Guest Post via @dariapizzuto: Writing your dissertation and teaching? Tips on how not to lose your mind

As many of you know, I enrolled in my PhD program back in spring of 2014. Since then, I’ve been taking three classes per semester to fulfil my graduation requirements, teaching full time, and serving on various school and university committees.

And although all my coursework is complete (YAY), I now find myself on a very strenuous path towards my dissertation.

Here are some of my tips to get a head start on this terrifying venture:

1. Determine your dissertation topic way before hand. I decided on mine about two years ago-I knew I want to do something with faculty or student wellbeing, mindfulness, and contemplation in education. As time passed, my topic morphed yet got more focused.

2. When you know you have a topic you like (and you’ll know, trust me), start reading about it right away. Read whatever you can get your hands on: peer reviewed journals, books, blog posts, Huffington Post stories, Twitter and Facebook feeds, etc. Get as familiar as you can with your topic-when you do your literature review, it will be much easier to recognize research patterns.

3. Join organizations that are dedicated to your topic. Sign up for their newsletters: they will actually send you the most up-to-date research on your topic. I joined two professional organizations: The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society andMindfulness in Education Network. Both of those organizations have tremendous resources and networking that helped me choose my sample. Well worth $60 a year membership fee.

4. Establish a writing routine. This is one a doozy. It is extremely difficult to carve out time to sit down and write in peace if you have a family, a full time job, you serve on various committees, and you have friends that you would like to see more often than once a year. First and foremost, look at your schedule and determine when can you dedicate at least 20 minutes every day to your dissertation. Then get a bucket of glue, spread it on your chair, and sit down (Bolker, 1998). Don’t let yourself do anything but work on your dissertation.

5. Make Mind Maps or outlines, regularly. I am a visual person and creating a Mind Map is a wonderful strategy for me. I recommend you make multiple MindMaps, and update them regularly as your dissertation grows and changes. Here is an example of mine:

6. Buy and read the following three books: Demystifying Dissertation Writing, How to Write a Lot, and Writing a Proposal for Your Dissertation. Read or thumb though these books and use what you think is helpful. I loved all three.

7. Get a timer. Work in blocks of 30 minutes. Rest for a few minutes. Repeat.

8. Give yourself credit. I have an Excel spreadsheet where I enter the amount of time I spend each day on my dissertation, what I work on, and create “notes to self” to minimize recall time the next day.

9. Create a writing group. I created a Dissertation Agraphia Group to keep myself accountable. Every Saturday morning, we get together remotely, catch up and cheer each other on. We report on our progress and set goals for the upcoming week. Knowing that I have to report to the group in a few days keep me going with my writing goals.

What about you? What strategies/tips/secrets can you share so we all can do one thing-finish? Reply in the comments below.

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5 thoughts on “Guest Post via @dariapizzuto: Writing your dissertation and teaching? Tips on how not to lose your mind

      1. Hi! I’m sorry I cannot fully disclose the topic… All I can say is find the area that you like-test scores? teacher retention? student experiences? K-12? Higher ed? And then comb the literature for gaps. Once you find an area that has not been covered, that will be great topic. The idea is to choose a topic that has not been explored-yet. That’s what you’ll do-explore the topic, fill the gap and contribute to the field. Let me know whether you have any more questions re: doctoral program and best of luck!

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