We interviewed few post-graduate students who had survived the struggle for completing a dissertation. They were all elated that their dissertation journey had finally come to an end. But when told to chronicle their experience, they unanimously agreed that there were times they thought of giving up the project and quit their post-graduation course. But thankfully they did not! So, you can clearly see that struggling through the dissertation process or having thoughts about quitting are pretty normal.
Normal, as long as they are not overthrowing you from the controller’s seat!
Want to know how your predecessors managed to complete their dissertation papers which, at present, seem impossible to you? Here is what they have to say:
1. Always think ‘I can do it’
“The biggest mistake I did while writing my dissertation was that I did not believe in myself,” says Julia Roots, who got her paper published recently. “I used to get second, third, fourth opinions to ensure what I was doing was right. This way, I lost some valuable time.” She further adds, “Always have faith in yourself; it will help you in the long run.” Julia is not an exception. Majority of the students underestimate their capabilities and skills when they have to handle a complex task. So it is necessary that whenever you grapple to get something done, try these magical words, ‘I can do this’, not just once, but several times to boost your self-confidence.
2. Be a master in organizing
The success of dissertation majorly depends on your organization skills because you need to manage numerous articles, data, files, instructions and documents. It is true that only organizing does not remove the academic and personal stress, but the rigors and stress of research get eased to some extent. In this context, a scholar named Alfie Samuels shares his account: “I started my dissertation without an organizing plan. Soon I realized I had made a mistake. Thankfully it was not too late. One of my colleagues advised me to use file cabinet to store research files for each chapter. It turned out to be pretty helpful.” Alfie had his own organizing trick. But you can use any organizing tool or tricks like using flashcards as long as it works for you.
3. Don’t be afraid to change your supervisor
Kyle, a history researcher, changed his supervisor because he was not quite professional in nature. “Me and my supervisor had different priorities and perception about my project so I changed my adviser in the third year. I am glad that I did.” Kyle is not an unusual case. After starting your research, you might find that you and your supervisor share completely different views about the topic. Rather than helping, it is restraining your professional growth. Whenever you sense your supervisor does not fully support you or does not take part in resolving conflicts with other committee member or readers, it is time to get a divorce from your supervisor and hunt for another one.
4. Think before choosing a supervisor
It is important that students pay close attention while choosing a supervisor who agrees to supervise your work. There are few factors that can affect the decision of a student. Brandon, who recently completed his dissertation, said: “I thought it would be fun to work with a famous supervisor, but it turned out to be an unsuccessful bond. I had to leave him.” Just like Brandon, you don’t need a supervisor who is super busy or famous as they might not provide enough time the way you expect. You may rather be with the supervisor whose students take longer to complete their dissertation but land with better jobs. You need to select a person who understands the processes, requirements and communicates expectations clearly. Moreover, your supervisor should have experience preferably those who have served as readers in other dissertation committees.
5. Determine communicating styles
Lack of communication always hinders your way to achieve success, and when it comes to writing a dissertation, make sure communication is not holding you back. “I used to send my chapters to my supervisor and get feedback, that’s it. But when I reached an impasse, I had to knock on the supervisor’s doors. That’s when I realized how important it is to keep close contact with your supervisor. I advise everyone not to repeat my mistake.” Whenever your supervisor asks you, any problem? Start a conversation even if you are not facing any problem. This will help you to establish a harmonious bond with your supervisor. The most effective way is to schedule a face-to-face appointment with your supervisor whenever you have something important to discuss. If get any chance, engage yourself in informal chats or formal talks as much as possible. Whenever you schedule a meeting with your supervisor, state the reason for the meeting so that supervisor too gets time to come up with a solution.
6. Maintain a back-up of everything
“I was so worried about keeping back-up that I put all my files in the freezer in case the house caught fire.” Yes, this is funny, but for Melissa, it was matter of life and death. Students often do not pay attention to keep copies of their research files, notes or writings. They solely depend on their computer and unfortunately if there is a technical problem, they lose everything at once. So it is advisable that you store copies of your chapters in several places, not just in your system. Take print out of those chapters and keep them in different files. Not only chapters, but also your research and notes you have taken so far. Organize them in a file cabinet in a chronological order or chapter-wise. Do not forget the feedback you received. Your supervisor might want to see them while incorporating comment on the revised version. Also keep the old drafts in case you are asked to put back something in.
7. Take breaks
Dissertation is a lengthy process. It requires you to devote several months or several years. So it is important that you take frequent breaks when you require one. “I went for a holiday. After toiling for months, it was a much-needed break for me. When I got back, I was all energetic and enthusiastic to resume my work.” Libby, who is now advancing her research in philosophy, shares her experience. There will be times when you will have your engines shut down and you cannot move another step. Take a break. It is important to understand that short breaks in writing will happen and you need to take those breaks without feeling guilty. During the breaks, you can engage in various things like searching jobs, taking care of the family, watching movies for days etc. But getting back to the work is important as taking a break. So start writing and researching again after coming back from the break.
8. Learn to say ‘No’
Dissertation becomes the most important business in any post-graduate student’s life. They sleep on it, they dream on it and they grow on it. But unfortunately people around you have little idea how important dissertation writing is for you. They distract you during the dissertation writing. So you should be firm and able to say, “Go away, I am writing now.” “My friends used to make fun of me as I was spending most of the time in house or in library or on college campus. I was eventually tagged as geek. But I did not care, I continued my work and completed my dissertation within four years,” says Louis, who is now working as full-time researcher. You may have to kick your friends out of your room, turn down the proposal of going to the concert or take a blame for not giving enough time to your family members. But it is you who have to get your priorities straight. And it is fine to say ‘No’ now and then.
9. Make most of the technology
Writing a dissertation does not seem overwhelming just because you know little, but you know too much. It is difficult to arrange and apply them in writing. You have to deal with the devilish details of research. But Maya found her way. “A few amazing apps helped to keep the big picture on view. I managed to deal with the hell lot of a data and writing them. I am really thankful to the apps.” Like Maya, many post-graduate students now use apps to write their dissertation. Here are few examples of dissertation writing apps that can change your life. For research phrase, you can use Instrapper and One Tab. And when you come to drafting phrase, you can use Momentum, Evernote or Trello. For writing, you can use Pomodoro Technique or If This Then That app. These apps will ease your dissertation writing journey to some extent.
10. Reward yourself
It is important that you appreciate your doings. After perfecting a chapter, take your time to reward yourself for the hard work you have done so far. Find little places to celebrate as you go along. For instance, after doing a chapter or getting a perfect feedback from your supervisor, invite your friends for drinks or take a day-off. You can make a checklist where you can feel good and tick off an option after accomplishing it. “I read somewhere that rewarding yourself is one of the best ways to motivate yourself, and so applied it. I went out for a meal with my friends after completing three chapters. It was real fun. I felt so relieved”. Like Hayden, you can also acknowledge your wins and choose your own reward. It is much exciting rather than waiting for someone to tell you what a great job you have done so far. So do not wait for someone to say few good words to you or appreciate you. Take the initiative yourself.
A dissertation is likely to be the longest and most complex academic project you would ever take. However, it can be highly rewarding piece of work if the students continue to be on the right path. Distractions, hurdles, issues will always be there. But it is important how you deal with those and remain in control. The above-mentioned stories of scholars prove that making mistake is not important, what matter is how you learn from the mistakes. We hope the above mentioned advises will help you in dealing with all the dissertation writing issues.
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