Tag Archives: dissertation

5 Tips for Writing from Home

Home office “You can always find a distraction if you’re looking for one.” – Tom Kite

For those of you currently immersed in a large writing project (dissertation, anyone?), taking a day or afternoon to write from home can be a good way to maximize productivity by eliminating time spent on commute, meetings, and putting on real pants. However, as we all know, the promise of accomplishing much when writing from home is easily thwarted by the black hole known as YouTube (there are literally hours of must-see Beyoncé music videos), or the immense desire to clean your refrigerator in the middle of the afternoon. In addition, the invisible tug of e-mail doesn’t go away just because you’re away from the office. Because we’ve all been there, I’ve compiled a few tips below to help you steer clear of these distractions so you can spend more time writing (and finishing) your project.

1. Create a writing space

In your office it’s much easier to get down to work because this space was designed and organized specifically for such an endeavor. The area of your desk where the computer sits is where you write, but this space is separate from the couch where you read articles, from the table where you meet with students, and from the conference room where you attend meetings. These spaces provide expectations (and tools) for the work that will be done there, but their boundaries are harder to establish at home. As a consequence, tasks can easily bleed together and make it more difficult to carve out time for writing when away from the office. Help yourself out by dedicating a room, corner of a room, or even a corner of your kitchen table just for writing. Acknowledge that when in that space, you’re committed to writing rather than checking e-mail, answering the phone, or grading papers. Clear clutter out of the area and add in items that help you write, such pen and paper for making notes on the fly, ear-plugs or headphones, and your favorite chewing gum or mints. You may even consider putting out a specific candle or incense and burn it only when writing to more fully distinguish this space.

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5 Tips from Finding Nemo for Completing Your Dissertation

FINDING NEMO 3DThis past weekend, as I stumbled upon “Finding Nemo” on cable (ok, I’ll confess, I wanted to watch it again), I reflected on how Marlin’s journey could be similar to the dissertation process. In the movie, Marlin is a clownfish who sees his son Nemo captured from the Great Barrier Reef by a diver. He embarks on a long journey to Sydney to rescue his son. Here are my lessons learned from Finding Nemo that I believe can apply to the dissertation process (seriously).

1)      Be prepared for a long journey. Marlin swims hundreds of miles in search of his son. Be ready for all the work that can go into completing the dissertation, which also takes lots of time. It’s helpful to know that you’re on a long journey, and give yourself plenty of time to do all the assigned tasks.

2)      Friends can help you along the way. Marlin gets help from numerous friends: Dory reads the address on the diver’s mask; Crush the sea turtle gives Marlin directions to Sydney via the East Australian Current; Nigel the brown pelican rescues Marlin and Dory and takes him to Nemo. Your friends and peers in graduate school can help you as you finish the dissertation. They can encourage you, help you solve problems that you encounter, and then celebrate with you at the end.

Fish Sydney Opera House3)      Listen to the advice you’re given. A school of fish advise Dory to avoid jellyfish. Marlin didn’t listen and ended up getting stung. On your journey, you may get advice from your colleagues and professors. It’s helpful to listen to what they say, particularly when it’s about making your path easier. While you might want to add some more measures to your dissertation, if someone is suggesting that you streamline your study to make it easier to finish and analyze, that is good advice to listen to!

The-sharks-in-Finding-Nemo4)      Watch out for the sharks. Marlin encounters 3 sharks, one of whom eventually tries to eat Marlin and Dory. You may encounter different sharks along your dissertation journey. For example, a professor who is really difficult to work with could be a shark if you pick him to serve on your committee. If you do end up with a shark on your committee, don’t bleed like Dory! Do your homework, prepare for what kind of questions he might ask, and don’t give him any reason to eat you.

5)      Just keep swimming. Of course, the final, and most important lesson, from Finding Nemo is just keep swimming. When you find yourself overwhelmed with the amount of work you have in front of you, keep slowly chugging away. Work for small amounts of time, even just 10 minutes a day, to keep your momentum. If you keep swimming, you might be able to build some momentum and work for longer bits of time. However, if you stop swimming, it might be harder to restart. Swimming every day is the best path to finishing the dissertation!

Just Keep SwimmingThe dissertation is a long journey, so best of luck while you dissertate, and when all else fails, stay calm and just swim on!

Overcoming 3 Common Dissertation Pitfalls

Most students find writing the dissertation to be the most daunting aspect of graduate school. When it comes to the dissertation, they feel overwhelmed and ill equipped, they doubt their abilities, and many give up before finishing. So challenging is the dissertation, that some have estimated that as many as 50% of graduate students are ABD (“all but dissertation”), which means students leave graduate school having met all requirements except the dissertation.

