Starting, Surviving, and Completing Your Dissertation: Moving Beyond the ABD Status

Last Updated on May 23, 2019 by Ayla Myrick

Have you ever found yourself spending a day doing everything else you can think of except working on your dissertation?

Many, if not most, graduate students have a difficult time getting started, persevering, and finishing the dissertation process. You are not alone. There are many obvious reasons for delay, such as learning about the dissertation research and writing process, getting access to the articles and your major professor, time pressures, financial pressures, and learning new skills/techniques such as sampling methods, statistical data analysis, and data interpretation using charts and/or tables. You are not alone in these challenges, but the biggest obstacle is you.

What makes getting started and continuing your momentum so difficult?

First, your dissertation does involve far more research than you probably have ever done before. Remember, by the time you begin your dissertation you have already written many essays, reports, and conference presentations. A dissertation is really a compilation of seminar papers that are linked through conceptual unity. That means you have already done most or all of the work in many classes and the objective is to bring all that work together into one unified dissertation. So, if the work is not unfamiliar to you, why does it seem so difficult to get momentum? Well, completing the dissertation process is largely based on overcoming the difficulties through perseverance. In other words, not giving up. This may seem over simplified, and perhaps it is, since challenges still come up that stop your resolve to move forward.

Why do I feel so many different things when it comes to writing my dissertation?

Emotional responses to the challenges may include feelings of anxiety, being overwhelmed, feeling burned out and frustrated. There are also extreme highs and severe lows in the process that can make you neauseated. All these responses are normal. Few people engage in any professional or educational activity devoid of emotion. Emotional responses only become a problem when it stops you from progressing.

How do I survive?

There are many things you can proactively do to survive. The first thing is to look at what is hindering your progression. These may include problematic interactions with certain professors or committee members, revisions, major changes, and negative feedback?

Let us begin by taking a look at how to use and view your department chair or advisor. These chairs or advisors are your primary contact in the dissertation process, so all news of your progress, success, or regress comes directly from them. This can create strong emotions around meeting with and using your advisor regularly and appropriately. Remember, do not hate the messenger! You should seek out your advisor’s candidness, critique, expertise, and trust as these are invaluable to your educational and professional development. Try to build a relationship of cooperation, mutual respect, openness. and trust. This sounds easy, but we all have different personalities and dispositions.

Your advisor is not in an adversarial role with you by trying to make the dissertation process difficult. Instead, they are a main source of support for you in achieving your academic success. You cannot control what your advisor does or how they behave, but you can take a look at how you are responding to them and the dissertation process. For example, when difficult news arrives from your advisor, committee, or research site there are many common responses from students:

“¢ Pouting;
“¢ Being distressed, angry, and offended;
“¢ Immediately responding with irate and ill-conceived replies;
“¢ Taking a deep breath;
“¢ Recognizing the value of an academic critique;
“¢ Calmly reviewing changes and deficiencies in a cooperative manner;
“¢ Maintaining emotional control.

How do you respond?

Your response to the news and progress on your dissertation not only impacts you, but also impacts your future progress and the people with whom you are working.

Survival includes networking with other doctoral students. Going through this process with other students helps give you perspective as well as support. You can also gain invaluable advice and experience about dealing with advisors and committees from students further along in the dissertation process.

How do I stay motivated and finish?

Given my experience working with students who have completed the dissertation process, I have seen some common patterns to staying motivated. These are some of my suggestions:

Distill your dissertation down to one sentence. This should be from the purpose of the paper. Repeat this sentence daily during the dissertation writing process. Post it on your computer or phone screen saver.
Keep writing, even when you feel stuck. If you’re stuck at a particular section, try moving to another section to maintain progress. Sometimes inspiration hits when you’ve moved on to another task. The goal is progress.
Give yourself realistic deadlines. No one ever wrote a dissertation in one day. Expect the process to take a year, two years, or possibly longer. Everyone has real-life distractions.

I have one final recommendation. No matter where you are in the dissertation process, you can benefit greatly by reaching out and contacting a professional dissertation consultant. Research methods and dissertation writing consultants, like myself, specialize in coaching graduate students through the data gathering, data analysis, data interpreting, and the dissertation writing process. We also network with APA format experts and dissertation defense coaches. In short, we help you through the process, start to finish. There’s no reason for you to feel lost and abandoned. The goal of and is to help you move past hurdles and proceed with your life and career.

Ayla Myrick