A few days ago one of my mentors I mean someone I trust and admire asked me (yes you read that correctly, me) for tips on finishing her dissertation. (insert shocked face)
She stated that she hated writing and I mean who doesn’t hate writing, I know I did. At first, I thought no I don’t have any good advice to give then it hit me I completed my dissertation in 8 months (I mean edits to chapters 1-3, IRB, the research and writing 4 and 5). Once I thought about that I realized I had advice to give because I completed a huge undertaking in a short amount of time.
To help me compile the list I am about to share I solicited advice from two of my cohort members Dr. Arron Richardson and Dr. Mauda Monger.
Now, before talking with them I sat and thought about all the things my chair and other faculty members would share with us about why individuals don’t finish the dissertation. The things I remembered most were: People often fail from the beginning because they focus on their passion instead of letting the research guide them. You have to remember that you will not solve the world’s problems with one paper. Do the research and GET OUT! Let me say that again, Do the research and GET OUT!!!! Focus on your passion and saving the world once you get the Ph.D. The next mistake is people don’t write. Just, write something and turn it in. I know that sounds crazy and when one of my committee members first said it to me I was confused, like seriously what do you mean to write something and turn in? But, simply put it means just do it! JUST START WRITING. You have to remember you’ve never written a dissertation before so you don’t know how to do it. Write and let them help you. But being scared is going to just make time pass by and you will never finish if you keep that fear.
Time Management: Having good time management will save you in the long run. Plan out your days and prepare to win the day. What worked for me was keeping a schedule. I don't mean Tuesday write the introduction, Wednesday meet with my advisor. I literally scheduled everything. 9:00 am- 10:00am Chapter 1, 10:15 am -10:30 am break, 10:30 am-11:00 am zoom meeting. I have all my time planned out. It worked for me because I never felt overwhelmed by just sitting in front of the computer writing or not knowing what I needed to do next.
Organizational skills: Please please please be ORGANIZED. Get you a binder (3'in and a hard drive) keep everything saved on your hard drive (and the cloud) and for your literature review keep all of your articles in your binder. Make labels or color code to keep everything nice and neat. I like to always be able to put my hand on an article or pull up my work.
Create good habits: Creating good habits seem easy enough but when you are used to doing whatever, whenever things can get pretty tough. You have to train yourself to set boundaries, to study, to write, to read, etc.. Remember once you do these things for 30 days they will become a habit.
Incentives: This is my personal favorite. I would create incentives for myself. If I completed a section or met my deadlines early I would buy something nice or have more TV time or just simply allow myself a night off. This taught me that small wins matter too and it all works out for the good in the end. And who doesn't like getting a treat when they make progress.
Get some large post-it notes: The post-it notes will help you organize your thoughts and documents. I used them for chapter 5 and I thought the entire time what took me so long to do this.
Accept that this is a process: All I'm going to say is remember you have never written a dissertation before, you have never added to the body of knowledge. So please keep that in mind and know that this won't happen overnight but you will be thankful in the end when it is done. Nothing worth having ever came easy.
Develop a personal relationship with your chair: Your chair is supposed to have your back and believe in you. If you don't have a relationship with them, how can they go to bat for you? My chair knew my strengths and weakness, he knew what troubled me, he knew when I needed extra support, and when I needed him to back off. That came from developing a personal relationship. This also made working with him and selecting my committee members easier. My chair had my back throughout the entire process even when I didn't believe in myself, he stood up for me and made sure I met my goal and became a Dr. before 30.
Surround yourself with wise and suppurative people: Everyone will not understand your process and that is ok. Find you a group of people who do and it will make all the difference. My family and core group of friends have and will always be very supportive. I love and appreciate them for that, but having people who were on the front line with me was amazing. I walked into my first day in my program thinking dang I'm going to have to do this alone but little did I know God had my back and I made an amazing group of friends that turned into family. I remember my mom saying Brittany be open-minded I'm sure you will find someone you can go through the program with. Having people who are with you with help push you in a way you never knew you needed. You can have study nights, writing groups, a night out and someone to cry with all while getting your work done.
I hope this list helps you, If you have any questions or need additional advice please don't hesitate to ask.
P.S. If you don't remember anything else I mentioned just know you WON'T always be motivated so you must learn to be DISCIPLINED.