But it does not have to be this way!
Based on my many years of experience or working with doctoral students, I have discovered that there are some very common pitfalls and misconceptions about the dissertation that cut across nearly all graduate students and block their dissertation progress. The good news is that these problems are all fixable! Due to space limitations, in the rest of this blog, I briefly highlight 3 problems students frequently encounter and provide tips on overcoming them. For more detailed information on these and other common problems and tips, or for individualized assistance, contact me (tamara@thedisscoach.com).
Problem 1: “I’m too busy to write.”

Graduate students are notoriously busy! In addition to working on their dissertations, students in the PhD clinical psychology program where I teach also have to juggle taking classes, studying, teaching classes, seeing clients, conducting other research, writing journal articles, preparing conference presentations, and their personal interests and responsibilities. It’s a tall order; who has time to write! Actually there is more time than you might think. Graduate students (like everyone else) waste a lot of time that could be spent writing. Some time wasters are obvious such as time spent on facebook or checking email. But some time wasters are not as obvious.

  • Examples given by graduate students I talked to are time spent organizing articles, organizing one’s workspace, and preparing to write. Getting organized is important, but spending too much time on it leaves very little, if any, time for actual writing. A solution is to first create a daily grid and keep track of how you spend your time so that you become aware of what your time wasters are and how much time you waste.
  • Next, get rid of the obvious time wasters such as email and facebook by making their use contingent upon meeting your writing goals. Get rid of the subtle time wasters by scheduling organization time into your calendar as separate from your scheduled writing time. This ensures you devote adequate time to organizing, but when it’s time to write, organizing ends. If you lapse into your favorite time wasters when you are supposed to be writing, stop yourself! Remember that you have other places in your schedule for those activities so carefully guard your writing time and only do writing during writing time.

Problem 2: Many graduate students mistakenly believe that they cannot begin writing until they are able to have an extended period (say 2 hours) of uninterrupted time to devote to writing.

Since they rarely have such large blocks of time in their schedules, the result is that weeks (and months) go by and students never begin writing, believing that they did not have enough time. Research shows that those who write in shorter spurts of time are more productive than those who write in binges and they tend to find writing more enjoyable. The solution is to change your thinking and start writing in 30-minute blocks of time. Why 30 minutes?

  • Because most people can find 30-minute blocks in their schedules. Decide in advance which specific section of your project you will work on so that when the time for writing comes, you can get started right away (rather than spending your 30-minute writing time getting organized). Write as much as you can and when the time is up, stop writing. If you write for 30 minutes every day, by the end of a week, you will have spent 3 hours writing! If you wait for a 3-hour block of time to appear in your schedule, by the end of a week, you will have spent 0 hours writing!

Problem 3: Mismanagement of negative emotions. Working on the dissertation is often associated with negative thoughts (e.g., “I am incompetent,” “they made a mistake admitting me into this program”) and negative emotions (e.g., fear, anxiety).

These thoughts and feelings, if not managed properly, feed on one another and result in behaviors that are self-sabotaging. Take procrastination as an example. I had a student with lots of negative thoughts and emotions associated with his dissertation that would overwhelm him every time he tried to work on it, so rather than work on his dissertation he would over commit to other activities (e.g., teaching, taking on more clients, household chores). These activities allowed him to avoid his fears and insecurities while still feeling like he was busy doing important work that had to get done. While procrastination provides temporary relief from unwanted thoughts and feelings, the problem is these avoidance tactics prevent students from making progress on their dissertations, and that lack of progress fuels even more negative thoughts and feelings which lead to more procrastination; a vicious cycle. A solution is to recognize how your behaviors, especially those that interfere with your dissertation, are influenced by your thoughts and feelings. Applying principles of cognitive and cognitive-behavioral theory are helpful in this regard.
These are just 3 of the most common pitfalls graduate students experience while trying to complete their dissertations. There are others that are common and some that are unique to particular situations. Regardless of the problem you are having, the solution is to get active in figuring out the problem and what to do about it. If you have tried to do that and it is not working, there are other options such as seeking the assistance of a dissertation coach. Dissertation coaches can be particularly helpful if you have spent an inordinate amount of time spinning your wheels on your dissertation rather than making real progress, if your dissertation chairperson is not providing the guidance and support you need, or if you are at the beginning of your dissertation and you want someone to help you get set up for the road ahead. A dissertation coach can help you devise strategies and step-by-step plans to keep you making steady progress.

