But let's assume that you and your student have done all you can, and that the dissertation is still foundering. In that case, it may be time to ask, "Are you having trouble hanging on, or letting go?" i've asked that of students more than once in my career, and the initial response is usually, "Wow, good question." Indeed, it is a question many graduate. Advise the student, not just the dissertation. Most graduate students are young grown-ups who are still making major life choices. Some of those choices, such as the need to support a young family, may lead away from dissertation completion. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it's the student's dissertation, not mine. We can often help students navigate past research or writing problems, and we should always try. But if the dissertation is not going to get done, the adviser needs to let go of it, no matter how significant a contribution the work might make if it were ever to see the light of publication.
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We have a responsibility to teach them. That means it's. Most professors recognize when graduate students won't finish, but essay mostly we do nothing. We need to talk to our struggling graduate students, not treat them as though they were invisible. We need also to start a conversation about them. How then should we teach the students who are destined to run aground? Students who aren't going to finish have certain specific needs that we can letter identify and try to meet. Here are a few suggestions to start. If you love them, let them go freely. Our job is to lead students toward the finish line, but it's also to let them choose their own finish line. (How to help a struggling graduate student actually complete the dissertation will be the subject of the sequel to this article, next month.).
A 2007 study by the council of Graduate Schools showed, among other things, that most attrition from doctoral literature programs occurs in the first few years, not at the dissertation stage—a disturbing finding (because the dissertation stage is much longer) but an important one. The related subject of time-to-degree has also come under deserved scrutiny. In one of the more polemical contributions to that discussion, harvard University's louis Menand recommends revamping the structure of the dissertation to make it shorter, more practical, and less research-driven. We can only benefit from examining our degree-granting practice, but let's not forget that this is foremost a teaching issue. Graduate students will never see leaving. Program as a viable choice unless we honor that choice ourselves. Right now we allow—and through our passivity even promote—the sense that someone who doesn't finish is a quitter. These are our students. All of them, including ones who are stuck.
No mere albatross, it stigmatizes its owner in desk ways that usually leave permanent scars. Philoctetes himself was ostracized, and he became a suffering hero of tragic theater. The sociologist Erving Goffman describes stigma as when a person hotel "is disqualified from full social acceptance." Graduate students are already marginal by virtue of being apprentices, but a foundering dissertation compromises their status even further. With stigma, says Goffman, "shame becomes a central possibility.". No wonder struggling graduate students rarely consider leaving. Watching someone tread water in lake dissertation (as one clear-eyed student aptly put it) is one of the more painful sights in academe, but it will remain an all-too-common spectacle given the stigma attached to the alternative. Advertisement, the good news is that. Completion and attrition rates have gained more attention in recent years. The bad news is that the problem is being viewed almost entirely in administrative terms.
Some would be better off doing other things with their lives. Others simply can't complete the project. The problem is that academic culture doesn't credit the decision to stop writing a dissertation as legitimate. In fact, leaving graduate school has a reputation a lot worse than that. I've met many people over the years who have dropped out as abd's, and not one has ever presented the decision better than apologetically. Many see it as a personal failure—like the student who confessed, "I haven't lived up to the investment that the university made." Graduate-school administrators collect untold fortunes in "open file fees" from people who pay to keep their student status alive for five. They stay because the unfinished dissertation is like the wound of Philoctetes in Greek mythology, a festering sore that never goes away.
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And it can write be hard for those outside of academia to understand the extent to which our personal sense of self can be wrapped up in the dissertation and the relevant professional context. Thus, finishing even in the case of a to be continued saga of future revisions and an uncertain job market can be experienced as a profound loss of professional and personal purpose. If you're feeling disoriented, bereft, and stuck, know that it's exceedingly common. And it will pass (or you will need to find a good therapist as you sort out your future work trajectory and perhaps consider exciting new options you might not have been open to before). A former graduate student wrote me a note a few months ago to thank me for helping him drop out.
What's wrong with that picture? Nothing, except that we don't see it often enough. Not every graduate student will finish a dissertation. We know that truth to be self-evident. Nor should every graduate student finish.
D two years ago agreed: I couldn't imagine doing anything else. But all of a sudden the idea of carrying on the way i had been pushing myself to write and revise filled with me dread. She wound up leaving academia for a lucrative industry job. I think some academics think that it's only those who lack the talent to stay who wind up leaving, she said. So i tortured myself over the decision, and became stressed to the point where i couldn't work.
Blog entries abound on this topic,. D.s pour out their hearts about their post- dissertation funk, its origin, and duration. As to its source, ilse Schweitzer VanDonkelaar astutely summarized: After years of managing my time and living with the pressure to read, write, and get the darn dissertation finished, my mind is going in a hundred directions, unsure of what to do now. One assistant professor recalled : I had a 'so what?' kind of feeling about the successful defense the culmination of what I'd spent the last five years pursuing, and the last two years directly working. Yet another new. Told me she experienced impostor syndrome for the first time after she felt that her defense was easier than it should have been. That, combined with a difficult move, led her to experience paralyzing anxiety even with a job lined. D.s I spoke with, rehashing their defense was surprisingly common, with feelings ranging from disappointment to self-critique to sadness. Having worked so hard for so long on one thing, our identity inevitably begins to revolve around.
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Turn chapter into an article paperwork is a vague and big task. Revisions may come back at a time when you are uncertain whether a rewrite is even worth the trouble. And should you attempt to draft a book proposal based on your diss? All of those considerations can lead to a kind of paralysis common enough that services like. Unstuck exist to help. So you and i are not alone in experiencing stress, depression, or ennui after defending. One recent graduate told me that her successful defense led to daily panic attacks; she had no idea what she wanted to do with the degree after having romanticized academic life for so long. Another colleague who received her.
But if you are questioning about your career path at all, these tasks can seem more than just typically daunting: They can seem pointless. Dissertation writing provides us with a concrete goal, an end point toward which we can strive. But its not just a deadline, its a degree. And although many dissertation writers have crises of purpose while writing, those of us who finish are often the surprised to find that the crisis occurs more acutely after we have been hooded. This has to do with the end point not really being much of an end point, but an intended beginning. But where to next? Further, many new. D.s have a host of suggested dissertation revisions sitting in their in boxes. A problem with post-defense workflow is that there are so many things the new doctor can or should be working on that it can become overwhelming.
if a romantic partner can't move? (It's probably not necessary to mention that during the long. Slog, many of us find significant others in our university's region, or find that our partners become entrenched in their local careers.). What about the professional and financial advantages of that secondary option the industry job? And what if they want to leave academia but cant because their research is overspecialized and they have no relevant work history? Sounds like a recipe for potential immobilization, eh? Those of us mulling over an academic career know what weve supposed to be doing after finishing our doctorates. Were supposed to be turning parts of the dissertation into publishable chapters, teaching courses, and otherwise filling holes in our CVs.
We are capable of great working independently, sticking to self-imposed deadlines, and focusing on the big picture. We may have thrown ourselves into the study of best writing practices, kept a strict schedule, formed writing accountability groups, and workshopped parts of our dissertation during the process. We are not people who have trouble staying on task and self-motivating. So when the blues hit when well-meaning refrains of Congratulations, doctor! Result in a cringe rather than a smile what is going on? As newly minted. D.s know, we're not supposed to be any less driven simply because we've graduated. If anything, the hustle is supposed to begin anew. But as one tenured professor said to me: These days very few students can hope to line up an academic job while.
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