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ABD Top Tips: Dissertate Faster with a Virtual Buddy, a Strict Schedule, and a Great Guide | Issue 251

Summary: Peruse our new top tips for dissertation writers: Get ahead with a virtual buddy, a strict schedule, and a great guide... plus dancing and movie time.


By Gayle Scroggs, Ph. D.

Get a Virtual Buddy to Blast Procrastination and Distraction


Hanging out with an adorable puppy can make you feel better. But what do you need to workbetter—especially when you work remotely, vulnerable to the twin traps of procrastination and distraction? 

We've discovered a new solution for dissertation writers, toiling away endlessly in isolation: virtual co-working. 

"In order to upgrade your life, upgrade your accountability," counsels Taylor Jacobson, founder of Focusmate, a free, innovative virtual co-working tool. Inspired by research and personal experience, Jacobson devised a way to connect professionals committed to getting their most important work done. 


The resulting platform allows face-to-face video sessions with an accountability buddy or "focus mate"—ideal for those who spend much of their workday alone on a computer. Getting started with Focusmate takes just a few minutes: 

  1. Create your free account at

  2. Open the dashboard and select one or more available hourly time slots. 

  3. Show up on time, ready to work, and meet your accountability partner, who will bring his or her own work. 

  4. Briefly share your task with each other, then get to work while each person's live video streams in the background. 

  5. Observe the protocols designed to keep you on track, e.g., no chatting, no leaving except bio breaks until time expires. 

  6. When the 50 minutes are up, check in with each other and talk about how it went (and share mutual pats on the back if you wish). 


According to Focusmate's internal survey, 96% of users report a 50% increase in productivity, matching my personal experience. I especially appreciate how it spares you the effort of locating your own live accountability buddy. A group co-working option is in the works. 

If you are struggling with procrastination or distraction and could benefit from immediate accountability, give it a try. Who knows—you may even bump into another dissertation writer with a sweet little puppy. 

I love those connections that make this big old world feel like a little village. ~ Gina Bellman


Stop Doing "Half-Work" and Other Success Tips


Real success demands focusing the bulk of your time on what is important, not merely urgent, as Stephen Covey and other productivity gurus explain. In his blog, author James Clear, shares proven tips for nurturing such a habit with these tips (adapted here for dissertation writers): 

Eliminate "half-work." Commit yourself to what matters in the long run, he urges. What does that mean for you as an ABD? Carve out time to write your dissertation—then honor it. Avoid letting your attention wander to email, social media, and other time suckers. 

Do the most important thing first. This may be the only productivity tip you'll ever need, claims Clear. As the day progresses, chaos picks up while willpower wears down. By tackling in the morning your big task for the day, e.g., outlining the next chapter or incorporating advisor edits, you may find yourself on an upward spiral of productivity. At day's end you will be able to check off at least one important task—and that feels good. 

Reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule. In the long run, he observes, following a schedule beats focusing on deadlines. You may get discouraged when you don't hit your daily page goal—but over time, sticking to a writing schedule will get you to the finish line. 

For more, see Clear's book, the best-selling Atomic Habits. (Tip: Focusmate, described above, could provide a boost here.) 

"You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems." ~James Clear, Atomic Habits



Don't Get Lost on the Dissertation Trail: Use a Guide

Would you head out on an expensive European trip or a challenging overnight hike without a tour book or map? Of course not. Likewise, avoid going astray on your doctoral adventure. Boost your dissertation savvy by following a well-trusted guide book with up-to-date information and advice about the path, processes, and pitfalls along the way. 

One book that does all that is the third edition (2019) of The Dissertation Journey: A Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Planning, Writing, and Defending Your Dissertation. Seasoned doctoral mentors Carol Roberts and Laura Hyatt share best practices from choosing your topic and team to writing to defending both your proposal and final manuscript. Updated resources include links to writing style guides, search engine help, editors, (in the spirit of full disclosure) to the ABD Survival Guide, and more. 

Don't miss the Appendix, where you'll find their valuable "Dissertation Content Checklist," a handy list of questions for each chapter to ensure you have everything you need (and eliminate what you don't). This checklist alone is worth the price of the book, a big ROI given the investment you've already made in your education. 

Roberts' and Hyatt's proven approach combines concrete tips on the dissertation process as well as wise counsel for the inner struggles and doubts, as reflected in their inspirational quotations such as this one: 

"The primary reward is not the goal but what you become as a result of doing all that was necessary to reach the goal." 

~ David McNally 


Grad Student Dances "The Social Life of Electrons" for $1000

Forget your thesis elevator speech—start choreographing the essence of your research. Each year science doctoral candidates eliminate jargon altogether to show off their research in interpretive dance. Sponsored by Science magazine and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the international contest awards $1000 to the winner. 

At the most recent "Dance Your Ph.D." competition, University of Alberta physics student Pramodh Senarath Yapa took top honors with his original song-and-dance story of the social life of electrons. 

"The judges—a panel of world-renowned artists and scientists—chose Yapa's swinging electron dance from 50 submissions based on both artistic and scientific merits. He takes home $1000 and immortal geek fame," reports John Bohannon in Science Magazine


Grad School Stress Stars in Upcoming Amazon Film 

Do family and friends fail to appreciate your ongoing dissertation stress? Don't fret—you can soon refer them to the movie version of Chemistry: A Novel to enlighten them. 

In the 2017 book, Weike Wang, an emerging writer with a Harvard chemistry baccalaureate, earned top reviews for her depiction of a Ph.D. student in Boston struggling to live up to everyone's high expectations, including those of her Chinese immigrant parents. When her boyfriend proposes marriage, she tells him "ask me tomorrow." Confused on all fronts, she can't think, yet she realizes if she doesn't decide soon, she might lose everything—her degree, her career, and her beau. 


Even sans Chinese parents, many graduate students will identify with the unnamed protagonist as they anxiously battle their own inner and outer demons. For Washington Post's Jamie Fisher, the narrative carries a generational message. "Despite its humor, Chemistry is an emotionally devastating novel about being young today and working to the point of incapacity without knowing what you should really be doing and when you can stop," she writes. 

Keep an eye out for the full-length Amazon film late this year or early next year. Meanwhile, keep notes for your own post-doctoral novel. 


Photo ©2019 Gayle Scroggs


If you are considering whether to get your own coach to help you reach your academic goals, fill out this brief application for a free consultation with a dissertation coach.

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 for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resources

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 (, 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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