The spring 2016 semester was quickly coming to a close and I was sitting in my dark/ almost windowless living room wondering where are the time went. How did a WHOLE semester go by without me writing anything for my dissertation?
You see, I successfully defended my preliminary exams at the end of fall 2015 and I was completely burnt out. I had trouble getting out of the bed. I would have panic attacks multiple times a week. I couldn’t explain it to anyone.
I did manage get some help with my anxiety and depression and was starting to feel some positive impacts. I just wasn’t seeing any progress with my writing.
I thought it was completely hopeless. I just resigned that I would be one of that 50 % of people who didn’t finish their doctoral degree. I mean… I already had two degrees. What’s one more?
Luckily, my sista circle came through and said not only was I going to graduate but I had a year to get my sh*t together! “Because the Black girls are graduating in May 2017!” That was the message in my circle.
Maybe your challenge to finishing your dissertation isn’t about anxiety and depression. Maybe you are not sure why you’re having trouble writing. I’m going to be breaking down some of the common reasons why you are having trouble making progress and finishing your dissertation.
Can you relate to this?
Through the power of the ancestors, you passed your preliminary exams. This gave you the encouragement you needed to get going on this dissertation thing. However, you quickly found this new motivation quickly disappearing and overwhelm and anxiety beginning to settle in.
Every day, as you scroll through your newsfeed and timeline, you see friends, classmates, and cohort members defending and graduating while you just seem stuck in the same place. You think to yourself, “How could you have started at the same place but not end at the same place? What am I doing with my life? Why isn’t that me?” You start to get stuck in your head and feel even less motivated to work on that dissertation.
Maybe you do find some motivation from somewhere and before it leaves, you drive to your favorite writing place. This feeling is so great and as you sit down to write, you find yourself wondering, “Where do I start?” You may begin to read a few articles, look at a few dissertation topics, and frantically jot down some notes. Your old friend, overwhelm returns and it’s clear that you need help getting out of your head. You can think for hours and hours about your topic but you can’t seem to get them down on paper. Why can’t someone just tell you what to write?
Here’s the thing: the reason you haven’t finish your dissertation has NOTHING to do with how smart you are. You have a strong idea of what you should be doing, getting it done is another thing. Today, I will be sharing with you five reasons why you haven’t finish your dissertation.
Unless you are type A, healthy, and highly disciplined, then you are like the rest of us on Sunday night wondering where the week went. You felt like you were doing all the things last week but now you don’t have much to show for it. In fact, it’s like you take one thing off and three more things magically appear. How will you ever get it all done if you can’t get this list down? You are all over the place despite your best efforts to be organized. You’re doing all the things that have been suggested: you have a planner, designated writing time, and a deadline for your completed draft. It just seems like you will never get there. You’re spending your time focused on the wrong activities. I believe you are working hard. Just not focusing on the things that will give you the most progress.
What are words?
You finally manage to sit down to write and you have no clue what to type. What are even words? How to get the thoughts on to the paper? Not sure where to start and just simply writers' block. Writing is about discipline and having something to say. You clearly have something to say but maybe can’t quite figure out how to put it into actual words. All these doubts and questions come flooding into your brain. This is more about not having discipline then it is about what you should say. Once you develop a writing discipline, the words will naturally follow.
Getting a Ph.D. will test your health and probably the first time you realize you are no longer 16. You just are always wishing for a getaway, just two days to catch up on everything. But you get the time, and you spend the whole day binging Grey's Anatomy crying along with Meredith to Derek asking him to “Pick me. Choose me. Love me.” (Just me?) But seriously, even if you could leave for a couple of days, you will still end up feeling how you do right now. The core of this problem is going back to reason number one and two. Until you focus on the right areas and develop a writing discipline, you will continue to feel burnt out.
No matter if you have friends who are also working their dissertations, y’all are still on different paths. There is a lot you have to go through alone and you just feel like there is no one around to help. There may be people around you who are stuck in making this process a competition. Your family and friends love you and keep saying well-meaning things like, “You’re smart, you got this!” “You’ve been in school this long, you got it” No, I don’t have it. There is nothing like being around people who “get it” and who are making actual progress on their dissertation. This environment of awesome people will give unbelievable motivation, support, and accountability.
Your chair may be the coolest person ever and yet it may still be hard to find them or meet with them. Maybe you’re feeling like you can’t get feedback. You may be pulled in many directions. There may even be some stuff happening between your committee members. Like this is not about being a babysitter to the grownups who are supposed to be guiding you. You can’t move forward without them. What if I told you that this is more your responsibility than your chair’s responsibility? Providing solid drafts is needed in order for them to review and to be able to give you decent feedback.
That was a bit of tough love. I’m not here to leave you hanging.
Next week, I’m going to be sharing my Ultimate Dissertation Strategy Guide where I show you my proven system for finishing your dissertation without feeling overwhelmed, lost, or burnt out.
Let me know in the comments if any of these reasons resonate with you!