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All-But-Dissertation Survival Guide is devoted to practical steps for completing your doctoral dissertation
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INSIDE THIS ISSUE - Feb. 21, 2006

1. A note from the Editor

2. Slow Down and Finish Faster (Or a Tale of Dr. Tortoise and Mr./Ms. Hare, A.B.D.)By Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D.

3. Inspirational Quote

February 21, 2006

A Note from the Editor

Tracy Steen, Ph.D.

A Note from the EditorTracy Steen, Ph.D.Unless you are working in total ABD seclusion, you are aware that the Winter Olympics are currently in progress. Media hype is nearly inescapable. Whether or not you enjoy winter sports, it’s difficult not to join the rest of the world in admiring the achievements of the outstanding athletes participating in the Games. They make it look easy, but behind the scenes are thousands of hours of practice—grueling practice, even boring practice. And it’s those behind-the-scenes hours that make the difference. Doubtless there are many individuals blessed with sufficient innate ability to achieve in a sport, but ability alone will not get anyone to the Olympics. The chance at Olympic Gold is reserved for those who have the discipline to harness their ability in order to achieve their dream.

What do you have in common with an Olympic figure skater? Ski jumper? Snow boarder? Because I am writing this for an exceptionally bright group of individuals, you no doubt know the point I am going to make. Like the aspiring Olympian athlete, you have an ultimate goal and the ability to reach it, but you know that ability alone is not enough. Like the Olympian, you have an additional attribute that gives impetus to your dream. Self-discipline is that essential extra component that will harness your ability and move you inexorably toward your goal.

If reaching your goal were an easy achievement, the world would be full of Ph.D.s; but that exalted credential confers great honor precisely because its requirements are met by so few. You will be among the few. As an ABD you have already proven your ability and you are now well on your way toward that goal. You know from experience that self-discipline is a harsh taskmaster, yet you also know that you want the rewards it promises. Often you may get weary. Sometimes you may feel that "life” is passing you by as you place some very attractive options on temporary hold. At times you may feel so sick and tired of addressing your dissertation topic that you dread another writing encounter at the computer. But despite all these things, you plod onward, and that’s what self-discipline is all about.

It’s undeniably tough being in ABD status, but it’s a glorious position as well, for it’s the prelude to great things. The fact that you have made it this far is evidence that you have the ability to complete the trek. Whether you sail or trudge over the finish line, you will finish. Would you believe that it’s possible to finish faster by slowing down? Dr Gayle Scroggs thinks so, and she will share her ideas with you in this newsletter. It’s partially a matter of getting into flow, a concept we have addressed in previous issues. Check out "Finding Flow in Writing” in our archives (at, and also note this issue’s Inspirational Quote. If you need a bit more inspiration, just absorb some of the Olympics hype in the media coverage this week. Like the disciplined Olympic athletes with whom you have much in common, go for your Gold!

Slow Down and Finish Faster

Or a Tale of Dr. Tortoise and Mr./Ms. Hare, A.B.D.

By Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D.

As Aesop’s hare learned the hard way, sometimes the best way to get to the finish line is not to race madly ahead but to keep moving slowly, steadily, and purposefully toward it. That’s the tortoise strategy—and you can make it work for you!

As with said hare, you may feel in a rush to get this pesky dissertation monkey off your back. Your eyes are on the finish line and beyond, to a new title, perhaps a new job. Thus my advice—Slow Down! —may strike you as not merely different but downright wrong!

In your haste to finish, you dutifully heed (or bristle at!) well-meant tips on how to multi-task and shave a minute here and there. You gulp down lunch in front of the PC while perusing a journal. In spare moments in the lab, you call to make appointments. You half-listen to your spouse or your kids while trying to edit text. Your mind is always somewhere else. You feel harried. Wheels spin in place. You worry and panic about ever finishing.

In other words, when you should be focusing on your dissertation, you let other things intrude. You are not paying the full attention to your work, and it suffers. It doesn’t feel good.

