Grad School

Probably every ABD grad student asks him or herself this question…

The answer to this question can be found throughout this website, and is frequently addressed in my newsletter (signup in upper left corner of this page.) I get many letters telling me how helpful the newsletter can be.

ABD’s in the humanities seem to suffer the most. They don’t have a lab to go to on a daily basis, and usually don’t see their dissertation advisor as often as do those in the sciences.

Lack of structure is a huge part of the difficulty of being ABD. Your success up to this point came from responding to specific requests (e.g. “Write a 20 page paper on…”) These requests always had deadlines, and the price that you would pay for not getting that paper in was clear. You could pull an all nighter if needed to get it done.

What worked before doesn’t work anymore. You can’t pull all nighters over and over. The deadlines are rarely firm and are often self imposed. There seems to be no limit to the amount of literature review. You need to make an original contribution yet just recently you were a humble student. The rules aren’t clear, and your advisor doesn’t want to see your chapter until it’s almost done. Your initial excitement, if you had it, has worn off. Things can seem lonely and dismal.

ABD’s who are no longer on campus suffer the most. Without the contact with peers and advisor, it’s easy to let the dissertation slide, to feel dispirited, and to imagine that everyone is doing better than you.

Add a difficult advisor to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster. When you are feeling that tentative, harsh criticism, lack of assistance, or being ignored can really hurt. This stifles creativity and productivity, and self esteem plummets.

Elsewhere on thie site, I have written extensively on the experience of being ABD, and I ALWAYS offer concrete solutions that you can use to help youself if any of these negative situations apply to you

So, welcome to this site! Take advantage of all it has to offer, and stay tuned for constant updates.

Category: Grad School

This question addresses the kind of dissertation groups that are held in one’s department, and not the dissertation coaching groups that I run as a dissertation coach.

Here are some of the reasons that a dissertation group helps.

  • It gives you a deadline that is more frequent and obvious than either self-imposed deadlines or the vague deadline that your advisor would like to see a chapter in the next few months.
  • It helps you imagine an audience who will be reading your dissertation.
  • It gives you practice in presenting, discussing and defending your ideas.
  • It gives you an idea of what kinds of questions will be raised by your advisor, what you have omitted, and what you need to explain better.
  • The interaction with others will spur new ideas.
  • It helps you with what I consider one of the most important parts of being a successful graduate student — communicating about your subject area, getting used to all kinds of feedback and feeling some excitement about the act of scholarly dialog.

So go out there and join a group. If there isn’t already a group in your department, see my FAQ “How Do I Start My Own Dissertation Group?”

Category: Grad School

Coaching is a relatively new field. For some time, executives have had coaches to help them optimize their performance in the workplace. Academics, on the other hand, have had to rely on themselves, mentors, or peers. Unfortunately, though, academia can be a lonely place. It is sometimes difficult to find someone who is available, knowledgeable, unbiased, experienced and even intelligent enough to help the academic with current ventures and future goals.

This is where coaching comes in. Coaches work over the phone, allowing maximum flexibility for scheduling, and access to coaching from anywhere in the world. Here are some of the benefits of working with a coach.

  • You will be able to finish projects sooner.
  • You will overcome “writer’s block.”
  • You will advance your career.
  • You will clarify your goals, both large and small.
  • You will be manage your time better.
  • You will be more organized.
  • You will be more efficient.
  • You will no longer drop the ball on the many projects you are juggling.
  • You will feel less isolated.
  • Your confidence will increase.

There are many other benefits of working with a coach. Many “All But Dissertation” graduate students have benefited from coaching by finishing their theses sooner than they thought they could. Recently, even graduate students earlier in their career have sought coaching so that they could be better prepared for comprehensive exams and writing their dissertation.

Tenure coaching is an even newer concept, although it is a sorely needed service. Most new professors are isolated and overwhelmed, having barely recovered from the grueling process of finiahing and defending their dissertation and job hunting. Coaching can help them get off to a good start in their quest for tenure.

Categories: Faculty, Grad School

People are sometimes confused about the role of the coach. Unlike some of the services easily found on the Internet, which offer the services of writers and researchers who perform the actual work for you, coaching is completely ethical. It is not necessary for the coach to even know about your field of study.

Coaches DO perform the following services:

  • They help you organize yourself.
  • They help you set your priorities.
  • They help you create reasonable goals for yourself.
  • They remind you of your priorities so you don’t get off track.
  • They serve as a sounding board for your ideas.
  • They help you with career planning
  • They provide support and encouragement.
  • They help you improve your relationships with advisors and peers.
  • They help you find ways to get the information you need.

Coaches DON’T perform the following services:

  • They don’t write anything for you.
  • They don’t edit your dissertation.
  • They don’t do statistics for you.
  • They don’t make decisions for you.
  • They don’t do anything that your advisor or colleagues would find unethical.

You may be wondering how you can get help in writing your dissertation,publishing, or finding career help. I hope that this summary will help you make a decision as to what kind of professional is right for you.

Category: Grad School

If there isn’t already a dissertation group running in your department, or for some reason you can’t join one in existence, here are some ideas for starting a dissertation group of your own.

