|10 Techniques to Help You Finish Your Degree
Last month I got an email from a 60-year-old graduate student who had just finished his degree after six years of work. News of his success uplifted my spirits and reminded me that it is never too late to start — or finish — anything. If your goal this year is to complete your degree, the following steps can help!
1. Invest in Tools that Help Keep You on Track
Earning your degree is hard work, and you’ll need tools to help keep you motivated and on track. We suggest making use of our free TA-DA!™ online certificate. You might also consider taking the next step by purchasing the TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished: a user-friendly resource that will guide you step-by-step through the process, from start to finish.
Using TA-DA!™ will definitely make the whole process much easier for you, especially the writing phase! It also provides tools to help you overcome procrastination, frustration, writer’s block, and any other obstacles you may face. Most importantly, the TA-DA™ will show you how to organize and plan your time and actions so that you complete at least one task every day … and that’s what it will take to make sure you finally get finished. Our motto is “A Good Dissertation is a Done Dissertation.” Remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done!
2. Stay Abreast of All Requirements for Graduation
If you plan to participate in graduation ceremonies, be aware that doing so requires a rather cumbersome allotment of steps, deadlines, fees and paperwork. Don’t wait until the last minute. Below are just a few of the tasks you will need to complete include:
- Informing your department early in the semester of your intent to graduate; how you want your name printed in the commencement program.
- Ordering your regalia.
- Asking your advisor if he or she is available to participate in the ceremony, and whether s/he will need to order regalia.
- Settling all outstanding university debts with the cashier’s office.
- Submitting one original copy of your final dissertation to the graduate school before the designated deadline.
- Completing and submitting the Survey of Earned Doctorates and any other necessary forms for graduation.
- Obtaining a “Certificate of Completion” and an official copy of your transcript before leaving the university.
3. Find a Good Editor
Editors can serve as a helpful resource for students, particularly those who are still fine-tuning their writing skills. While the use of editors is still somewhat controversial in the academic realm, our own position is that it’s just plain smart to have your dissertation edited, especially if you struggle with writing. One of the most common roadblocks to students finishing their thesis or dissertation is the frustration and humiliation they experience from the writing and review process. We feel that worrying about writing skills is a waste of time. Your paper should be judged on the substance and merit of its content, not on how many misplaced commas or misspelled words it contains. A good editor will make sure that’s where the focus remains. Editors won’t “write” your paper; they will simply ensure that your ideas are grammatically clear and correct. That’s why even some faculty members use editors when they write scholarly articles! Get a FREE quote from two websites that deal with academic editing www.academicword.com or www.editfast.com.
4. Expect to be Tired
Completing your degree is like running a marathon … and, particularly during the latter part of the race, you should expect to be exhausted. But after coming this far, it’s important to keep going … you can take a vacation after you are done! I would be hard pressed to come up with anyone who didn’t experience exhaustion, sleep deprivation, anxiety and similar maladies when they were finishing up their degree. Don’t use these as excuses to avoid completing your degree; they are all just part of the process!
5. Commit to Do Something Every Day Towards Completing Your Degree
The single most important TA-DA!™ strategy is to make a commitment to work on your project every single day … and the minimum amount you should dedicate each day is 12-15 minutes.
Making this type of commitment isn’t as difficult as you might think. The first step is to complete a comprehensive “task list” that includes every single item — large and small — that you will need to do in order to complete your degree. Many of these items will fall under what we label “12-minute tasks,” such as creating the dedication, acknowledgement pages or table of contents for your dissertation, or sequencing figure numbers, table and appendices, formatting your document, or checking your bibliography against the citations in your document.
On days when you’re feeling a little less ambitious, work down your list until you reach one (or more!) of your tasks that can be completed in 12 minutes or less. No task is too small, and no item is too insignificant. Every action you take will move you closer to getting accomplishing your goal. Each morning refer to your checklist and ask yourself, “What action can I take today to move my thesis or dissertation forward?” Resolve yourself to work on at least of those items each and every day. No task is too small, and no item — such as “creating the cover page” — is too insignificant.
Come on, you can work for just 12 minutes! Simply set your watch, cell phone, microwave or timer and see what you can accomplish in that timeframe.
6. Enlist Help from Family and Friends
Even if it’s just listening to you talk or complain about your thesis or dissertation month after month — or, in some cases, year after year! — your friends and family are definitely involved in the process. So why not let them play a more productive role?
There are myriad ways in which others can pitch in to help. For example, during a particularly demanding portion of my dissertation, an old Stanford colleague flew into town to offer support. He provided much-needed stress relief by packing up my house so that I could continue to work on my dissertation AND still be prepared to move out of my apartment when my lease was due to expire in a few days. He also provided on-point advice when I needed help resizing my table graphs to fit the required document format. As a result, both of us were happy. I met all of my required deadlines, and he got to feel the satisfaction that comes from knowing that he was truly able to help out a good friend.
Be aware, however, that unless your loved ones have written a thesis or dissertation themselves, they most likely don’t know how to help you, or even the right questions to ask or actions to offer. But rest assured, most of them definitely do want to help. So put them to work! It’s your responsibility to be specific about how they can best help you, relating exactly what you would like them to do, and when.
