…do you have what it takes to finish?
This is going to be a different type of blog. One that comes from years of acting as a dissertation therapist as well as a dissertation editor. I’ve started noticing over the years – and had my own epiphany while I was working on my dissertation – that there comes a time in the dissertation process that you have to make a conscious decision to finish. More than that, you have to decide at what level you want to be at. (Don’t worry, I wouldn’t let you get by with that kind of sentence construction in your dissertation!)
In my own dissertation I remember thinking “Can I do this?” “Do I have it in me to finish?” I’ve always been a little smug about my sense of discipline and dogged determination. It’s taken me through times when I had nothing else going for me. But there came a time when I questioned even that capability to persevere. I felt I had already dipped into my reserve tank and was running on fumes. It was only when I allowed myself to question my ability to finish that I felt I could. I know that doesn’t make sense. Put another way, I decided to go with it and see if I could just do a little bit more and that would have to be enough. I stopped second guessing myself and just kept keeping on. This went against everything I believed to be true about myself. Somehow I finished. It was humbling. I don’t take much for granted anymore.
I’ve worked with many editing clients over the years who’ve had similar experiences. After they finished I asked several who I admired most how they did it? How did they talk themselves into finishing?
Example one: Jocelyn. It took Jocelyn ten years from the beginning of her coursework until graduation. She went through three advisors, two major job changes/promotions, family pains (raising young children and taking care of aging parents at the same time), and a personal health crisis. When I asked how she did it – all the starts and stops and changes – she said “it all would have been for nothing if I hadn’t finished. …All the excuses, all the stress, all the times I wasn’t where I was supposed to be or wanted to be because I had to work on my dissertation. How could I live with myself if I didn’t finish? How could I let all those people down?”
Example two: Steven. Another person I admired was getting blasted from all sides. An ill-advised chair choice. Chemical abuse and subsequent treatment for his teenage daughter. The breakup of his marriage. A career change. The list goes on. To make matters worse, he went all the way through the proposal phase and his case study company pulled the plug. So it was back to the drawing board with a new proposal, new topic, new participants. His logic for finishing was that he needed to set an example for his daughter. How could he expect her to work so hard to get healthy and deal with an addiction if he couldn’t summon the inner resources to regroup and “get it done.”
Example three: Fred. While it might not seem like a big deal, Fred’s dissertation hit the rails when he was beginning his research after successfully defending his proposal when the company who created the sophisticated instrument he was going to use reneged on their agreement. Again, doesn’t sound like that big a deal but it did involve going back to the IRB (institutional review board) several times with a new self-designed instrument. Because it wasn’t a tested instrument he had to complete a complicated process involving pilot testing, subject matter experts, revamping his literature review, and changing his survey questions. I asked him how he kept going and he shrugged and said: “What are you going to do?”
Example four: Katherine. Another client of mine, Katherine, had decided twice that she’d had enough and wasn’t going to finish. It wasn’t what she wanted anymore. It had been eight years and she’d had it. She didn’t need it for her career or her feelings of self. Then her father got cancer and said: “If you’re going to do this, can you just finish so I can watch you graduate?” No one in her family or extended family had a doctorate and her father wanted bragging rights. Katherine did add that her father also said: “If you’re not going to finish can you at least stop talking about it?” Katherine finished and dedicated the dissertation to her father.
Who knows why people finish or don’t finish a dissertation. All I’m saying is that almost everyone I’ve worked with reaches a point where they have to dig deep, put their back into it, and just get it done.
Dr. Kat (aka Dr. Kathleen Cannon)
Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
©2016 Kathleen J Cannon