24/7 and Dissertations
July 24th is the 24th day of the 7th month of the year. Most doctoral students think of their dissertations as a 24/7 thing, too…
I talk with several doctoral students each week. And, time and time again I am struck by how incredibly stressed they are.
Does this sound like you?
“Quite frankly, [my chair] frustrates me a great deal.”
“I feel like I am going in circles. I don’t know if I’m even headed in the right direction. Mentally and physically, I am exhausted.”
“I just feel that I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“I need someone to hold my hand and lead me.”
“[I don’t know] where to go from here… what to do next eludes me.”
“I feel as if I’m stuck in a mud hole, with no way to get out.”
I’m “anxious,” “completely lost,” and “overwhelmed.”
These are but a few of the lamentations I hear from doctoral students, over and over again. The stress is palpable. The dissertation is like a weight always bearing down on your shoulders, like a cloud constantly overhead.
Even when you’re not actively working on it, the dissertation really is a 24/7 thing. When you’re at work, your dissertation is on your mind. When you’re out with friends or family, your preoccupation with your dissertation keeps you from truly being present.
I’ve lost count of how many times a student has told me, “I just want to get my life back!”
“OK then, how can I eliminate the stress and confusion, so that I can stop thinking about this thing 24/7?” — You need to make sure that you have the right support.
One of my students researched the types of support doctoral students need to complete their dissertations remotely. She discovered that two types of support are imperative for success: academic support and emotional support.
Academic support is the obvious what-do-I-do, how-do-I-do-it type of support. But, emotional support proved to be just as important to a student’s chances at graduating. Emotional support is that vote of confidence from someone who’s been there before.
She also found that there are three primary sources of support: the academic community, the workplace, and your friends and family.
Friends and family can be a great source of emotional support. They’re in your corner and truly want you to succeed. However, unless a friend or family member has earned their own doctoral degree, they don’t really know what you’re going through. And, of course, if they don’t have any personal experience with the dissertation process, they cannot provide academic support.
Workplace colleagues (peers and supervisors) can also provide emotional support. In fact, your supervisor may have a vested interest in you completing your doctoral degree, due to the value your degree could bring to the workplace. But, as with friends & family, emotional support from colleagues who have not completed their own dissertations can ring hollow and become of source of additional frustration for dissertation students. Ditto for academic support.
The academic community can obviously be a great source of academic support. Whether that support comes from your university and its resources or your chair and dissertation committee, these folks have clearly been there before.
The question becomes how much support can you expect from your chair? For some students, the answer is quite a lot. For many others, not so much. In the absence of true support from your chair, where do you turn?
Some students seek out accountability partners, other doctoral students working on their own dissertations. The idea is that your accountability partner will be able to cover your areas of weakness, and you will be able to cover theirs. Although I strongly favor students forming accountability partnerships for emotional support, relying on another student for academic support is less a case of “it takes a village” and more one of “the blind leading the blind.”