your committee wants and expects from your work. Following the advice about
feedback above, find out what kind of writing your committ ee expects. Read dissertations completed
by students they have worked with before. Ask them often what kinds of expectations they have for
your chapters, and your project: what kinds of sources, how footnotes get used, the structure of
chapters, how they feel about headings, and more. Knowing expectations will help you write
effectively to your audience, and communication is key to avoiding potential pitfalls.
But remember that this is your dissertation. At the end of the day, this is your work. It represe nts
who you are as a scholar (for now, anyway). Stand up for what you think is important, and for what
you want to say. Trying to please the entirety of your committee may be impossible, and at the end
of the day it is up to you to know what you need to wr ite.
Take time off when you need it. As Katy Meyers mentioned in her post last week, taking time off is
important to personal happiness, and you should do so as guilt free as possible. Dissertations take
time, and you will need to take breaks and recharge at some point. There will be times where you
have to focus your energies elsewhere: teaching, the job market, writing publishable articles,
sitting on committees, taking care of your family, watching cartoons. It is important to understand
that short breaks in writing will happen, and you can take those breaks without feeling guilty.
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But remember to start writing again. Short breaks are awesome! Take a week off to focus on
grading 150 papers. Take off two weeks to prepare for job interviews. But then start writing again.
Academic work is always a balancing act between various pressures , and you have to get used to
carving out time for writing next to all of your responsibilities. We likely all know that guy who is on
his 7th year of writing because he “can’t find the time” to write. Don’t be that guy. To that end…
Claim writing time by learning to say no. One of the challenges of writing a dissertation is being
surrounded by people who don’t understand; some of your colleagues, friends, and family likely
have no idea what writing a long form project like a dissertation is like. It is hug ely overwhelming
and distracting, and you need to be able to say “Go away, I’m writing.” Sometimes this means
turning down a seat on that committee, choosing not to go to that concert, or kicking your friends
out of your office. My friends often struggle with the fact that I don’t have the free time to spend
with them that I used to, but it is important to my sanity to say “no” every now and then, as much
as I hate it.
But say yes sometimes too. As I said above, taking breaks is essential. Next time someone asks you
to go for a beer, close your computer and say yes.
Carve out little bits of writing time. As I mentioned in my previous post, dissertation writing is a
marathon, not a sprint. Writing often happens in little bits spread out over time. No matter h ow
busy you are, take the time to write for half an hour a day. You can find half an hour somewhere.
Get up early if you have to. If you write about a page a day, you can finish a chapter in a month.
Stop making excuses. There will always be a million reasons to use dissertation writing services
uk. You have other work to do, you have papers to grade, you have jobs to apply for, you have
meetings to go to, your back hurts, your computer is acting funny, the stars aren’t in the right
position. There will always be reasons not to write. And it’s hard, but sometimes you pretty much
just have to tell these reasons to shut up. Sitting down to write, even when it seems like you can’t,
is the only way to get anything written.
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