Working on a dissertation study can often feel like a solitary endeavor. There is a lot of solo time analyzing the data and writing the findings. Writing a dissertation over the past year during a pandemic and during remote learning has felt especially isolating at times. Despite these challenges, I found some networks of support that were especially helpful as I was writing my dissertation. For any students working on larger projects or longer papers during this semester, these tips may be helpful for you as well.
Break up your work into small chunks with deadlines:
- For any large project, it is important to break the work into smaller chunks. Work backwards from the due date and set mini-deadlines for yourself to complete parts of the project.
- Leave some buffer time with the schedule and know that you may not meet every mini-deadline you set for yourself (I didn’t!). However, with the mini-deadlines, you can reschedule and reset your goals along the way to ensure you still meet the major deadlines that can’t be moved.
- Check out these tools that may help you with breaking the work into chunks and setting deadlines:
- Semester Calendars frequently updated on our Resources for Online Learning page
- Assignment Breakdown
Find your networks of support:
- When writing a large paper or working on a big project like a dissertation, finding a writing group can be so helpful! Through the Graduate Student Center, I joined Dissertation Boot Camp and was able to meet with other graduate students across Penn who were writing as well. We met in small groups and were able to check in on our goals. It was a great form of support!
- If you are looking to join a writing group, see what the Graduate Student Center has to offer.
- Or, see if there are any options through your department.
- Set up a regular appointment with a learning specialist at the Weingarten Center. Throughout the writing process, I met regularly with a learning specialist one-two times a month. It was so helpful to have the appointments to hold me accountable to my writing goals. Additionally, it was great to have someone to talk to about my ideas.
- Remember, you can make regular appointments with a learning specialist (up to 1 appointment a week!).
- For a big writing assignment or project, it is important to set writing blocks into your weekly schedule. Aim to write for 1 – 2 hours at a time. (I found I usually worked best during 90-minute time blocks). Any longer and the writing can start to drag. After your time is up, take a break and get away from the screen. It’s a great time to stretch, have a snack, or go for a quick walk.
- Also, take breaks from your writing during the week. Be intentional and enjoy the breaks and don’t feel guilty. When it was getting close to the deadline and I was working a lot, I still took one day off a weekend to try to recharge and step away from my work. It made me more thoughtful and intentional when I returned to the writing and helped me avoid burnout.
Celebrate when you reach different milestones in the process:
- Celebrate moments big and small! Each time I finished a chapter I made sure to treat myself. Especially during remote learning when we can feel more isolated, it’s important to celebrate your progress along the way. Make sure you celebrate as you reach your goals and mini-deadlines along the way.
Working on any major writing assignment can be difficult and intimidating, especially during this time of remote learning. Remember you are not alone during this process and can always reach out to make an appointment with a learning specialist to discuss these tips and more!
By Kelcey Grogan, Learning Specialist & Fellow, Reading/Writing/Literacy Ed.D. Candidate, PennGSE