No Dissertation without Self-Care & Self-Advocacy

Brittany Kelley, Consultant

Last week, I worked as a consultant at the Dissertation Writing Retreat. We were all at different stages of dissertating: finalizing the prospectus;Kelley_WC Pic building the lit. review chapter and gathering data; and narrowing a mountainous amount of data into a book-length project. Yet, we were all facing similar challenges, similar internal questions:

  • How can/do I possibly make it through a project so big?!
  • How can I set good writing routines? What does that even mean?!
  • I’ve got all these things I love right in front of me, how do I choose which ones to write about?!
  • What about my committee?

We also all shared some similar challenges in our writing: writer’s block; organization issues; typos; identifying just the right amount of content. You know, all those things you can expect.

But, by and large, we all started to see that the biggest challenge we faced was to remember that we needed, first and foremost, to care for ourselves as we dissertated. That we needed to give ourselves moments of rest. We needed to acknowledge even small victories. We had to remember to ask for what we need.

In other words, we all realized that there could be no dissertation without self-care and self-advocacy.

It seems to me that this is true of all writing situations. Writing is a way we figure things out. It’s a way that we communicate our needs and ideas with others. And it can be exciting as much as terrifying. It can be emotionally draining (and, I find, it often is). The dissertation process can be even more so, because it seems like it’s a proving ground, rather than a starting point. So, it’s important to remember self-care actions, such as:

  • Set small goals (100 words per day), and then provide small rewards when you meet them (one episode of a favorite TV show; one hour to do absolutely nothing school-related, etc.).
  • Always schedule in time for real rest. Schedule at least one, free weekend day per week. Or one full week during the summer. Take time away from the project. Allow yourself to recharge and incubate ideas.
  • Take time to visit your notes, and “throw-away” pages. Show yourself how much work you really have done.

And, of course, advocate for yourself.

  • If you need some strict deadlines, then set those up with your committee chair.
  • Remember that your committee is there to guide you, but that the project is yours. In other words, work with your committee to help you meet your goals for your project.
  • Make frequent meetings with committee members. Sometimes talking it out first is what you really need.
  • Consider forming a writing group with peers. Low-stakes writing communities can really help you stay motivated and confident.

The dissertation can take a lot out of you. And, as my dissertating compatriots and I discovered last week, it’s important to take the time to recharge, to care for yourself, and to advocate for yourself as you research and write.

So, happy writing! And remember to take care.

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