  • Send an email to your graduate listserv announcing your intention to start a new group.
  • Write down some suggested agendas and then finalize your ideas as people join the group.
  • Typically, groups meet weekly or every other week. The members take turns being the person whose dissertation is read. The writer gives a little presentation and then the members give feedback. All members should have read the material carefully ahead of time.
  • If you have trouble finding enough interest in your department, go to departments with similar dissertation requirements. I’ve found, for example, that English and Religious Studies often overlap nicely, as the latter involves looking at writings and writing literature reviews.
  • For help in understanding how and why a dissertation group is helpful, see the FAQ “Why Start a Dissertation Group?”

If you continue to have difficulty getting a dissertation group off the ground, post to this forum. I don’t know of anyone who has done this, but it should be possible to have a “virtual group.” All of my coaching groups are done over the phone with a free “bridge line.” A phone dissertation group may help people who with to get feedback from widely dispersed peers. If you do that, please let me know how that goes!

Category: Grad School

Many graduate students complain of loneliness, particularly once they have finished their classes and are officially All But Dissertation. There are many reasons for this:

  • Many hours spent alone, researching, reading and writing
  • The tendency to feel that others are progressing faster than you, leading to self isolation out of shame
  • Family members and friends who are not in grad school don’t understand how hard it can be to write the dissertation.
  • Some students don’t really feel welcome in their department and get the feeling that their advisors don’t want them around.
  • After being burned by stinging criticism about one’s first attempts at dissertating, some students withdraw from contact with others, or anything that reminds them of their department.
  • Some students end up moving away, usually due to a spouse’s work needs. This is a particularly isolating situation.

How do you deal with loneliness in graduate school? Here are some first ideas. This site is packed with other ideas on this subject, so make sure you look around.

  • Be proactive in reaching out to others once you are ABD
  • Join a dissertation group (see other FAQ’s for graduate students — there are two items on this)
  • Schedule regular meetings with your advisor, no matter how scary or unpleasant they may be. Avoidance is a real dissertation killer.
  • If you are living away from your university, join a dissertation group in a local university. Most will welcome you.
  • Get to know professors in your field wherever you are living. If you are living away from your university, you may be able to find a professor who is willing to be a reader or outside committee member, if it is OK with your dissertation advisor.
  • Go to conferences and get to know others in your area of specialization. Stay in touch by email.
  • Talk with other graduate students about your feelings of self doubt or loneliness. Chances are very high that they feel the same, but thought they were the only ones, so they never brought it up. There’s nothing better than finding out you’re not alone!
  • Visit this site often. Read my blog.
  • Sign up for my newsletter (upper left hand corner of every page of this site!) Many people have told me that the articles help remind them that they are not alone and that they are not crazy!

Category: Grad School

The answer to this question will depend on the nature of your difficulty. Here are some quick ideas. You will find many more answers in the articles and archived newsletters on this site. Consider opening up a discussion on the forum about this issue (see “Forums: Discuss it” in the left hand column of this page.)

  • If your advisor is unavailable, try taking charge and setting up a regular appoinment time. Even if you are not achieving as much as you should, a regular time for meetings will spur you to do more, so don’t procrastinate on setting up these meetings. This is a common mistake that ABD’s make.
  • If your advisor gives harsh and hurtful feedback, ask him or her to tell you some positive things about what you have written. It’s hard to believe, but many people don’t think of saying what their students have done right. You can let your advisor know that his or her feedback discourages you and makes it harder for you to be productive.
  • Ask your advisor for examples of what he or she is looking for in a chapter, if you are getting vague negative feedback.
  • Don’t hesitate to go to your advisor for advice or direction, but think the issue through ahead of time and show that you have educated yourself on the area you’d like to discuss. Have specific questions prepared, outline where you’re stuck or give some choices of direction that you would like feedback on, for example.
  • Find out from previous and current grad students who had this professor as an advisor what their experience was. If they were treated in a similar way, it will help you take your advisor’s treatment of you less personally, If they weren’t treated in this way, they may have some ideas as to what works (and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t) with this advisor.
  • If you are writing your dissertation far from your campus, and your advisor is not returning your emails, don’t take it personally. I have noticed that this is a common problem, along the lines of “out of site; out of mind.” On the other hand, don’t put up with it. After a suitable amount of time, depending on the nature of the communication, write again, then call if necessary. Some clients I’ve worked with have sent emails cc’d to everyone on their committee. It is also a good idea to go back to your campus for in person visits as often as you possibly can. This seems to help the advisor remember you are alive and that you matter.
  • Find an outside reader if your advisor insists only on polished chapters and won’t help with rough drafts. Some of my clients working away from campus have found professors in the city where they are now living, who are willing to help out in this manner. You will need to spell out whether they will actually be on your committee or if they are just readers. Getting your advisor’s OK on this will be important. If your advisor has a good opinion of the reader, it will really help you in the long run.
  • Join at least one dissertation group, so as to get feedback and support. These groups are helpful to all graduate students, but to the students dealing with difficult advisors, they are even more important. Don’t hesitate to join a group on a local campus if you are writing your dissertation far from your own institution.

If anyone reading this thinks of more tips that I can add here, please let me know at Gina@AcademicLadder.com.

Category: Grad School

Load More