Friday, October 30, 2015

Trick and TREAT Yourself to Some Support!

As Halloween arrives, and as you hand out candy or get dressed up for the holiday, think about giving yourself a real treat: find a writing partner or another source to help keep you on track for your study.

In the MOOC “How to Survive Your PhD,” developed by Dr. Inger Mewburn and the Australia National University Online team, the moderators begin the course with a discussion into why PhD students quit (applies to thesis writers, too). As expected, “intellectual isolation” and “stress/exhaustion/mental health issues” were among the several reasons given for quitting. Other reasons, such as “mounting debt” and “being made to do non-thesis work,” were given, but the first two I mentioned can be addressed with a small amount of effort.    

If you are reading this, you probably know that the Thesis Office tries to help with isolation through our Facebook group (NIU Theses and Dissertations) and this blog. However, I’m of the opinion that nothing beats face-to-face interactions, at least occasionally!

And not long ago, a colleague, who recently earned her PhD (congratulations, Professor Probst!), offered me a related piece of advice for making progress. Dr. Probst said she found it very helpful to have weekly meetings with a partner. Here’s how she describes her experience:

“A fellow Ph.D. candidate and I decided to dissertate from afar while we assumed full-time positions. We understood the challenges of writing a dissertation being removed from constructs, particularly peer support, at the university. We planned to continue our regular writing sessions that we began at NIU, but difficulties in arranging our schedules to make time for our dissertations presented themselves. Our weekly meetings held us accountable to write regularly, one of the most important habits for completing the dissertation. Rarely did we review each other’s work—that is not the support we needed. We needed consistency, and a guaranteed weekly opportunity to write meant we had to prioritize that work over other tasks or interests. Furthermore, our meetings encouraged us to write and revise outside these sessions because our writing mindset never lapsed, however tired and discouraged we sometimes felt. We learned that allowing too much distance from the dissertation would make returning to it more challenging. Additionally, the emotional struggles of writing a dissertation are real and can be detrimental, so the emotional support we provided to one another often was more important than carving out time in our schedules to write.”

Wow! I think Dr. Probst’s words offer some good advice!

If you cannot find a partner or cannot work out the logistics, though, NIU offers other resources that might be of benefit.

For instance, if you are experiencing stress, anxiety, or any other condition such as depression, NIU’s Counseling and Consultation Services, located in the Campus Life Building (corner of Lucinda and Normal) Room 200, offers free groups and programs for NIU students. One of their offerings is a “Mindful Monday” group, which meets from 12 – 12:45 for meditation and relaxation, thus reducing stress while offering camaraderie.

They also have therapy dogs every 2nd Monday from 6:00-7:15 pm in Stevenson Hall. See one good dog in the photo to the right!

NIU counselors can get you to an appropriate anxiety/stress management group by referral from a walk-in appointment, available Monday through Friday from 11:00 – 3:30. For more information, see their website or call them at 815-753-1206.

Finally, don’t forget about us, the Thesis and Dissertation Office. We are here in Adams Hall 104 Monday through Thursday from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm, and we have a quiet workshop area in our adjoining room (AH 103) where you can work anytime we are open. Stop in, call us (815) 753- 9405, or email We will be glad to help in any way we can.

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