With Facebook's "On This Day" reminders, I frequently look back to the days of writing my dissertation. Even without the newborn-to-toddler twin stages simultaneous with the process, it was a stressful and somewhat lonely time. I was separated from my academic community because of our move down south when I was five months pregnant.
The transition from graduate student to dissertation author is tough. You spend years planning your life around the pace of the academic semester, with the predictable rhythm of the term (beginning, midterm, final) and the structure of the course syllabi. Suddenly, you're thrown into a realm where the rhythm is new and irregular. You can't tap to the regular beat that's been set for you, you have to create the rhythm yourself through long-term planning and self-mentoring.
It's a hard transition for many students. When I'm coaching a student, I emphasize the process of breaking down the big project into manageable chunks. Micro-deadlines fold into larger ones. One of the books that I love for this is Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. Even though some of its discussion of process is dated, the basic principles are incredibly helpful. My biggest take-away was to divide my tasks up into small/medium/large and rote vs. creative tasks, and then use my small bits of time efficiently (oftentimes, the sweet spot when two babies were napping at the same time). Even if I didn't have space for large chunks of writing during a particular day, I could still attend to e-mails, annotate a bibliography entry, proofread a few pages, or make a list of needed interlibrary loans.
Currently, we have two students who are about to finish. Because of their particular circumstances, they had to move quickly through their academic projects. I worked with each of them to create an individualized work plan, looking realistically at their weekly commitments and breaking things down into weekly and monthly goals. They worked the plan, and now Tim is helping with the final editing (proofreading, footnotes/bibliography, format checks) as they move towards completion.
They did the work. But assisting with the transition is a joy-filled process.
Joanna & Tim
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