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Coping With The Stresses of Writing a Dissertation

  • By Jason Bacot
  • Published 12/28/2010
  • Writing

When you’re pursuing a doctoral degree, your dissertation marks your transition from student to scholar. It’s a big step, and one that can result in quite a bit of stress. How can you manage the stresses involved in taking your research and translating it into a major scholarly document? Here are some ideas. Dealing with Competition within your Department First of all, know that every doctoral student feels inadequate and like a fraud at some point in the process. Sometimes your greatest help can come from another student who is ahead of you in the process. They’ve likely been through much of what you’re going through, and can help you put things into perspective. If the competition in your department is unbearable, you may have no other choice than to selectively disengage from some of the departmental politics. Continue to keep in close contact with your advisor and committee, but make it a point to meet doctoral students in other departments or in other schools. If there’s an interdisciplinary writing group for people writing dissertations, consider joining it. In other words, don’t let anyone trample on your goals. Organizing to Write

You have to figure out for yourself where, when, and how you work best. If you’re not a morning person, don’t schedule 9 to noon as your prime writing time. If you need the stimulation of life going on around you in order to write, don’t hide in a carrel in the bowels of the library. Know what “props” you need

(like a big cup of coffee) by your side to anchor you to the task, and provide them for yourself. Know what your weaknesses and distractions are. Some people work fine with a television on in the background, while others can’t accomplish anything. If chatting online is a time-killer, save it to use as a reward for having worked for an hour straight. What to Do when you’re Overwhelmed Remind yourself of how far you’ve come even to be in a doctoral program. You’re already in a small percentage of people to reach this level of scholarship. Writing your dissertation is your full-time job, even if you’re getting paid peanuts as a graduate research assistant. Try to attend conferences during the months you’re writing your dissertation, to remind yourself why you’re doing it, for a change of pace, and to remind yourself that every presenter there, including the keynote speaker, was once in your place. Offer to do a guest lecture in a colleague’s class. You may feel like a novice, but to undergraduates, you’re a role model and an expert. That old saying, “Fake it till you make it” has a lot of truth to it. Realize that Conquering Procrastination is a Skill

You may have to start really small. Set a timer for half an hour and give yourself permission to write as badly as you have to in order to write that chapter introduction (or summary, proof, etc.). Reward yourself when it’s over. Rinse, and repeat until you are able to sit and write for a decent productive period in a disciplined manner. You’ve come this far, and you deserve the rewards that come with being called “doctor.”



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