pen on the keyboard

I was wondering if anyone can help me – well, direct me. I have had a lot of health-related and disability-related problems that got ignored during my last few years of my PhD. Now I have managed to get an extension for 6 months full-time to finish writing. I had asked part-time due to my disabilities – also to work, as my stipend stopped. However, am getting no guidance from either the department or supervisory team and DASS. So I am packing as I've only just got my health and mental health back on track after being broken down with my problems ignored, and what to do financially. With having to get my writing back on track, manage my disabilities and find money now to pay bills and rent (keep getting job rejections – over-qualified or under-experienced). What is the best route to take please? I apologize if this is not the right place to post this, but am finding myself alone and out of options on my end. Thanks.

– In Need of Financial Support

Dear In Need of Financial Support,

It seems like the first thing for you to consider is whether or not you think it’s truly realistic for you to finish your dissertation in the next 6 months, given any physical and mental health issues that you’re still managing. It sounds like it would be important for you to ensure that all of these health issues are adequately resolved before trying to turn your attention to finishing your dissertation. If not, you’re unlikely to meet your deadline, and you may further compromise your health in the process, which won’t be helpful in the long run.

If you don’t think that you’re currently in a position (either physically or emotionally) to be able to complete things realistically in the next 6 months – or if you think that trying to do so might compromise your health – I think that it might be worth seeing if you can take a leave of absence from your program. Most schools have a procedure for handling medical leaves of absence, so you might want to consult your school’s website to learn more about this process. If your school has a student counseling center, they might also be a good resource and source of information about this process (and a good source of support in general).

If you do feel like you are capable of completing your dissertation in the next 6 months, then the next question to consider is whether that’s truly possible if you’re also trying to work at the same time. If so, you’ll want to be thoughtful about how much time you can realistically allot to non-dissertation work each week and still make adequate progress on your dissertation. Think not only about the number of hours in a day, but also how the type and amount of work you’re doing might make you tired or might otherwise affect your ability to work as effectively on your dissertation and make the kind of progress you need to make in order to meet your deadline. Again, be honest with yourself, and try not to engage in wishful thinking. If you try to take on too much at once and you’re not able to finish by your deadline (or you’re set back even further in your health issues), you’ll be in an even more challenging situation. You want to set yourself up for success.

If you think that you can handle a certain amount of part-time work while finishing your dissertation, and you’ve been having a hard time finding work so far, you might consult with your school’s career services center to see if they have any suggestions. Other students might also be a good source of information about local, part-time work. If local options are limited, you might also want to consider online or remote work that you could do (although certainly be wary of scams or anything that doesn’t seem like a legitimate company).

On the other hand, if it doesn’t seem realistic to work and complete your dissertation at time same time, but finances are tight, you might want to consider applying for a loan to cover your expenses just for the next 6 months. While I know it’s not ideal to take on debt, you may be in a better position to support yourself financially and pay off that debt once you have your degree finished – and if finishing your degree depends on you not working for the next 6 months, that may be a reasonable trade-off. However, you’ll want to make sure that it’s really realistic for you to finish your dissertation in the time allotted if you’re going to take out a loan. Your school’s financial aid office may be able to help you consider loan options for which you’d be eligible. Otherwise, you might check out this article for some ideas.

However, as I said before, I think that your first step really needs to be an honest self-assessment of whether or not you can meet the deadline given everything else you’re dealing with right now. If not, talking with your advisor or the director of your program about options for a medical leave might be a good idea. It’s ultimately in your program’s best interest if you complete your degree, so they should be motivated to help you figure out a way to take some time off in order to get yourself in a position where you can successfully finish.

Best of luck in managing this challenging situation. Be sure to take care of yourself in the process!

--Dana Nelson, PhD

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