Unrealistic expectations are public enemy #1 for dissertators. What brilliant mind can withstand 6-10 years of daily failure?
In my experience, setting realistic goals cannot happen in a vacuum. The advice of a dissertation support group, adviser, or friend can help the deflated graduate student pat her herself on the back and take a well-deserved bubble bath.
Receiving precious help does no good, however, if you develop secret goals. Last week, I told my Dissertation Support Group member The Future Doctor Gale that I wanted to read one book and write a draft of a grant application, in addition to preparing for a translation exam. She said that I had ambitious goals, and warned me that they might be too much for a single week. I ignored her advice and made extra, secret goals. I planned to type up a towering pile of notes, organize my desk, and clean out my in-box.
Not too surprisingly, I didn’t accomplish my secret goals or my stated goals. Plus, I felt panicked and miserable. I’m all for dreams and imagination and positive thinking. But indulging in secret fantasies about turning out a perfect chapter in one draft that wins a major award and results in universities offering you jobs before you even apply is going to turn you into the sad, miserable failure that you never had to be.