Part II of It’s a Post-Doc Life is a bit of wit, wisdom, and advice for friends and other doctoral students approaching the writing phase. See Part I if you require more introduction.
Contract with an editor in advance. Determine mutual expectations for the process. I hired an editor late in my writing process at the advice of fellow doc students in my cohort and did not have adequate editing time built into my writing calendar. I thought my editor could be working on edits for Chapters 1-3 while I put the finishing touches on my final chapters. Wrong. My editor required everything in advance so as to get a feel for the entire topic. The substantial amount of tables required extra time including several horizontal pages that were incredibly ornery for pagination. Fortunately for me, my editor was patient and well versed in the requirements of our graduate college.
Make every paper support your analysis. My faculty was supportive in allowing personal research for final projects for students who had a concrete research topic. For a qualitative research class, I redesigned my quantitative topic as a case study. For program evaluation, I reviewed how my research study would contribute to program enhancement. For statistical research, I focused on a test sample of my population for the final project and was later able to refine and submit that work as my capstone. Each of these papers shaped and enhanced my final project.
Keep your focus. Post your dissertation questions where they are clearly visible at your workspace. Even on days where no writing is accomplished, reading and processing your questions is progress. I kept a list reminding me to be positive right next to my research questions. I created Pinterest pages on focus and finishing. This may seem like procrastination, but they provided good left-brain alternatives to statistical writing. Blogging also helped.
Read dissertations. I read as many dissertations related to my topic as I could locate and found off-topic examples that had been highly praised by my department. Knowing what your faculty recognizes as good research is a great motivation and resource.
Feed your brain. Skittles and pretzels are not brain or body food for any length of time. Thank goodness I was guzzling green tea. Any semblance of a healthy diet or exercise program that I had prior to writing went out the window. In its place were the bits of time that I reserved to maintain normalcy for my family, a stolen few hours for a soccer game or baking cookies. My muscles suffered from constant sitting and I made many adjustments to my workspace. I am working hard to regain a healthier self.
Take some personal time following your defense. Immediately following my dissertation I was engaged in a campus conference then traveled away for another conference before moving into the busiest weeks of my spring semester. I struggled to quickly revise my project for an article submission, submit my final work to the grad college, sign up for commencement, and close our programs for the semester. I had little time for myself with the exception of a mani/pedi and a bit of shopping. And I was exhausted.
Don’t be surprised by Post-Dissertation Stress Disorder or PDSD. Unlike many post-docs, I was lucky to already have a wonderful job in student affairs. Although I am researching and entertaining next career steps, I already have a salary and satisfying work to wake up for each day. However the lack of deadlines, lack of pressure, decreased ability to function in the normal, and deadlines that are suddenly manageable is surprisingly stressful. A professor recently described it as similar to retirement. For my fellow doc moms out there, it’s like having a baby, but nothing to cuddle with post-delivery. If you are work and project driven, the adjustment takes time.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. There will be errors in your final submission. I have found two so far, just minor things, but our grad college does not allow corrections after submission. Although incredibly frustrating, I will live. You will too.
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