13 Things You Must Give Up to Finish Your Dissertation  | Issue 222

In Issue #222: Overcome the winter doldrums. Renew your energy and focus for your dissertation. Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

• Two Movies to Inspire Your Perseverance
• 13 Things You Must Give Up to Get Your Doctorate
• Become a "Slow Graduate Student"
• Featured Apps for Focus and Fun

These Oscar-Nominated Films Will Inspire Your Perseverance


Time to take a break from writing your dissertation? Let these two Best Picture nominees educate, entertain, and re-energize you. Then take a break from dissertating to watch the Oscars February 26. Warning: spoiler alerts follow.

Hidden Figures. Until the book and the movie Hidden Figures, who knew about women's crucial role in the success of the early US space program? In this historical film, three brilliant African-American women serve in a predominantly white male NASA, demonstrating passion and persistence in the face of pervasive racism and sexism.

With uncommon camaraderie, savvy and grace, these ground-breaking women brave challenge after challenge before receiving deserved acknowledgement from supervisors, peers, and astronauts. Their stories inspired a previous Oscar winner, Pharrell Williams, who contributed eight new songs for this top grossing film.

The film's afterward provides an update: Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), the human calculator for the first manned space flight trajectory, was presented with the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) became NASA's first black woman engineer, and Dorothy Vaughan (Olivia Spenser) became NASA's first African American manager.

La La Land. Nominated for 14 Oscars, this neo-musical provides offers a charming escape with plenty of music and dancing to lift one's spirits. As the sweet romance between jazz pianist and would-be club owner Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) builds, they hold steadfast to their dreams—despite financial woes, doubting relatives, and perverse occupational gate-keepers. (Sound familiar?)

However, there's one critical element you won't witness but should know about: The actors dedicated three months to intensive pre-production dance and music rehearsals. For example, Gosling—a stranger to jazz piano before the film—exhibits an on-screen jazz piano virtuosity that may make you wonder who is really playing. It is indeed Gosling, who hit those keys three hours a day for three months before shooting. "It was a lot of practicing, but it was well worth it," he says.

Moral of the story? In life as in art, passion and persistence pay off in the end: Gosling and Stone garnered Oscar nominations, and their characters found fame and fortune.

Just for fun: Imagine making a film of your doctoral journey: Would your doctoral movie be more like Hidden Figures or La La Land? Would it be a drama, comedy, or other? Who would play you? Write your story line, build up to the successful climax—you at the hooding ceremony.

13 Things You Must Give Up to Finish Your Dissertation

"Somebody once told me the definition of hell: 'On your last day on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.' —Anonymous"

So begins "13 Things You Must Give Up to Be Successful," a Medium" post that quickly went viral that we think applies to many doctoral students. In a tone both direct and unsparing, author Zdravko Cvijetic asserts that to make it, you need to ditch several common (and comfortable) habits of mind and behavior. Which of these are you hanging on to?

• An unhealthy lifestyle, a short-term mindset, playing small
• Your excuses, believing in a "magic bullet," perfectionism, multi-tasking
• Your need to control everything, saying "yes" to things that don't support your goal 
• Toxic people, your need to be liked, escaping to social media and television


If these are costing you progress on your doctoral degree, resolve to overcome them and finish.


Tip: Struggling to give these up? Find a support group or dissertation coach since social support and accountability make all the difference in creating lasting change.



Become a Slow Graduate Student: More Otter and Less Beaver

Remember the "Slow Food" movement that took aim at the harm speed wreaks on our world and well-being? Now welcome the "Slow Academics" movement.

In her blog, Stanford graduate educator Chris Golde applies the principles of Berg and Seeber's The Slow Professor to graduate students. Slow academics value mindful doing, collegiality, and community. They prize reflection and depth over speed. They appreciate that trying to do more and more, faster and faster, impairs creativity and well-being.

For graduate students ready to slow the pace, she recommends these four practices:

• Do less. You cannot possibly do it all—take classes, teach, do research, write papers and proposals, study, attend seminars, participate in side projects, etc. Make peace with your limitations. Ditch perfectionism. Use newly found time to do nothing.

• Make Space to Be. Reserve unstructured time every week. Overplanning is overwhelming. Create your personal To Be list for the nonacademic stuff that makes you fully human, e.g., taking a walk, socializing, enjoying music or nature, playing, breathing, praying, daydreaming, and even thinking.

• Avoid the Overbusy Role. Avoid trying to impress others with the usual busy talk: "I am so behind, overworked, stressed out." Drop the "beaver narrative" in favor of the "otter narrative." While the former creatures are always crazy busy, the latter make room for play—working only as necessary.

• Cultivate Community. You need unstructured time to be with others—for making connections with others and discussing ideas. Communities provide support for risk-taking honesty about challenges and failures. Find a comfortable coffee lounge, show up reliably, and notice how a Slow Academic community takes root.

Slowing down means resisting ingrained American cultural values of work and busyness, Golde observes, so expect it to be challenging. And yes, it is okay to start slowly.

Featured Apps: Stay Focused, Stay Present, Have Fun

WATCH YOUR FOREST GROW: Addicted to your smart phone? The Forest app trains you to keep off your devices and stay engaged in the real world, be it dissertating or another activity. If you've been conditioned to jump at every ping, simply install the free Forest app and set the length of time you plan to spend phone-free. 

With each use, the app plants a "seed" on your screen which begins to grow into mature tree or bush—so long as you don't give in. Otherwise your dear little plant withers and dies. Over time, you can populate a whole forest and have fun comparing your progress to users around the globe. [I just earned three adorable little trees while writing this on my laptop, phone free.—GS]

POMODORO ON STEROIDS: The Productivity Challenge Timer, a freemium app, works exceptionally well for those dead serious about getting stuff done. With its intuitive user interface and features, it earns top ratings from users and reviewers. As in the classic Pomodoro method, you start the timer, work for 25 minutes (one "Pomodoro"), then take a 5-minute break, or you can adjust the length of the modules. Unlike other Pomodoro apps, this one expects you to show up every day and to work without pausing until break time. The built-in tracking system adds motivation by ranking users according to demonstrated diligence. [As a new user, I am still working my way up from "Unrepentant Slacker."—GS]


If you could use help with feeling stressed, procrastination, lack of focus, poor habits, or any other inner or outer obstacle to finishing your dissertation, apply for a dissertation coach today. Positive psychology coaching works—finish faster and enjoy the journey.




An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her at gayle@essencecoaching.com for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resource www.essencecoaching.com

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 published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (www.MentorCoach.com), a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may wish to subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the 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 Dusty, their Norwegian dwarf bunny.



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