Developing a strategy

by | April 4, 2009

I think it is safe to say that everyone is feeling the current economic crunch, in one way or another. Many learners ask what is entailed with taking time off from their programs as they face job changes, moves, or other factors that must take precedence over their doctoral program.One of the hardest things to do for many learners is to first acknowledge that they aren’t superhuman, and that they may either a) need help, or b) need time off. Sometimes taking time away from your program is the best thing to do, provided you are considering all factors.

I urge learners to be pragmatic and strategic in determining their best, next steps when life has thrown them a curve ball. If you are are looking for a new job, or have recently moved, for example, is it realistic to remain diligently focused on your research? Will you have a learning curve in your new job that will require you to focus for a few months on the job, versus on your studies? If so, it may be prudent to explore a quarter off.

Sometimes the curve ball is the dissertation itself: often learners (including myself!) can become bogged-down in the endless hours of researching every theory, every construct, and every concept that may influence or guide their own work. In speaking with my friends and colleagues who have completed their doctorates, a common theme emerged: they didn’t realize how much additional reading they were going to need to do to really research their research. Ideally you will have completed most of this literature review prior to starting the dissertation, but there are always more articles to read!

Taking time off may have benefits, but there are disadvantages too. For example, repayment of student loans may be initiated if you are inactive for as little as three months (one quarter) – you need to check with your lender! If you are in dissertation, you may need to submit a request for a Continuous Enrollment Exception form. Finally, while inactive, learners aren’t able to submit work for review, thus they aren’t moving forward in the process. Still, if you are proactive and better at time management than I am, you could get a lot done during a quarter off! Finally, you should know that taking a quarter off just because may be a way to rejuvenate yourself emotionally and cognitively, but again, you need to weigh in all aspects.

The best bet is to check in with your mentor about where you are, and with your advisor about options. We want to see our learners complete, and this means you need to be moving forward. However, there are some very real issues that may require precedence: if this comes up, have a conversation and think about what is in your overall best interest. It may be that one quarter off will help.