The All-But-Dissertation Survival Guide™ focuses on ways to help its readers more readily overcome the roadblocks that often seem to stand in the way of completing the dissertation. It is read throughout the world.

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INSIDE THIS ISSUE - May 23, 2006

1. A note from the Editor

2. We're All in the Same Boat by Joyce Dorman, Ph.D.

3. Free June 6th workshop for ABDSG readers who are considering leaving their doctoral program

June 10, 2006

A Note from the Editor

Tracy Steen, Ph.D.

“Row, row, row your boat….” We could easily turn the first line of that well-known round into a fitting metaphor for the often arduous journey toward a Ph.D. However, the remaining lines most definitely would not fit:

“Gently down the stream….” (Stream? It’s whitewater! Not a gentle ride.)
“Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily….” (Doesn’t quite describe the trip, does it?)
“Life is but a dream.” (This is no dream—Get real!)

What brought that little ditty to mind was the title of this month’s guest article, “We’re All in the Same Boat.” The author, Dr. Joyce Dorman, has a unique perspective on the dissertation process, and she writes with conviction. Though Dr. Dorman had a dark and intensely personal obstacle to her own progress toward the Ph.D., she believes that there are many obstacles common to us all. Thus her metaphorical title places us “all in the same boat.”

Most of you are already “on board” (to continue the nautical natter) in the dissertation process. (I promise not to move on to “lost at sea” metaphors!) For those who have not yet fully committed to the process, consider the following advice from an unknown but obviously astute source: “Don’t wait for your ship to come in; swim out to it.” Getting started is the essential first step.

And beyond that first step, you will reach a point where that “all in the same boat” feeling dissipates. As you spend another evening alone with your papers and drafts and computer, you realize that you aren’t really on a big ship with all hands on deck, you are in a small, solitary but sturdy craft, and you will be paddling over the finish line alone. The good news is that you and you alone are the captain--And when the journey is completed, the Ph.D. you’re striving for will not be a group award; it will be yours!

So keep paddling! As Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore advised, “You can’t cross a sea by merely staring into the water.”

And even more appropriate to your bold venture are the familiar words in this issue’s...

Inspirational Quote

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea we are now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

--William Shakespeare

We’re All in the Same Boat

by Joyce Dorman, Ph.D.

It probably took me longer than most doctoral students to finish the Ph.D. The extra time was not due to laziness, lack of motivation, insufficient intellect, or advisor inadequacies. It was due to a life altering tragedy from which I needed time to recover.

Just as I was ready to embark on my dissertation, a horrific accident—a car collision—resulted in the loss of my husband. The experience nearly ended my aspiration of becoming a Ph.D. But after a two-year leave of absence from school, I decided to begin again, picking up where I had left off. Thus I resumed my journey on a bumpy road to the Ph.D.

The dissertation is a journey. Do not regard it as anything less than a demanding journey. Make a decision to map out your route to your destination and follow through. This may be easier said than done, but I will offer a few suggestions that I hope will help you to avoid some of the mistakes I made.

1. Prepare yourself emotionally and intellectually – By this I mean you should read all you can about the process. Make a commitment after you have understood clearly what the process is all about. And strengthen your will because there may be many painful experiences that will challenge your willingness to finish.

2. Adopt some virtues – There are many virtues that I could list, but here are a few of those most useful on the journey: humility, patience, persistence, conscientiousness, and diligence. In particular, you need to practice humility, especially at times when remarks and criticisms tend to become harsh. Do not give up on the process; it truly is difficult (in case no one told you), but the reward is commensurate with the challenge.

3. Do not compare yourself with others – It may be that comparing yourself with someone else (who may be further along in the process than you are) would only discourage you and create self-doubt. Trust in yourself; and if possible, find someone with whom you can share your frustrations. It helps to get them off your chest.

4. Develop independence and self-confidence – If you think your advisor will hold your hand through the process, you may have something else coming. Be independent. Do your due diligence. Don’t ask your advisor for answers that you can obtain for yourself. Grab the dissertation guidelines that your university has put out for you and have them by your side when you are writing. Independence will promote self-confidence.

I hope these suggestions make sense to you. Listen, if I can do it, so can you. Just remember that we all had to go through similar experiences to get the doctorate. As I said, it’s a journey.

Fr ee Workshop

"Should I Stay or Should I Go?"
Leaving the Ph.D. program

Mon June 26, 7:00 PM EST

Workshop leader: Donna Goodin

Just like the song says, "If I go there will be trouble, if I stay it will be double." If you are reading this, you probably already know that whether you decide to complete your Ph.D. or leave, the road ahead is not an easy one. It is a decision with both personal and professional consequences that may impact your life for many years to come.

Whatever you decide to do, you can make peace with your experience and emerge whole and strong on the other side, with a clear vision of a bright and welcoming future!

The purpose of this workshop is to provide a safe, confidential environment where you can begin to explore whether departure is the right choice for you. Some of the issues we will address in this workshop include

• Contextualizing departure
• Clarifying personal goals
• Addressing real or perceived judgments of others regarding your departure
• Factors to consider when planning your exit strategy
• Developing a support network to help you through your decision-making process

Email your registration to

Place the words "Should I Stay or Should I Go" in the subject line.
Please include in the body of your email:
1. Your full name.
2. Your university and department
3. Your email address.
4. Your daytime & evening telephone numbers.

In response to your email, you will receive confirmation of your registration & the bridge number.

All registration and participation information is confidential and will not be shared.

Tracy Steen, Ph.D. , is a clinical psychologist and dissertation coach in Philadelphia, PA. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Steen draws on her research background in positive psychology in her coaching work with writers, helping them to remove internal obstacles so they can find more engagement and flow in their work. You can contact Dr. Steen with questions about this newsletter or about writing coaching in general at You can also visit her website at

If you are considering whether to get your own coach to help you reach your academic goals, send any email to the following:

BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He began writing the ABDSG in 1997. Over the years, the ABDSG has provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished helping professionals to become extraordinary coaches. He is also founder of eCoach (, which trains interdisciplinary professionals to become superb coaches. Finally you must subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the new science of Positive Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife, Janice, their two children, and Norman, their Norwegian dwarf bunny. They all love coaching from the beach!


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