One of the hardest things i've had to do in my adult life (and certainly in graduate school), is write a dissertation. I recall all of my over-confidence about how I'd be just amazing at this, how it would take me no time, how I would definitely be done in a year...
Well, here I am on July 10, 2018. I started writing my dissertation 7 months ago in earnest, and I have no not finished a single, solitary chapter. Typing that out makes me feel a variety of emotions, from shame, to guilt, to crippling anxiety. Mostly, I just feel like I want to go back in time and tell that over-confident first, second, and third year PhD that was me that I was wrong, wrong, wrong.
So, if you're going to write a dissertation, I have a few protips for you. My dissertation is examining the construction of the Celebrity authors in American periodicals from 1850-1910. While obviously. that's humanities based, I do believe this advice may help anyone from any discipline:
1), At the end of your exams, if you have exams, you're going to be exhausted -- mentally, emotionally, and spiritually-- and you need (and deserve) a break.
Planning for this break is key: Schedule your exams in such a way that you are able to take some time off from school to just decompress and take care of yourself. The stress and anxiety of exam prep (plus, if you're anything like me, the months and months of less-than stellar self care) will catch up with you and you will crash, crash, crash -- hard. Give yourself the gift of a break.
2. If you have not already realized this, getting your PhD is like asking the universe to bring it-- and sometimes that means everything will go wrong.
You'll get mono... twice. You'll cut your finger and need surgery. You'll discover you have Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety. Your apartment will be in a fire. (yes, all of those things happened to me, plus some).All the problems you have in life-- in your relationships, in your mental health, in the way you deal with stress-- will compound, amplify, and become horrifyingly real on a level you cannot escape. These things will make it hard to get through your program sometimes, and if they emerge when it comes time to write a dissertation, it will be difficult to fake motivation to write. Know that we all go through this, in some way. No one's crisis is bigger than someone else's. Treat your peers with care and love and know we're all in this together. As a friend has reminded me many times, Grad School takes a Village. It's true. Find your village. Know you're not alone.
3. Remember how when you were in classes it was second nature to get the work you needed to get done and you were so good at it? Well, dissertation isn't at all like that. Sorry.
It's like the first time your parents let you stay home alone. You have all this freedom and you don't know what to do with it. Even when you make a schedule with your director (and i highly recommend this), you think to yourself "ah, what's another day on the couch/by the pool/lying in bed/sobbing," etc. Days become weeks and weeks become months. You will even write blog posts to get out of working on your dissertation. You will clean to not work on your dissertation. You'll gladly dive into your taxes to avoid your dissertation. The lack of schedule is both liberating and awful, because it's now up to you to hold yourself accountable.
4. If you realize early on that your committee isn't going to work for you, be your own advocate and make the needed changes.
Luckily, I have a committee I really like, but I know people that have been in bad situations and muscled through as a matter of course. That doesn't help anyone and only hurts your process. If things don't feel right, then figure out how to get a new committee (or change a member that isn't helping you achieve your goals). Your future self will thank you.
5. Your dissertation will take more time and money than you think.
Writing is hard. Research is hard. Thinking about writing and doing research is hard. Part of what took me so long to start was a feeling that I didn't know all the things i needed to know (I realize that was my own limiting belief), and so I kept researching, and researching, and researching-- in that process I came to realize all the materials I would need to either purchase (like access to archival materials) or pay to physically access. I don't know about you, dear reader, but my stipend barely covers my rent-- meaning I have to work on the side. I don't recommend that, but if you have to, you have to. And that means everything takes longer and is harder. Build the realities of your life into your production schedule -- and if you need to change things, change them.
6. No, you are not a hack job, and yes, you can do this.
In the process of making these tips (of which I realized I have many -- so expect another blog post in the coming weeks when I'm procrastinating) I realized that I have to mention the number one tip: believe in yourself. You can do this. is it hard? Absolutely. Is your first draft awful? Yes! But remember that you will get through this, you deserve your PhD, and you can write your dissertation. And it will be good. I promise. I believe in you.
I'll probably do a bit more chronicling as the summer progresses, as it makes me feel more accountable. Any tips you want to share about the writing process or being a Dissertating PhD? Share them in the comments!