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III. Find the Support You Need

Feb 24, 2016 by Carol Ray Philips

The last blog described the challenges you're about to take on as you shift from doctoral student to dissertator. While the challenges may seem daunting, you are capable of making this transformation. This week's blog addresses an important step that is often overlooked: replacing the support of classmates with your own, wider support network.

Most likely you’ve had classmates who were annoying, distracting, and irresponsible and who showed any other manner of undesirable characteristics. On the other hand, probably you’ve had wonderful classmates who were helpful, kind, supportive, and fun. Once you begin the dissertation, you will essentially have no classmates with whom you meet regularly, if at all.

Because those helpful, kind classmates will no longer be readily accessible to you in classes that you attend each week, it's essential that you create a network of people who will take their place. In the best scenario, this network will include former classmates because they are the people most familiar with you and the process through which you're going. Other potential members of your network include friends, family, and colleagues (especially those who have completed or are working on dissertations). The more people to support you, the better.

Once you've created your support network, consider the different roles that members of your network can play, depending on factors such as their relationship to you, knowledge about the dissertation process, and expertise about your dissertation topic. Depending on where they live and what kinds of support you need at a given time, you can expect to communicate with different people in a range of ways, from emailing to meeting for coffee to skyping.

Your network can be helpful in holding yourself accountable. While enrolled in courses, your professors held you accountable multiple times during a semester. For instance, they expected you to attend, contribute to discussions, take exams, engage in projects, and write papers. These tasks had deadlines. As a dissertation writer, you'll find that deadlines are infrequent. Members of your network can step in to provide the accountability to help keep you working regularly from one submission to your chair until the next one. Asking someone to provide accountability demands little from your network. You can make a buddy arrangement in which you'll send your buddy an email on a regular basis–daily or weekly–about what you have accomplished. Your buddy’s role will be to simply write back acknowledging your accomplishment. An even more effective arrangement, but one that takes more time on the part of the network member, is for that individual to contact you if you haven't written. This system is at its most effective when configured as a partnership between two dissertation writers who keep each other on track with full knowledge of the effort that staying on track takes.

Members of your network can serve in a variety of roles. Some of these relate to the dissertation itself. For instance, you might ask for feedback about the content or the writing of your work from colleagues who have expertise in these areas. Other network roles, such as the role of buddy, relate to supporting you as a person. These roles can be relatively minimal, like that of a cheerleader who celebrates your perseverance or goes out to tea with you to celebrate each time you submit a chapter. On the other hand, the support role can be labor intensive. Perhaps a friend will cook dinner every two weeks so that you can save that time for writing or your father will babysit every Saturday morning.

There's no shame in asking for help and whatever support you can get will be helpful. Once you're a Dr., you'll be able to reciprocate or do the same for another Dr.-to-be.

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