Surviving Your Dissertation Writing - 8 Tips to Maintain Sanity

A lot is written about the academic process of dissertation writing. But for those who have been through the process and for those who are currently in the midst of writing their dissertations, too little is written about the emotional aspects of this journey. And there are many. You will go through periods of frustration, anger, envy of others, self-loathing, guilt, and just plain “I quit” moments. Accept this as a given, but take these tips to help you get through those moments and move forward.

1.      Break Your Timeline Down

You presented a timeline in your proposal. It was rather broad and divided your completion into large segments. Now, break it down into much smaller segments, with smaller goals. Set due dates for these smaller goals. It’s a psychological thing - if you set these really short-term goals, you can reward yourself as you reach them. It tends to keep you motivated.

2.      Accept the Fact That Deadlines Will Be Blown Through

You are not going to meet every due date you have set – it’s really okay. Life happens over a year’s time, and you will adjust. But keep working toward each small goal, even when you have to set the deadlines back.

3.      Get Input and Feedback Often and Early

Once you have roughed out an outline for a chapter, sit down with your advisor and discuss it. The more input the decision-makers have (advisor and committee members), the kindlier they will feel toward you in general. See if you can establish a “feedback” relationship with a couple of your committee members, so you can keep them up to date on your progress. Send them portions to read every now and then.

4.      Find Encouragers

You need more than constructive criticism from an advisor and a few committee members. You need to have a few people in your life who will praise you, encourage you, and support you. These are your “cheerleaders,” the people who will tell you that you can do this, that will help you stick to your schedule and who can also review what you have written and say, “Well done.” Find those few people early on and keep them close.

5.      Keep in Mind This is Your Dissertation

You will be emotionally involved with your work from the beginning. Every sentence you write will be a tiny piece of you. This is your work, and it reflects upon you as a scholar and researcher. Say what you believe is important, understanding that you will not completely please every single one of your committee members. When you ultimately get to your oral defense, your confidence that what you have researched and concluded must shine through. That will only happen if you are committed to what you have done.

6.      Take Time Off as You Need To

You need outlets and opportunities for a personal life. Do not deny yourself time off when you are just too flooded with your work. You cannot function efficiently and productively without breaks and respite. Allow yourself to take a week every now and then and just do nothing dissertation-related. You will return to it renewed. And lose the guilt about doing so.

7.      Learn to Say No

You probably have lots of demands on your time. You may be teaching; you may have other work; you may have a family and a social life that are important to you. But you also need to learn how to say “no” to requests and “demands” on your time. You do not have to take over the teaching assignments of a fellow grad student who wants to go on vacation; you don’t have to accept the offer of a committee position; you can even learn to say no to family and friends when you are “on a roll” and need time to write. It may be hard for others to understand what it means to write your dissertation, but you do. So, say no when you need to.

(Say yes sometimes, too; take an occasional break to celebrate your accomplishments!)

8.      Accept that You May Need Help and Get It

You are not perfect, and you are not the first person who needs help with a dissertation – the literature review, the design of your methodology, the data analysis. If the need arises, get in touch with a professional dissertation writing service, a service that has a Ph.D. consultant in your research field who can walk you through the tough spots.