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Dissertation Coaches

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Have you used a dissertation coach?

August 2008

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 ideas? Thanks! - 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. local prof
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 anyway.

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! Anon


Local dissertation coach?

April 2006

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 it. abd


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. Satisfied dissertator
Dear ABD, 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 your obstacles. Her name is Dr. Joanne Chao, and her number is (510) 798-1092. ABD no longer!
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