Over the years that I have been coaching students and colleagues working on their doctoral dissertations, I’ve noticed several key reasons why they reached out for support in the first place. I also experienced those very same obstacles as I navigated my own tumultuous hills and valleys during the dissertation journey.
These causes are definitely interrelated and are very common with many, if not most, students in doctoral programs. At the time, though, it may feel as though the myriad of issues are yours – and yours alone.
There are always those very few students who breeze through a program and dissertation in record time, but rest assured they are not the norm. If that was the case, the completion rate for doctoral degrees would be higher than the current average of 50%.
So…what causes the descent into the dissertation abyss?
The reality involves personal and circumstantial change over the four (or more) years you are working on the degree. You simply aren’t the same person you were in the beginning of the doctoral “relationship”. Yes, picture it like a long term commitment that can get shaky with time.
It’s likely you have experienced multiple changes with relationships, work, living arrangements, habits and goals since you started your program – all of which affect your motivation and ability to keep moving forward consistently with the dissertation. More than one coaching client has confided to me (in a cautious whisper) that they simply have lost interest in their topic entirely.
Over the course of your program, you may have gotten married or divorced, had children, changed jobs and locations, experienced illness and lost loved ones.
My clients frequently experience major changes in their university programs as well: changes in program design, policies and supervisors are the most common issues they tell me about. Newer programs may have fundamental problems with structure and organization, while older programs can lack flexibility and innovation.
Overall, these experiences often result in feelings of uncertainty, stress and isolation. And, since doctoral students tend to be motivated with high expectations of themselves, they are hesitant to reach out to others for help. Particularly if they are already supporting others in multiple roles at work and home.
Ideally, graduate students are able to count on their supervisors for assistance during the rough times, but that isn’t always the case. It’s entirely possible that program mentors are likely dealing with ongoing work related deadlines, organizational politics and personal issues themselves. The majority have their students’ best interests at heart, but primarily want to know that they are processing through the program steadily and are on track, time-wise, to graduate.
It’s when the deadly dissertation stall hits that a dissertation coach can become a lifesaver of sorts. Whether a student is experiencing confusion about methodology and content development, or is immobilized due to procrastination and life stressors, a coach can be a safe sounding board.
While some doctoral students benefit from just a few coaching sessions, others choose to collaborate with a coach over the longer term required through various phases of research, writing and defense.
Overall, my students find that dissertation coaching moves them through the process faster, with more clarity and substantially less stress than going it alone. It can also be a valid investment, in terms of reducing the number of semesters (and amount of tuition) needed to complete and opening up new career opportunities upon graduation.
Think of a coach as a confidential accountability partner who focuses entirely on what it is going to take to help you propel successfully and securely across the dissertation finish line – your own secret weapon!
Is dissertation coaching right for you? I provide a free consultation so what have you got to lose?