Berkeley Parents Network >
All Kinds of Families >
I am writing my dissertation full-time and expecting a baby this Fall. But I'm
having a TERRIBLE time getting my writing done, and I'm amazed at myself -- I've
always been so organized and focused. It just floors me how horrible I am at
writing my dissertation! Has anyone used a dissertation coach? Or have other
- dissertation mama-to-be
I would suggest three techniques. The accountability buddy: you
email a friend every day your major priorities for the day. this
can include go to yoga, renew library books, write two pages, or
read current scholarship. then at the end of the day you report
back. it should be reciprocal but doesn't have to be. the writing
audience buddy. each day you email something you've written to your
buddy. they do same. they deliver praise and ask you a questions.
the dissertation group. I would not have finished w/o mine. you
meet monthly w/a different person's chpt on deck for
feedback/encouragement. this produces deadlines: the only way to
write. it doesn't sound like you have much time for this, but I
used conference proposals and then paper deadlines to produce mini
chapters that I finished or expanded upon later. an audience or
community is crucial and chances are your faculty member is not
providing an immediate one. techniques shared at a berkely seminar
on this in the 90s included: filling a binder w/ blank pages in the number you expect
your finished ms to be. then you remove blank and place what you've
written inside. everything counts. log it. work in 45 minute
increments. work every day. even 2 pages a day means 30 pages in 2
weeks. also the writing down the bones author who said 'no good no
bad just right.' and 'first thoughts' helped me a lot.
I used a dissertation coach which was great. I honestly don't know
if I would have finished my dissertation without her. She would
help me break down everything I had to do into smaller tasks and to
fit these tasks into my schedule. She would help me get through
problems/obstacles and help me brainstorm over various issues. She
would give me pep talks when I had setbacks, and even helped me
when I was suffering through depression when home alone writing
grant proposals to get money for my research. She also helped me
maintain perspective and balance my work with other aspects of my
life. It was also helpful to have to report back to someone every
two weeks about my progress (that's when we would talk on the
phone, she lived across the country from me). I say go for it. If
you get a good coach who you work well with, he or she should help
you figure out how to get this huge task done with everything you
have to do in life. I also can recommend another book which may
help you. it's geared towards young faculty, but it's it tells
you how to get things done (research, writing, teaching prep) when
you only have little snippets of time: ''Advice for New Faculty
Members'' by Robert Boice. FYI, I found my dissertation coach
through this organization back in 2000:
http://www.abdsurvivalguide.com/ Good luck!
You can do this!
I didn't see your original post, so am not sure where you are in
dissertation writing and in which field, but I would strongly second
the advice to get a buddy (or two) and meet regularly, even just to
talk if you haven't been able to write much of substance or new. And
I'd also second keeping very close track of how much you work on the
dissertation each day.
This worked for me, too, in addition to buddies -- set a schedule of
what you want to get done each day AND mark off on an hour-by-hour
(or 30min-by-30min) calendar what you did and when. That helps you
see the times of day you're most productive and also how and when
you slack off (e.g., check email a little too often, have trouble
getting started in the morning, etc.). Also, I found that if I was
too exhausted or overwhelmed to think about actually writing, I
would do ''grunt work'' like compiling or proofing my bibliography
or work through first rounds of translations. (Obviously the
definition of grunt work depends on your field, but I'm assuming
sciences and social sciences dissertations require the same sort of
mundane tasks as my literature one!) Those sorts of tasks also take
more time than you realize so it's good to get a move on them
Good luck! You'll get there, just take it one steady step at a time!
Also, a relative who finished a year or so before I did told me her
mantra was ''good enough is good enough,'' and that really got me
through. Your dissertation doesn't have to be perfect, really. If
you stay in academia you'll rewrite it anyway, and if you don't (I
didn't), well, maybe it doesn't matter if it, like virtually all
dissertations, has rough edges!
Can anyone recommend a local dissertation coach? A friend in New York
said that having a coach made the difference between finishing and
not finishing, and I really want to finish. My committee is distant
in more ways than one, and I hope that a coach could help me complete
I had a very good experience with Dorothy Duff Brown, who lives in North Berkeley
and gives dissertation workshops at UC Berkeley and around the country. I worked
with her for a limited number of sessions -- maybe ten or twelve, spread out over
a year and a half -- but found it extremely helpful in getting me focused and
actually writing. For me, her strength was showing me how to work with my own
personality to get writing done -- e.g. finding the times I write best, helping
me maintain contact with committee (scary!), dealing with fluctuating childcare
schedules, etc. She doesn't participate in the online world (no email, even), so
if you want someone au courant in that arena she's not the one for you, but that
didn't matter for me. Her rates were $75/hour for an individual one-hour
session, $65/hr. if you meet twice a month, and $55/hr. if you meet weekly, I
think, and her phone number is 524-7549. It seemed like a luxury at the time but
it was just the thing to get me moving again.
I have a friend who is currently using a dissertation coach he really likes.
After just a few weeks, he feels much better about his progress already. She is
also a licensed clinical psychologist, so she really knows how to get you over
Her name is Dr. Joanne Chao, and her number is (510) 798-1092.
ABD no longer!
this page was last updated: Jan 26, 2010
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2014 Berkeley Parents Network