Time Management: Facing Down the Doctoral Candidate “Dragons”

It has been my experience that when I work with a doctoral candidate in person on a consultation and I take them through the exercise laid out in the last blog post, backward mapping from graduation back to now for goal setting, at the end of it they may look like they are in shell shock. They have just looked seriously at the milestones they need to have in place in order to move towards graduation and now they are stunned.

Why is that? Because it may put us in the heart of our fears of failure to look at our big goals that directly.  Because of that fear, we find our stomachs tighten and it becomes hard to breathe. Do you have some level of those symptoms when you lay out an exact calendar of what is required? If so perhaps you have been kidding yourself about the requirements of being a doctor and your first step towards conquering that fear will need to be to face the reality that if you do not do every step along the path with absolute rigor you will not finish.

Can you do it? Absolutely! I have seen people who were not at all prepared, and did not have the apparent requisite skills, find that they had more strength and resiliency than they previously knew.  They got the support they needed worked through this process and finished with flying colors.

What are you afraid of? The list below tells you how you might get past those fears, the help you might recruit, in the attitudes which will be useful to you.

  1. Lack of self-esteem? There are a wealth of meditation/positive thought downloadable files available on the Internet which will flood your brain with the message that you can get through this. Listen to them regularly, they will help you have the faith you need in yourself to get to these challenges. The two we recommend are: Philosophers Notes by Brian Johnson and various meditations by Kelly Howell.
  2. Trouble with writing? Find a proofreader early on in the process and work with them. It is preferable if the company you use frequently works in an academic setting, and is familiar with doctoral work. The company we recommend is: https://proofreadmyessay.co.uk/ (where we ask you to tell them that DoctoralNet was the referring party).  For all these hyperlinks we have a business relationship with the companies – we recommend them that strongly!  IF in the US, not to worry the proofread my essay shows itself as a UK company – they have a US branch as well.
  3. Trouble putting your ideas down on paper? For this you need an editor, find someone who has a doctoral degree, or has worked with others who have and be sure to take them examples from your University as well as other models you may have collected for what you want your work to be like. Talking with an outside person allows you to understand where your language, thoughts, or not well organized were easy to understand. Be clear, this is not the work of your advisor, it needs to be done separately – so that the products that you take to your advisor are clean and another doctoral standard.  Of course, DoctoralNet has options to help as well.
  4. Lack of time? Most doctoral students are busy working adults, often with family troubles and issues they also have to face. Nevertheless, 50 % of them do finish, therefore these issues are not an excuse to quit. Barring the kind of family emergency that requires you to take some time off because of severe illness, etc. a lot can be done by simply working every day on your dissertation. Have clear goals about how much you won’t have to write and don’t leave your desk until you have met them. Be strong in your heart and say no to outside life attractions.
  5. Feeling of separation from the other people in your life? It is true that doctoral work is isolating. At this time in your life you are likely one of the few who understands what it is you’re going through. This is the main reason we have communities as part of DoctoralNet, and our clients tell us that just coming to a regular Sunday meeting and talking about things are just to do with doctoral work lightens their life. Wherever you find it have friends or colleagues to understand this process and can support you personally through it. Many of you will be the first in your family to get a doctorate, this is something to be proud of, but it is also something that makes you stand out and apart – that is not comfortable.
  6. Gotten so you just hate your topic? Doctoral work drags on and sometimes when it dies you grow very tired of thinking about your topic. At this point, you should probably focus on the reasons you are finishing, and the joy you will feel when it is all done. Once again a support group of other doctoral students will be helpful in this. We also suggest you talk to your advisor or doctoral mentor to uncover whether or not some of your lack of enthusiasm about your topic may have to do with a sinking suspicion that there are changes that might be considered to the methodology. We have seen many people intuitively understand they had a problem prior to it coming to the surface through their writing. Once the problem was solved, their energy came back and the work proceeded.
  7. Not enough time to get it done? For anyone who did the backward mapping exercise and found that there was just no way it looked like you could finish I want to tell you the story of one of my doctoral graduates. Brenda found herself with a weak methodology and very little written on her proposals about four months away from when she fully intended to graduate. An impossible time frame. She pushed through the best she could do under proposal and gave it to everyone on her committee forcing the whole committee to give feedback, some of which was very negative. She did not lose hope, she worked with other people, and she kept processing ideas until it got to the barely acceptable level and she passed her proposal. In her case the collection of data was not an issue, so she quickly completed her interviews and went through a similar process pushing her data collection and analysis as hard as she could. I was her advisor, and she would have new work for me to look at every 10 days. I have never seen anyone as determined, nor have I been seldom as proud as when she made it through the process and graduated.  If Brenda can do it you can do it, find the support you need, give yourself for timelines and milestones that you absolutely must complete, and please keep in touch as you meet your goals. 
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