I recently had the experience of expecting my first baby a month before I graduated and accidentally learned tips on graduating on time with a PhD.

The fall of my final year in graduate school, my husband and I found out that we were expecting our first baby in April—a month before I was supposed to graduate. I had a lot of work to do before the baby came: finish running the second study of my dissertation, write my dissertation, defend it, and look for full-time employment once I graduated. My dissertation was such that I had to run my participants one at a time. All the discomforts of early pregnancy plagued me during the data collection phase. I once hit an all-time low point where I was huddled in the bathroom munching on a granola bar during the middle of running a session. I was able to write my dissertation (a total of 8 times) before my committee finally approved it. I was probably the only pregnant woman two weeks from her due date frantically saying, “If only she would stay in there as long as possible! I’ve got too much to do!” My committee approved my document on a Monday. I got all my signatures and sent everything to the Dean’s office. Wednesday, I received an email that I was cleared for graduation. Twelve hours later in the early morning hours of Thursday, my water broke, and after a long labor, my daughter was born that night. After four weeks of terrifying hours of feeding, diapering, and caring for a newborn for the first time, I finally graduated: walking across that stage. During my pregnancy and trying to finish my dissertation/trying to graduate, I learned a lot about how to prioritize my goals. So I’ll share with you some of the things I learned.

Say No

If I learned anything from my time preparing for a baby and finishing my graduate degree, I learned to manage my time very strategically. I also learned to say no effectively. There were times when I just could not do that extra thing my advisor wanted me to do. It was either say no or risk the health of myself and my baby. So I learned to say no. You can say no, too. Be sure you have a good reason and be firm. Learn to know which tasks are less important so you don’t accidentally blow off a major project.

Countdown Calendar

I also learned that our agrarian-based academic calendar of 9 months was perfectly suited for the timing of gestation. Unfortunately for me, that left no room for error. Each week of my pregnancy, I was keenly aware of how many weeks I had left to finish my dissertation. If you’re trying to finish your dissertation, keep a countdown calendar. It’s very helpful to keep you staying on track. When you’re behind on your calendar, you may appropriately freak out. If you’re on time, no need to stress: things are going as planned!

Be on the lookout for Part 2 and more tips on surviving the dissertation!


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