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.

Check out Part 1 of my tips here.

Keep a Journal

I downloaded a pregnancy app when I found out I was pregnant, and one of the first things it told me to do was start a journal. At first I felt silly, because I’m not the journaling type. I wasn’t sure if I was writing to my baby or to myself, but I faithfully wrote in that journal about 3 times a week. Unfortunately for my child, my journal consisted less of me being excited about the baby’s impending birth and more about my neuroses with finishing my dissertation on time. Still, this was a highly valuable exercise in itself. People who write in a journal are more likely to report a variety of positive emotional health outcomes than people who do not journal (e.g., Pennebaker, 1997). So keep a journal of your dissertation progress. You’ll be surprised at how much it helps you organize your thoughts and plan your next steps.

Try to Eat Healthy

The operative word is “try.” I’m the worst when it comes to eating healthy, because I’m such a busy person who’s too impatient and tired to plan out a lovely meal. But pregnant women need adequate nutrition—for their health and their baby’s health. This is also important for people working on their dissertations, too. Your brain is part of your body, and you cannot have a healthy brain without a healthy body. Eating right and staying physically active will give you the strength and stamina to finish your dissertation and not be an emotional wreck when it happens. Even though 30 minutes on the treadmill is 30 minutes you could’ve spent working on your dissertation, think of it as working on your dissertation anyway. Yeah, it’s not a chapter, but it will ultimately help you write that chapter…and write a good one at that.

Delegate Tasks

I learned very quickly that I could not continue at the same pace that I had previously been working before. It used to be very easy for me to work 20 hours a week running participants. Yeah, sure I’d skip a meal here or there or (briefly) put my kidneys at risk by not taking a bathroom break for awhile…but I did it. Being pregnant, I quickly enlisted the help of undergraduate research assistants to do some of the tasks I performed by myself. It was hard not to micromanage them, but I simply trusted them with my project. Lo and behold, they did a fabulous job, and I found myself wondering why I ever did all that work myself before–pregnant or not! So delegate your coveted tasks to someone else, and don’t feel shy about it. Maybe it’s your partner doing some dishes or a friend walking your dog…let them help!!

Be on the lookout for Part 3 and more tips on surviving the dissertation!



Pennebaker, James W. (1997). Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotion. NY: Guilford Press.

University of Texas at Austin (2005). Dr. James Pennebaker: Writing to Heal. Retrieved from http://www.utexas.edu/features/archive/2005/writing.html


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