I just presented at DH this past Wednesday – boy, did it feel good to be there from the other side!!
I know I was all over the place, but I wanted to get my advice out there in one cohesive post:
- Murphy’s law exists – none of your research will work until 2 months before you defend.
- Know thyself – know how you tick, how you tock, how you work, what is the best environment for you and what would distract you the most – that way, you can make the most use of your time! For me, I knew that I needed to be at school to write, and I took off Sunday – ALL day Sunday. That was my recharge day 🙂
- Eat healthy, stay healthy.
- Set a (realistic) date with your committee and make it happen (i.e. make a date, then count backwards for your due-dates!)
- Practice in front of your committee members’ students -they can offer valuable insight into questions that your committee member may ask.
- Talk to your outside committee member’s students, and find out how they really will act at your defense. Trust me.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate – your friends and family WANT to help you as much as possible!
- Find a pattern that works for YOU. For me, I found that summertime was the most productive for me, so I did all of my studying during that time and had my exams in August, right before school started – besides, all of my committee members were back from vacations and getting ready for the start of classes without there actually being any major obligations!
- August 22, 2008 – Lit Review
- August 26, 2009 – Candidacy
- August 24, 2012 – Defense
- Your computer will crash while writing your dissertation. Back. Up. EVERYTHING.
- When you think of something, write it down – somewhere, anywhere!
- Make to-do lists, then get rid of them so they don’t pile up
- Find your motivation to finish, whether it be a personal goal (like finishing in under 6 years) or a physical event (like a trip to Florida that is not being planned by you), or both!
- If you find it hard to write one day (or most days), try setting a timer for 10 minutes and just free-write – no citations, don’t worry about misspellings, who cares about the scientific vernacular – just write. Before you know it, you may be writing for hours.
- Laugh 😀
- Know that grad school is not your life. YOUR life is your life! Don’t forget to LIVE!
You might be wondering how the last two points fit in to dissertation writing. They have nothing to do with it, and in fact, they are the exact opposite of what everyone tells you to do. While I did give up the majority of my social life, I had a constant reminder from my now-fiance that life does not stop while you are in graduate school, and in fact, it does not stop, period. So, I continued to play in two softball leagues, went to Memphis for my sorority, and even visited my fiance’s father in North Carolina. I will admit, before every softball game and every trip, I felt guilty about leaving my work. But once I was there, I did not regret going, playing, laughing, and, even for just an hour, forgetting that I had my dissertation that I needed to finish.
And I still don’t regret it to this day.
I still finished, I still have those three letters behind my name, and I still walked across the stage in December.
So, no matter what anyone tells you, the biggest piece of advice that I can offer is this: Don’t forget to live while you’re writing. Have a Starbucks date with a good friend every week, or a game night for a few hours. Whatever it is, find a way to recharge, take a step back from grad school, and breathe.
For those of you still working towards your Ph.D., I offer you the following video:
When you decide to complete your dissertation, don’t think about failure, and don’t daydream (at least all the time) about the celebration after your defense. Think about it a different way: You are making your own stamp in the history books! Don’t think about how many people have tried and failed before you – don’t look at how all of the odds are stacking up against you. You need to push through and just be the best YOU can be! You need to give 100% to your dissertation, because WE ALL care about you finishing!
How many times have we, as grad students, said, “It is SO this year!… well, maybe not…?” NOT. THIS. YEAR! Make 2013 YOUR year!! You have the power to do that!
Who are you? Graduate students! But soon you will be able to drop that second word, and become GraduateS!!
Here’s to you – may 13 be your luckiest number this year!!
Margaret, Ph.D. 🙂