1. Do It For Yourself. Why are you doing it? If not for personal development, it is too easy to quit because start to finish is boot camp for the brain and spirit.
2. Select a Topic You Love. My first topic was one I only liked and a problem that I only, let’s say, noticed. When I consulted with my coach and knew my data was old, he said, “What do you love?” It turns out you can do a dissertation on what you love! For me, that was reading and musical theater. And I kind of love writing it. Not the statistics, I don’t love that.
3. Get a Coach. See above. If it weren’t for my coach holding me accountable to both a topic and weekly work, I would not be closing in on a final draft in double time. Remember time is money when you write those tuition checks, and your coach gives you a speed advantage.
4. Fast Track Your Course Work. If your school offers the opportunity to take two or three classes at a time instead of one or two, do it. You can do anything for a short amount of time. Research for one class will help for another class simultaneously, and you will become more efficient at writing and school culture.
5. Reward Yourself. Nothing will ever be perfect. Your paper or assignment can always be better. Whatever motivates you, set a time to do that thing when you finish the week’s work. Visit with a friend, do something special with a family member, see a silly movie, anything.
6. Have a Friend. It is better if your friend goes through the doctoral program with you, and you can support each other. It can be a person you know before the program, meet in class, or connect with online. You will have a sense for someone that is part of your tribe and can hang in there with you. You are all alone in the dissertation, which brings me to the next “thing to know.”
7. Have a Pet. Dogs are known for loyalty, and, without fail, mine lays right at my feet when I sit down to work. Any pet would be okay, but without my dog in the office, I would feel pretty lonely, which contributes to depression, which contributes to less work. It is my personal experience, but there may be an article in the Lancet or American Journal of Medicine. Or it could be a dissertation topic if you are looking!
8. Don’t Take Anything Personally. The third reader told me to get an editor after oh-so-many readings of my proposal. Much of it was related to APA, but I was so offended. I thought I was a good writer, and how could someone insult me like this? Then I started a new book by one of my favorite authors, which began with an acknowledgements section thanking his editor. Duh.
9. Lose Facebook. It will take up way too much time, and you don’t have it. You won’t want to look up how to reference a chapter in a book, so you will scroll through Facebook. Twenty minutes later adds up. Get a friend or spouse on your account to change your password, and if your personal pride is anything like mine, it will be embarrassing for that person to know that you tried to sneak back on, and this has worked for me for well over a year. Also, I am happier.
10.Don’t Talk About Your Work. Just like your regular job, I kind of feel like no one really cares about this stuff. It’s research, it’s very complicated, and to most other people, it is boring and irrelevant. It is your baby, but think how you feel at one too many baby pictures. And babies are cute.