Life and Dissertations
July 27th is Maya Rudolph’s birthday. In Bridesmaids, her character experienced an unfortunate example of “life happening” to her, just like it does to dissertation students…
Lillian (Rudolph) was trying on a particularly exclusive wedding dress after lunch at a rather dodgy ethnic restaurant. Nature called her and her friends rather urgently. With the facilities in the dress shop otherwise engaged, Lillian flees in search of relief elsewhere. Elsewhere, as it turned out, would be no farther than two-thirds of the way across the street. Life happens!
I recently spoke with a doctoral student who had been working on her dissertation for four years. In that time:
She got married.
She had a child.
She and her husband separated.
She got divorced. And,
She lost her mother.
That’s a hell of a four years! Unfortunately, for her, life happening meant that her dissertation did not. Which led her to me.
In four years she experienced five major events from the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. The only events she missed from the top of the list were being imprisoned and losing her job!
Clearly, such a run of “life” would make it difficult for anyone to make progress on their dissertation. Right?
Well, not so fast. Another of my students recently, in a period of a few month, had a parent die, her spouse diagnosed with a debilitating illness, and lost her home to a natural disaster.
But, she has soldiered on, continuing to make excellent progress on her dissertation.
The difference between the two? Planning and support.
Not having a solid research plan is kind of like you’re blindfolded, shuffling your feet, and reaching your hands out in front of you. You’re feeling your way through the dissertation process, at best.
When you have a solid research plan, it’s like the blindfold falls away. You can see where you’re going. You can see the path to get there. And, although the path may be rough at times, you can stride confidently toward your goals.
Which of these situations resonates with your experience?
Not having a strong support system is kind of like being lost at sea, without a compass on a starless night. When it’s calm, you feel unproductive and frustrated at not knowing which way to go. And, when things get rough, you’re terrified that the next wave that comes crashing down on you will send you straight to the bottom of the ocean!
But, when you do have a solid support system, you always have someone to turn to, to lean on, to guide you. You know what to do now and what to do next. You are confident that any problems that you face can be overcome. And, you know that you can borrow strength from your support system when life happens to you.
Does your support system leave you frustrated or confident?
If either your planning or your support system is lacking, if either one remind you more of the former description than the latter, then you need take steps to resolve this immediately. As in, set aside some time today to solidify your research plan and bolster your support system.