And vice versa, when you are fixing dinner, walking to the library, or grocery shopping, your mind wanders to that unfinished chapter, to feedback from your committee, to that reference you need to locate. You find yourself doing the laundry while phoning for a doctor appointment. Your attention flickers back and forth between subjects the way a TV does when you use a remote to alternate channels. And in that way you’re missing half of each.

In other words, you are doing too many things at once and enjoying everything less. You sense that your quality of life indicator has turned south. You begin to wonder if running faster or juggling more balls will get things back in order. But is that really the solution?

NO!! The key is to slow down. Do less. Live in the present! Being fully engaged in whatever you are doing at the moment is critical for finding pleasure and flow in your work.

"But why should I slow down now?” you object. "I’ve got to get this done!! My whole future depends getting this over with!”

You need to slow down because it will get you where you want to go—and with vastly improved results for your work, your relationships, and your own well-being.

Slow down in order to be mindful of the present moment—be it the laundromat or the lab. Soak in the sun (or snow) and the landscape as you stroll through town or campus. Savor that crisp lettuce salad or juicy burger. . . and those irretrievable moments with your spouse and children. Set the time aside for those things—and enjoy them fully, and you will return to your work with renewed energy and motivation.

At first you may need to force yourself to stop racing through your day, but eventually you will find yourself reaping sufficient rewards to justify your new, well-measured pace. As Gandhi advised, "There is more to life than increasing speed.” Multi-tasking and shortcuts will deprive you of the satisfaction of a job well done, an opportunity fully experienced.

So set your work hours so that you can give yourself permission to concentrate fully on the dissertation. You chose this topic. You are doing or have completed the research. This is what you have spent years preparing for—enjoying being a professional! A dissertation is a goal, yes, and it is also a process to be savored as a professional challenge. As such, you have the opportunity for experiencing the joy of flow, of being so involved in your challenge that the hours fly by like minutes. Afterwards, you will be able to carry that glow of accomplishment with you—instead of dragging around the burden you have now. You will radiate energy. . . and this will carry over into your personal and social life.

While working, you will hold mail, calls, chats, cleaning the desk, feeding the cat, and everything else that can keep you from flow. No more living in the fast lane with entrances and exits every few miles, with other vehicles dodging in and out. Now you are driving in the dissertation lane, like the driver in the special diamond commuter lanes on the freeway. Soon you will be pleased to observe how you are making more progress due to fewer disruptions. You will reach your destination sooner—and feeling more relaxed and confident!

One thing we know about getting into flow—that optimal state for work or play—is that first you need to focus on the task at hand. Sure, it can be tough getting started, just as cranking up that car engine on a frosty day can take a few minutes. But after a few minutes on the road, the motor is purring like a happy tiger. So don’t be discouraged by a few sputterings as you start working. That’s perfectly normal. In a few minutes or more, you’ll be cruising! And then go with the flow!

When you get back to "the rest of your life,” be sure to savor it fully. Don’t diminish life’s other pleasures, as small as they may be, by worrying about unfinished dissertation details. "Life is what happens,” John Lennon noted, "while we are making other plans.” So slow down, focus, and enjoy it all!

Inspirational Quote

"I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence."

--Frederick Douglas

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Tracy Steen, Ph.D. , is a clinical psychologist and dissertation coach in Philadelphia, PA. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Steen draws on her research background in positive psychology in her coaching work with writers, helping them to remove internal obstacles so they can find more engagement and flow in their work. You can contact Dr. Steen with questions about this newsletter or about writing coaching in general at You can also visit her website at

If you are considering whether to get your own coach to help you reach your academic goals, send any email to the following:

BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He is the founder of MentorCoach (, a virtual university focused on training accomplished helping professionals to become extraordinary coaches. He is also founder of eCoach (, which trains interdisciplinary professionals to become coaches. and visit, for his Coaching Toward Happiness newsletter on applying the new science of Positive Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife, Janice, and their two children and Norman, their Norwegian dwarf bunny.

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