- Resolve to treat yourself after achieving major dissertation milestones. A weekend trip, a new pair of jeans, or (for the financially struggling) a day in bed will help you keep working toward your goals.
- Stop procrastinating on contacting committee members.
- Write a list of reasons you want to complete this project. Read it over at the start of every workday.
- Resolve to stretch, have a mini-dance party, or take a short walk when you get stiff from desk or lab work. Your mind and body will function better.
- Write in a dissertation journal. Writing daily, or even a couple times a week will help keep work anxiety under control.
- Resolve not to let your students dominate your life. Tell your students you can only answer e-mail before 6 P.M., for instance, to prevent flurries of late night e-mails the night before a paper is due. Don’t make promises about when you will grade their tests—they may not like to wait for grades, but they can handle it.
- Shake up your routine. If you usually check e-mail before writing, try to write first thing in the morning. If you normally work 9-3, try sitting at your desk from 2-6 instead.
- Resolve to stop grousing with your fellow graduate students about how much work you have, how behind you are, or how little you’ve gotten done. Force yourself to start with something positive whenever anyone asks about your work. If nothing else, you’ll be able to speak more convincingly about the merits of your work when you go on the job market.
My students just turned in their first paper of the semester, and they are so clueless. How I wish I could laugh heartily at the mistakes and outlandish statements in student compositions, the way Anne of Green Gables does. Instead, I get mad. Real mad. First at the students, and then at myself.
To prepare the students to write this paper, they wrote no less than nine informal papers. After they turned in each response, I e-mailed them personally with comments explaining how to do better on the final paper. They were given two reading quizzes on their textbook. In addition to making the assignment instructions available on-line, I gave the students two other step-by-step instruction sheets to writing and revising—specific to this paper. I gave them a full class period to work on revision. We analyzed not just any examples in class, but examples from the students’ own writing. We graded a sample paper together in class.
I know this italics overload, but I have had it up to here. I delayed the due date of the first paper because I wanted them to be really ready! I knew they were in trouble as the due date approached, and I warned them in shriller and shriller voices that they needed to follow the assignment instructions very carefully.
The class average is a 65. One student received a grade of 20%. Two students that I met with to discuss early drafts both received a D. One student who went to the Undergraduate Writing Center twice received an F.
A friend of mine, The Future Doctor Moulder, told me that confusion is productive for the students, and they aren’t supposed to get it right away. (Those are her italics this time.) I don’t know. Before I taught, I always thought I was a naturally talented instructor. I never dreamed my darkest hours as a graduate student would involve doubting my ability to teach.