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Careers Café

How’s the dissertation going?


The core of your PhD program is research and the production of a dissertation.

Although you need much more than this to successfully transition into the next phase of your career, your research and dissertation should be a high priority for you. Whether you are working in a lab or working primarily on your own, you are responsible for keeping track of this personal project and making sure that it is getting the time and attention it needs.

As we approach the end of term, set aside time to review your progress.

  • What data have you collected or sources have you consulted?
  • Where are you in the analysis or interpretation of that data or source material?
  • What have you written that will eventually be part of the dissertation? (outlines, mind-maps, drafts, chunks of text, chapters, articles, conference papers)
  • When would you like to submit?
  • What remains to be done between now and then?

You might also want to review how much time you have been spending on tasks related to your own research and dissertation since term began.

  • Have you been working on it consistently?
  • How many hours each week?
  • Do you intend to work on it regularly and then don’t?
  • What kinds of things seem to knock it off your to-do list?

This is likely to be daunting.

The point is not to make yourself feel bad. The point is to get a clear picture of where you are so you can take sensible steps to get where you want to be.

Once you have that clear picture, you might want to take it to your supervisor for discussion.

  • Does your supervisor agree that your goals are reasonable?
  • What can s/he do to help you stay on track?

You can also use this review as you plan next term’s commitments.

  • What does it mean to make your research and dissertation a priority?
  • How much time does that require?
  • What other commitments do you have?
  • Do you have capacity for unexpected stuff?
  • Can you take on new commitments? Are you expecting to be asked to take on new commitments? (Plan a response now.)
  • Do you need to uncommit from something? (There may be a cost, but it may be worth it. Do it quickly, and don’t overexplain.)

Take your time figuring this out. You may only be able to make small changes next term. That’s fine. You know where you are and where you want to go. Small steps will get you there.

Don’t forget that you probably have multiple sources of support. Build the support structures you need to get where you are going.

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
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  1. Academic Joy / December 6, 2012 at 17:54

    “Don’t forget that you probably have multiple sources of support.”

    One such support is the PhD Candidate at Academic Joy :

    It’s about Resources, Theses, Jobs, Grants, Answers, and News.