What have you done for me lately?

Do you ever feel like your dissertation would ask you this question if it could? Have you bee making steady progress only to “stall out” recently? Is your dissertation still a blank Word document taunting you every time you open the file?

You will almost certainly hit a roadblock that completely halts your progress at some point when working on your degree. You may feel as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel, or worse, that there is a light and it’s from an oncoming train! No one ever promised you that writing a dissertation would be easy. (And, if they did, you have my permission to punch them — but in the arm, not the face!) If it was easy, then more than 1% of the population would walking around with that fancy “Dr.” moniker! Setbacks, stall outs, roadblocks, and outright despair are all common and natural experiences for doctoral students everywhere.

What helps is to take a long view of the entire dissertation process. Completing a dissertation requires stamina, determination, and tact. It is a transformative experience, both intellectually and emotionally. I’ve talked before about the importance of having a detailed timeline in place to guide you through the process. I encourage every one of my coaching clients to compete this exercise, and you should, too.

But, what if you have your roadmap, you feel like you know what to do, but some how it just isn’t getting done? Then it’s time to talk to someone. As a dissertation coach, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful services I offer to help students in this very situation. ☺ However, all doctoral students have other resources available, too. You shouldn’t hesitate to tell your research advisor, mentor, or chair about your concerns about your progress. He or she will be neither surprised nor disappointed to learn that you have lost momentum. Faculty will have seen the same thing in other students time and time, again.

  • If you are still at the proposal-writing stage, determine with your advisor what steps you need to take to create your proposal and present it to your dissertation committee.
  • Set a clear deadline for submitting your proposal, and stick to it. — This is an important part of building the roadmap I mentioned earlier.
  • Produce regular progress reports. Nothing lengthy, or involved. Just a short note each week, for example. The act of writing even a brief report will motivate you to complete something to write about. And if you share these reports with your advisor or coach, then that only creates a greater sense accountability for you.
  • Take advantage of external support options. My students find that consulting with me is very helpful in maintaining their focus and progress. In addition, your school may provide a writing center, librarians, and student discussion forums. Each of these resources can provide emotional or practical support to the struggling doctoral student.

Assess your time-management skills. Where are you wasting time? What are you doing when you should be working on your dissertation? Why are you taking longer to complete tasks than you estimated on your roadmap? Work with a carefully-designed roadmap for developing and completing your dissertation. You roadmap should be a well-organized listing of each essential task that you must carry out on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Prioritize your tasks by asking yourself, “What is the most important thing I can do right now?” “Is there anything else that I must do first in order to more forward?” Use your answers to organize your efforts and plan your time.

Completing your dissertation requires time, effort, persistence, and organization. If you need help along the way, let me know. Let’s get your dissertation done!

If you need extra support and guidance to make it to graduation, I may be able to help. If you'd like to find out whether you qualify for the support we offer throughout the dissertation process, then...

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.

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