Surviving the Dissertation Process
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Surviving the Dissertation Process

Getting Started, Surviving, and Completing Your Dissertation: Moving Beyond the 'ABD' Status

By Brian Hunter, M.A.

Have you ever found yourself spending a Saturday or any day doing everything else you can think of except working on your dissertation? 

     Many, if not most, graduate students have a difficult time getting started, persevering, and finishing the dissertation process.  You are not alone!  There are many obvious reasons for delay such as the dissertation process is new, getting access to the articles and your major professor, time pressures, financial pressures and learning new skills/techniques such as sampling methods or the dreadedstatistics.   You are not alone in these challenges, but the single biggest obstacle is to dissertation process and completion is in your mind.  Yes, the biggest problem actually lies with you.

What makes getting started and continuing on the dissertation process seem so difficult? 

     First, your dissertation does involve far more research than you probably have ever done before. Remember, by the time you begin your dissertation, you have already written many essays, reports, and conference presentations.   A dissertation is really a compilation of seminar papers that are linked through conceptual unity.  That means you have already done most or all of the work in many classes and the objective is to bring all that work together into one unified dissertation.  So, the work is not unfamiliar to you.  So, you may be asking yourself why does it seem so difficult again.  Well, completing the dissertation process is largely based on overcoming the difficulties through perseverance.  In other words, do not giving up and keep trying!  This may seem over simplified and perhaps it is, since challenges still come up that stop your resolve and perseverance to move forward.

Why do I feel so many different things when it comes to writing my dissertation? 

     Emotional responses to the challenges in the dissertation process can vary such as feelings of anxiety, being overwhelmed, feeling burned out and frustrated.  Frustration!  Frustration! Frustration!  There are also many extreme highs and severe lows in the process that can make you feel like you are on a roller coaster.  Guess what?  All these responses are normal!  Experiencing emotions while doing anything is normal!  Very few, if any, people engage in any professional or educational activity devoid of emotion.  So, emotional responses only become a problem when it stops you from progressing and persevering in the dissertation process. 

How do I survive?

     This is the 20 million dollar question or 100 million, given inflation, but there are actually many things you can proactively do to survive.  The first thing is to look at what is stopping you and getting you stuck in the process.  In other word, what are the barriers and obstacles you are experience like interactions with certain professors or committee members, revisions, major changes, perceived negative feedback and delays?  

     Let us begin by taking a look at how to use and view your department chair or advisor.  These chairs or advisors are your primary contact in the dissertation process, so all news of your progress, regress, success, or immediate failure comes directly from them.  This can create strong emotions around meeting with and using your advisor regularly and appropriately.  Remember, do not hate the messenger!!! You should seek out your advisor’s candidness, critique, expertise, and trust as these are invaluable to your educational and professional development.  Try to build a relationship of cooperation, mutual respect, openness and trust.  This sounds easy, but we all have different personalities and dispositions. 

     Your advisor is not in an adversarial role with you by trying to make the dissertation process difficult.  Instead, they are a main source of support for you in achieving your academic success.  You cannot control what your advisor does or how they behave, but you can take a look at how you are responding to them and the dissertation process.  For example, when difficult news arrives from your advisor, committee, or research site there are many common responses form students:

·         Moping and pouting about it for a week;
·         Being distressed, angry and offended;
·         Immediate responding with irate and ill-conceived replies;
·         Taking a deep breath;
·         Recognizing the value of academic critique;
·         Calmly review changes and deficiencies in a cooperative manner;
·         Maintaining emotional control.

How do you respond?  

     Your response to the news and progress on your dissertation not only impacts you, but also impacts your future progress and the people with whom you are working. 

     Further paths to take to survival are networking with other doctoral students.  Going through this process with other students helps to give you a perspective as well as support on your situation.  You can also gain invaluable advice and experience about dealing with advisors and committees from students further along in the dissertation process.
How do I stay motivated and finish?

            Given my experience working with students who have completed the dissertation process, I have seen some common patterns to staying motivated.  These are some of my suggestions:  
o   Distill your dissertation down to one sentence.  This should be from the purpose of the paper.

      Say this sentence to yourself each day that you are working on the paper or are trying to get started working.  Post it on your computer or phone screen saver!
o   Keep writing, even when you feel stuck.  

      When I wrote this type of paper I would continue to write by telling myself in the text what was needed, like a list of things to get for the paper or by jumping to the next section.  Continuing writing would keep my mind flowing and staying on task.  Going to other sections of the paper allowed me to continue to make progress.  
o   Do random thoughts about your life keep popping in your head? 

      Thoughts such asI need to go grocery shopping, I have to get my oil changed, what about that wedding, there a hurricane coming this way and so on. Write them down on a notepad or into a word document as a list of things to remember or do when you are done writing that day.  These real life thoughts and pressures can pull you away from writing and there you are again doing everything, but your dissertation!
o   No one ever wrote a dissertation in one day

      Give yourself realistic deadlines and understand that there may be setbacks.  Expect the process to take a year to two years or possibly longer.  Everyone is in different circumstances.  Very few people get to write a dissertation full time and not work or take care of others such as significant others, spouses and children.

      I have one final recommendation.  No matter where you are in the dissertation process, you can benefit greatly by reaching out and contacting a professional consultant.  There are many consultants, like myself, who specialize in working with you on learning how to write an introduction, understand a literature review, teach APA formatting, teach scientific writing, tutor research methods and the dreaded statistics!   Contact me of us today!


32 Comments to Surviving the Dissertation Process:

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Brinda Jack on Friday, October 06, 2017 10:22 PM
It is very interesting to read :)
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coursework writing help on Friday, May 18, 2018 2:15 AM
Truly yes, A dissertation or final year project, as a form of assessment, differs from other module assessments. I think some of us has been experienced this dissertation before and even now. There is some got emotionally and physically got tired. Sometimes it can over think of it that you are going over it. The good thing you still continue doing it despite any distraction. But then I have to thank you for sharing this extremely informative and useful blog. on Friday, October 05, 2018 1:48 AM
I totally agree with everything that you mentioned here. I am a Communication Research student, and albeit still being on my undergraduate studies, I can totally relate because I am also experiencing such problems when I am doing my thesis study. Regardless, I am still doing fine because I have the support from my colleagues and my adviser. Anyway, I just want to point out that no matter how hard it is for you to complete your dissertation, just make sure that you are still keeping up in the right direction. It will be hard if you get lost on track of completing your dissertation.

thesis papers on Monday, October 09, 2017 11:31 AM
Waste of time is not a good activity. Always try to consume your time with positive thing that gives you a positive result, like wise if you watch T.V in two hour it will never give you any advantage rather than if you will spend time in studies that will gives you fruit full results in exams. Graduate students should spend time in literature review and scientific research for better results .
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Based on my knowledge a dissertation is an opportunity to further develop my subject expertise, social research intellectual, and organizational skills. It would enable you to become actively involved in research which could mean empirical research or library-based projects. This process improves your subject expertise, and it is a really good preparation for further study and research at postgraduate level and requires you to work independently and methodically in a variety of intellectually demanding contexts. The dissertation process will bombard you with a multitude of emotions and you have to get ready for that.
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This belongs to the list of the top scariest things to face. Research dissertation. People see the papers as hard and difficult. Well, in fact, yes it is, but not that hard if the researcher knows what he or she is doing. Just to share with you guys I have been researching fort almost six years and there really are opportunities in doing research papers. Not only that you get to learn from your experiences, but you also get to help other people who want to find out something about the world and about themselves.
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