Editor’s note: This post was written by Tamara L. Brown, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of Psychology; University of Kentucky. It originally appeared on the Multicultural Mentoring blog by the Society of Clinical Psychology’s Section on the Clinical Psychology of Ethnic Minorities. (APA Division 12, Section 6). It is reposted here with generous permission. Over time, you will see all eight original posts on gradPSYCH Blog.


Research – Get Involved!

Getting involved in research is an important and often necessary way to get prepared for graduate school in psychology. Research opportunities are usually available as long as you know where to look. Every year numerous students ask me questions about research opportunities – I hope this helps our blog readers better understand how to navigate this process.

Where to look for research opportunities

A great place to begin looking is your academic department’s website. I always encourage my students to read the faculty members’ profiles on our department’s website. This will help you get an idea of the research interests of your faculty. Decide which faculty members’ interests best match your interests. Then email the faculty member asking if you can meet with them to discuss their research and ways you might be able to get involved. Some faculty members will let you know they are not currently accepting any new students to their labs, other faculty members might not have research teams but might be willing to collaborate on a project with you. Some will immediately invite you to the next research team meeting, and some will schedule a meeting for you to come in and discuss your interests and determine your fit to the team.

  • If for some reason you are not able to join a research team with one of your department’s faculty, don’t hesitate to look outside of your department. I have a large research team of 15 students and half of these students are not from my department. If you plan to pursue research opportunities outside of your department you would do so similarly to how I’ve described looking for research opportunities in your department: think about fields of study you are interested in, go to that department’s website to read about faculty research interests, and then email faculty members.

Why finding research experience is important

Research is very important to the field of psychology. Psychologists are consumers of research, as our clinical work is influenced by research findings. Psychologists are also researchers, as research is the force that propels the field forward. Considering that research is important to the field, it is an important aspect of graduate training. If you plan to apply to graduate school in psychology, research experience helps graduate programs assess your preparedness for graduate training. Your involvement on a research team demonstrates your authentic interest in research and it suggests that you have more advanced skills than students who do not have research team experience. When reviewing doctoral applications for admission to the doctoral program I work in, I am always evaluating the applicant’s previous research experience.

So now that you know that getting involved in research is an important thing to do, you might be wondering what you will be getting yourself into. Being an active member on a research team can be very rewarding (I promise!).

  • First, something that should not be discounted, you gain exposure to the research process. I have found that some students have misconceptions about what research is and conclude that they are not interested in research because of this misinformation. In reality, research is very exciting, intellectually stimulating, and a strong vehicle for promoting social justice (get involved to find out how)!
  • Secondly, you can gain training and firsthand experience on how to conduct a research study from start to finish. You learn how to design a study (e.g., create research questions and hypotheses, select measures, review literature, etc.). You can gain experience in data collection, data entry, data analyses, manuscript writing, grant writing, and presenting research in public forums and at professional conferences.

If you are an undergraduate…Fundamentally, participation on a research team provides exposure to the research process. Having a history of participation in research gives you a strong background for entrance to graduate school. Participation on a research team also provides a way to network with professors. These professors will be great candidates to write letters of recommendation for graduate school or future employment.

If you are a master’s student…Research experience will be helpful when you conduct your own independent research (i.e., master’s thesis). Research team experience also helps you compete for entry in doctoral programs that have a scientist-practitioner model of training. Admissions to doctoral level graduate programs typically involve an assessment of your research interests and skills. Applicants are typically asked to talk about their research experience, and what they did specifically on past research teams. Participation in research with professors other than your advisor is a great way to learn alternate views of what research looks like, and is a great way to ensure strong letters of recommendation for future endeavors.

If you are a doctoral student…Research experience prepares you for your doctoral thesis, and helps an advanced student learn how to go about assembling her own research team to gather dissertation data. Research experience also helps in the realm of professional development by giving doctoral students the opportunity to present research at professional conferences and participate in the publication of manuscripts in scholarly journals. Research team experience prepares the soon-to-be-academic for assembly of their own research team once tenure track employment begins (there is life after grad-school)!

My hope is that you are thinking about research and how you can (need) to get involved. Involvement in research is critical in shaping the next generation of researchers – you!

Editor’s note: This post was written by Shannon Chavez-Korell, PhD; Assistant Professor, Counseling Psychology; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. It originally appeared on the Multicultural Mentoring blog by the Society of Clinical Psychology’s Section on the Clinical Psychology of Ethnic Minorities. (APA Division 12, Section 6). It is reposted here with generous permission. Over time, you will see all eight original posts on gradPSYCH Blog.