I recently had the experience of expecting my first baby a month before I graduated. Throughout the process, I accidentally learned several tips to graduating on time with a PhD.
Here is the third and final installment of dissertation tips that I learned along the way during my pregnancy. You don’t have to be pregnant to enact these tips, but you can learn from someone who’s been through the dissertation in an albeit unique situation! Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my tips here.
Have Something Else to Think about
If you have a tendency toward being a bit anxious, it’s easy to fall into the trap of having nothing else to think about besides your dissertation. Luckily for me, everyone wanted to talk about baby stuff. I never got tired of it, because it offered me a mental break from the impending deadlines, writing issues, and advisor quibbles. So for the average non-pregnant PhD candidate, have a hobby or other interests that enable you to connect with people outside your field. A dissertation is a microscopic exploration into a teeny, tiny part of one discipline. Make sure you take a step back and enjoy life around you. Don’t be like those bitter PhD grads who shake their fists while saying, “Graduate school; it’ll take the best years of your life!”
Buy New Clothes
Graduate students are notorious for allowing their personal hygiene to slip, and there’s nothing that makes you feel shiny and new like buying a new outfit. Being pregnant forced me to buy new clothes, and I must say, it was rather refreshing. You’re not into fashion and you’re perfectly fine wearing the same comfy jeans every day? Purchase something else that makes you feel special! I completely understand money being tight in grad school, but take the time to spoil yourself at least once a month. You won’t regret it!
This is where my husband’s coaching speeches come in. You need to be aggressive with your work. Be assertive with your advisor, committee, and anyone else standing in your way between you and that degree. I had a very narrow timeline to finish. If I didn’t finish by April 13th (my due date), I wasn’t going to graduate on time. I couldn’t afford to mess around in case the baby came early. So I got after my advisor, spoke with my committee members when I got frustrated, and made no apologies for why I was so pushy. If I didn’t, I risked not graduating on time. In the end, they didn’t care if I was pregnant or not, which made me wonder why I walked on eggshells around them before. It’s your education. Don’t be afraid to push things through. If your committee thinks you’re being unreasonable, they’ll let you know.
One Sentence at a Time
This is a writing tip that I used up to the very end of my pregnancy. It doesn’t have anything to do with being pregnant, but it really helped me write (and rewrite) my dissertation. I was very overwhelmed with the days counting down. There I was less than two weeks from my due date (which is considered full term, by the way), and I was forced to rewrite large sections of my dissertation. Rather than wallowing in self-pity, I sat down in front of my laptop and whispered to myself, “One sentence at a time, Sara. Just write one sentence.” I knew that if I wrote one sentence, that one sentence multiplied would eventually turn into a paragraph. One paragraph multiplied would turn into a section. I took breaks after each paragraph and again after each section. Within three days, I rewrote my entire introduction, tweaked my method and results, and reworked my general discussion. Sometimes I wonder how I did it until I remember that chant, “One sentence at a time.”