By: Dr. Rachna D. Jain
For: Muhamad Fazil Ahmad
Tip #1: Create a backwards planning timeline.
In this process, you set your desired defense date, and then work backwards to construct deadlines for each chapter or section. This will help you know- exactly- what you need to accomplish in order to defend on your desired date.
Tip #2: Stay in regular touch with your advisor.
It can be tempting to only contact your advisor when you have completed a major section of writing. However, if you don’t complete the writing as planned, you end up avoiding your advisor. This can make the process more difficult than necessary.
Tip #3: Keep your other commitments to a minimum.
In order to complete your dissertation quickly, you may need to refrain from taking on any additional (optional) commitments. In order to finish most quickly, you should focus on self care, relationships, and finishing the dissertation.
Tip #4: Frequently assess the scope of your topic.
When you’ve worked on the dissertation for a while, it’s common for the project to (unintentionally) become larger. Make regular assessments as to the scope of your topic, taking care that it remains manageable.
Tip #5: Get more support than you need.
Have at least 3-5 people that you can access for emotional, writing, and social support. This will keep you at your best during the whole process.
Tip #6: Realize the dissertation is not a test of your intelligence.
Completing the dissertation has always been and will always be more about your abilities to independently organize, research, and write on a particular topic. It has to do with demonstrating certain skills, not defining your native intelligence.
Tip #7: Use the smallest possible unit to get you started.
This may mean spending as little as one to five minutes on your work, initially. If you have been procrastinating and avoiding your work, you need to “re-train” your perceptions to realize that this isn’t so bad and that you actually like your work.
Tip #8: Allow this to be as easy as possible.
Doing a dissertation might not be painless, but try not to make it more painful than it needs to be. Like any other project in your life, it will get done if you work consistently towards it. I ask my clients to keep in mind the words, “easy and done”, which they may repeat when they feel the project or process is becoming too difficult. Try using this phrase when you feel worried or bad about your work. It may help you move back into it, more easily.
Tip #9: Don’t play the comparison game.
Everyone is different, and each student approaches the dissertation in his/her own way. It is not helpful to compare yourself to other students, mainly because everyone is different and has different resources to apply to the dissertation. Again, keep focused on your work and your game plan and your progress.
Tip #10: Understand that others may not “get it”.
Many times, my clients are frustrated by the people in their lives asking, “When will you be finished?” and “What’s taking so long…just write the darn thing.” You can choose to explain your actions, or you can try and find a way to make others understand. But if both of these don’t work, just know that it sometimes takes going through the process to know what it’s about.
Tip #11: More of everything is not always better.
Many graduate students behave as if extra work, extra time, extra energy always results in higher quality output. This is actually not always the case. Learn to find that balance between working hard and working smart.
Tip #12: Realize that each advisor will have different standards for an acceptable dissertation.
If you want to know your advisor’s preferred approach, ask. It can also be useful to review or study other dissertations s/he have chaired.
Tip #13: Think of this like a marathon, not a wind sprint
Most students treat the dissertation as a wind sprint, not a marathon. This means that they work all these hours at the beginning, get their lives out of whack, push themselves ‘til they “crash”, and then can’t get back to work after this. If you can see this process like a marathon, you’ll know that you need to keep a steady and even pace to finish!
Tip #14: Build the dissertation into your day as much as possible.
Integrating the dissertation into your daily life is a fantastic habit. It is much more helpful than placing it in its own category, where it begins to become an overwhelming and looming task.
Tip #15: If you get stuck for more than 1 month where you’ve not worked on the dissertation at all, take BIG action.
Join (or create) a support group, get a coach, do something. If you had cut your finger, you’d (hopefully) clean and bandage it. You wouldn’t just let it keep bleeding and wait to see “what happened”. Getting stuck in the dissertation is the same way. When you first see yourself getting stuck and feeling bad, prevent this from going further.