Kindling Inspiration and Passion When You Feel like the Dissertation is Defeating You

by | July 24, 2012

It’s important to your success to maintain a holistic perspective throughout the dissertation journey, especially in those moments when you feel defeated. Frustration and fatigue are encoded in the dissertation production’s DNA, but so are inspiration and passion. All too often during the dissertation journey, the former qualities eclipse the latter, like when you receive yet more feedback to incorporate into the proposal, or when you realize that you have to overhaul an SMR section you thought was just fine, or when your data collection does not go according to plan. But keeping focused on the latter qualities will fuel the push through frustration and fatigue so that you come out on the other side, intact and productive and successfully moving forward.

To kindle on your inspiration and passion throughout the dissertation journey, here are four strategies to consider:

1. Write your dissertation’s dedication page. Ask yourself: to whom am I dedicating my dissertation, and why? Write your answer on the dedication page from the dissertation template, found in your School’s research page on the Research at Capella page on iGuide. Print the dedication page and tape it on your bedroom mirror, or next to your computer, or above the kitchen sink, or on the inside of the front door, or anywhere else you’d see it daily. Use it as an affirmational focal point in your daily life to remind you why you should work the dissertation every day.

2. Form a writing group. Look for others in your life who are working on dissertations, either at Capella or other universities, and propose a monthly get-together at a restaurant or coffee house or at somebody’s home. Three to five members is ideal. A week before each meeting, one person should email something they are writing: a chapter, part of a chapter, maybe even a journal article based upon your dissertation research. Members of the group read with the intent to give constructive feedback about the writing, what made sense and what didn’t, etc. At the meeting, the author will hear out this feedback, will ask questions of the group, and will engage in the kind of peer dialogue that informs academic knowledge production. It will also give you an opportunity to talk with your peers about the life of the dissertator and to feel supported. Note that peers are not your mentor and their feedback should be used as one tool in your effort to respond to mentor and committee feedback. More information about forming a writing group can be found among the modules at Graduate Online Writing Center and in this great article at Inside Higher Ed aptly entitled, “Shut Up and Write.”

3. Network with at least one local organization whose mission is in line with your research and make it a point to make them aware of your work. I know of learners who have made contact with local organizations and introduced their projects. The organizations responded in turn with proposing future collaborations on fellowships and conferences and further research, with offers to use the learner’s research in organizational programming, and sometimes with offers of tuition assistance. Whatever the benefits, it is a proactive way to make your work known to those who stand to benefit from it most.

4. Think about a scholar whose work you more than respect, whose work you find revelatory and exciting, and re-read some of it. Identify one text, an article or a book, by this scholar that fundamentally informs your own research. When feeling frustrated or fatigued, pick up this text and read through it. Ponder it. Savor it. Ask yourself what’s so exciting about it and how will your own work engage and expand it. Find the artery of your own academic passion by revisiting work that continues to inspire you.