Marathons, Encouragement, and Dissertations

September 12th is National Encouragement Day, and it is also the day that the Battle of Marathon was fought some 2,500 years ago. Making this day doubly important for dissertation students everywhere…

The story goes that once the Greeks defeated the Persians, a runner named, Pheidippides, was dispatched from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory. He ran so hard and so fast that collapsed and died immediately upon reaching his destination and relaying the news.

The story is apocryphal, but instructive. When running a marathon you must know the distance. You must know the course. You must know where there are hills, up and down.

But, you must also have a cheering section to encourage you. To help you keep going.

Too many doctoral students begin the dissertation process as either a sprint or a walk in the woods. Those who sprint may think that they know where they’re going. But, they quickly tire and seldom finish.

Those who amble about, as if on a walk in the woods, have no clear destination, no clear path. Their pace can alternate between leisurely and frenetic. But, without a destination in mind, no amount of speed will ever get you there.

So, on National Encouragement Day…

I encourage you to visualize your life after graduation.

You must have a strong calling to motivate you to continue through the frustration and difficulties of the dissertation process. For most of my students this calling involves helping others in some way. Teaching, counseling, leading,… What is your vision?

Make sure that your vision is clear and specific, since vague goals don’t motivate. Make sure that your vision is vital to your core being, since irrelevant goals are too easy to dismiss.

I encourage you to develop a plan for your dissertation.

A plan is both destination and route for your dissertation journey. It lays out how you will collect your data, where from, who from, and what you will do with it. A solid plan ensures that you will reach the finish line and allows you to undertake the journey with more confidence and less stress.

I encourage you to pace yourself.

The dissertation truly is a marathon undertaking. Expect to dedicate at least a year and quite possibly two or more to this endeavor. If you are not prepared for the scope of this project, you will become frustrated and crippled by the seemingly endless rejections and revisions.

You must ensure that you have at least 10-15 hours per week to invest in the dissertation process. If you cannot invest this amount of time on an ongoing basis, then you will have great difficulty sustaining momentum. If you try to spend much more time on your dissertation on a regular basis, then you run the risk of burnout.

I encourage you to build a strong support network.

Marathoners have teams to help them pace themselves, to aid in preparation, and to provide support and aid during the race. Dissertation students also need people to support them emotionally and academically.

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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