7. Maximize Your Resources: Invest in Computer Software and Templates
A fundamental TA-DA!™ principle is to use all of the resources at your disposal to your greatest advantage. Computer software and templates are one way in which you can work smarter, not harder. For example, some universities offer a thesis and/or dissertation template that comes “ready set” with all formatting requirements, such as margins, font size, page numbering, etc. Using a handy tool like this will save you hours of work and frustration.
In addition, software such as Microsoft Office with Vista (under references) or Endnotes can also make your life easier, especially if you plan to continue a publishing career in academia. (Keep in mind that you will need to schedule time to learn how to use the software!) Although mastering new software may seem time-consuming in the short-run, the benefits you will reap can last a lifetime. Think of it as building a database of references to which you can refer again and again throughout your research career. Like MicroSoft Word, Endnotes will allow you to format your citations based on your academic discipline and will simultaneously generate a bibliography, as well.
8. Prepare Well for Your Defense
Many people suffer a high degree of anxiety regarding the “Defense” of their thesis or dissertation … but keep in mind that your entire graduate school experience has helped prepare you for this moment. You’ve been working on this document for months, or even years. Now is your opportunity to show off all that research in a clear, concise and confident manner.
Before your Defense, review your document thoroughly, and come prepared to answer questions about even the tiniest detail. Listen carefully to every question, and take a breath and moment before answering. Be sure to prepare a one- to two-minute summary of why you came to graduate school, why you chose the topic that you did, and what you discovered during your research.
Get a good night’s rest the evening before, and consider spiral binding your copy of the document so you can quickly and easily turn to any referenced page of the document. This will help you stay calm when the committee is firing questions at you.
Most importantly, never forget that you are the expert, and that you know more about your topic than anyone else in the room. Moreover, your committee wouldn’t have scheduled the Defense unless they were confident you would pass.
9. Continue Working Hard, Even After Your Defense is Done
If you’re like most students, you didn’t pass your defense with a grade of “Pass As Is.” It’s far more likely that you received a grade of “Pass with Minor Revisions” or “Pass with Major Revisions.”
After finishing a major task such as your defense, gearing up start working on the revisions can be almost as challenging as writing the original document itself. But gather yourself up and jump back in; the finish line is now definitely in sight! Some revisions may take only a few seconds to complete, while others will require a great deal more time and thought. Continue applying the TA-DA!™ strategy of completing at least 12 minutes of work each day. Look at the list of changes you have to address, and tackle them one at a time. Once those tasks are complete, you will be officially done!!!
10. Use Rewards to Help You Stay Motivated
One way to remain motivated throughout the long, hard process of earning your degree is to take time to celebrate all of your major accomplishments. Each time you meet a deadline or complete a significant accomplishment, reward yourself by doing something you enjoy … such as shopping or having coffee with a friend, reading a non-academic book, renting a movie, or enjoying an ice cream treat or a new pair of shoes. Rewarding your accomplishments with something tangible, however small, can instill some additional motivation to get the remaining work done.
Scheduling daily rewards can also help you stay on track. Hold out on something you want, and tell yourself you won’t be allowed to enjoy it until you’ve completed the work you planned for the day. I wrote my dissertation during the NBA finals, which I desperately wanted to watch. Each day, I told myself I couldn’t watch the game until I had accomplished my daily goals. This method not only motivated me to write with purpose, it also allowed me to watch the game without a sense of guilt!
Question of the Month:
Dear Dr. Carter,
At this time I am still working on my bachelors degree. I will be starting classes for a masters degree in criminal justice come November of this year. I wanted to do some research into what a thesis is and the requirements to write it and how to write a good thesis. I like to know ahead of time what I need to do and the best way to accomplish it before actually starting the work. I had put into the search engine of my computer masters degree thesis paper and how to write a good one and one of the suggested web sites was the one for you. I have a few ideas of what I would like my paper to be on. One of them are on women who commit major crimes, the other is on serial killers, and possible on juveniles who commit crimes and how they come to a life of crime. What do you think? I would like to know.
Thank you for your time,
Thanks for contacting us at TADA!Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. Good to see that you have started early. The research shows that graduate students take on average 2 years to find a topic.
You currently have some good ideas for a topic but that's exactly what you have, is some broad ideas. What you need is a research question? So for example "women who commit major crimes" what about these do you want to know? how will define (18+ or 21+?) (murder? robbery? shoplifting?) here is i mean finding a research question rather than just broad topic area.
1. Do women who commit major crimes come from dysfunctional families?
2. Do women who commit major crimes come grow up in rural areas?
3. Do women who commit major crimes commit the same type of crimes as men or at the same rate?
4. Do women who commit major crimes go on to live a "normal" life after serving their sentence?
5. Do women who commit major crimes come get longer sentences than men who commit the same crime??
6. Do women who commit major crimes start their criminal careers as juveniles?
7. Do women who commit major crimes have a history of child abuse in their backgrounds.
8. Do women who commit major crimes....
You need to fill in the blank. I hope this answer helps you move forward.
At age 60 and after 6 years I have finished my dissertation! Thank you for providing such a valuable contribution to education.
Congrats to a former Dissertation House participant Michael H. who defended his Dissertation Jan 8th, 2009 and passed!!!!!
Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.
About the Author: As a single mother, professor
Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters' degrees and a
PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation.
She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool
on CD—TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. To learn
more, contact us.
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