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23 Warning Signs You May Need a Dissertation Coach | Issue 276

Summary: Finishing a dissertation brings multiple challenges—but you don't have to do it alone. 

Reading time: 5 minutes that just might save your doctoral dream.


For the past few weeks, you've been intending to work on your dissertation. . . but something keeps getting in the way. 


Take comfort—you're not alone. We've collected some of the common obstacles our ABD clients bring to dissertation coaching. We recognize that completing a doctorate is a monumental achievement with challenges built in—and more that creep in along the way. 

Do any of these resonate with you? Check all that apply to you—and be honest! 

1. I have lost my motivation for working on my dissertation.

2. I don't know where to start (or what to do now).

3. I lack the sense of passion or purpose I felt at the start.

4. I feel like giving up. . . but I've already invested too much time and money.

5. I'm afraid to ask my advisor for help.

6. I often suffer from writer's block.

7. I feel anxious, depressed, or ashamed about my progress.

8. I am not getting along well with my chair or committee.

9. I get distracted easily and/or can't focus.

10. I feel like an impostor and/or a failure.

11. I have lost my confidence and courage.

12. I am stuck and can't figure out how to get moving again.

13. I have become a chronic procrastinator.

14. I don't work well without deadlines or structure.

15. My other obligations get in the way of writing my dissertation.

16. My writing stinks and/or my advisor says my writing stinks.

17. I can't seem to manage my time.

18. I am completely disorganized.

19. I don't have all the skills I need (e.g., lit review, research methods, or analysis). 

20. My partner/family keep pestering me to finish.

21. I feel frozen by stress and anxiety.

22. The isolation is getting to me.

23. I feel a lack of support for my work.


If you checked even ONE of these, you could benefit from a dissertation coach. 

Despite your current struggles, you have already demonstrated your ability by getting this far. How will you persevere to the finish line?

Many doctoral candidates find they move ahead faster and more confidently with a coach. However, not all coaches are created equal. 

The best dissertation coaches will have training approved by the International Coach Federation and specialize in academic coaching. Do your due diligence—and then do yourself a favor: Hire a coach.

Now, if you will allow us a rare moment of self-promotion:

If you subscribe to the ABD Survival Guide, you've enjoyed our free positive psychology-based tips—but did you know that we also have a cadre of specially trained coaches ready to offer you one-on-one help? With a positive psychology background, your coach will show you how to leverage your own inner strengths and other science-based strategies to be at your best more often. 

If you could you use someone in your corner, please check us out with a free consultation. Our coaching clients flourish with our unique blend of empathy and proven strategies, breaking through roadblocks to finish their dissertations while enjoying the journey more. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that our customized approach to finishing a doctorate also will allow you to cultivate lasting habits for success and well-being long after you earn that "Doctor" title!

~ By the ABD Coaches Circle 
Members: Jan Bavea, Ruth Bomar, Ilene Berns-Zare, Diane Dreher, Vanetta Issidru, Gayle Scroggs, and Melanie Sobocinski



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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