What is it Like to Write a Dissertation? // Interview with Krystal

Krystal (finally) graduated with her PhD in December of 2021! After nearly 7 years, she passed her dissertation defense (titled “Streaming Citizenship: How Political Television Shows Constitute American National Identity”) and graduated from Texas A&M’s Department of Communication.

Where did you find support while you were writing?

Support for dissertating is hard to find! My advisor was better than most at providing feedback and guidance, but faculty members are extremely busy. I found writing support through TAMU’s University Writing Center—I utilized their dissertation writing retreat and I sent portions of my dissertation to their writing consultants many times. But honestly, the biggest support came from my husband. I know that I would not have been able to finish without his support—he supported us financially while I finished grad school, he supported me emotionally when I was mentally exhausted, he supported me by watching our daughter some weekends so I could write, and he supported me by discussing the pros and cons of continuing my program.

I really believe that grad students do not have even half of the support they need and deserve. I am so happy to now be providing an amazing service to grad students who want editing help! If you feel unsupported in your academic journey, I encourage you to reach out to the people in your life who are outside of the grad school bubble (like my husband was for me) who can help you not only get some perspective but also encouragement and practical support.

What kind of brainstorming helped you prepare to write?

I really liked freewriting. I would often feel like I either had nothing to say on a topic or too many thoughts to organize. So, I would sit down with one question, like my research question, and consider how I wanted to answer that question in a given section or chapter. I usually came away with a much clearer picture of what to say!

I also found outlining really helpful. I’d break a topic down into subtopics and write out approximately how many pages each subsection needed to be. This gave me a starting place to just get stuff down on paper.

What advice would you give to other dissertation writers?

My advice would be to see if there is a conference that has an “emerging scholars” section or program. I found it incredibly helpful to have a mentor from another university and department. This person was able to give me advice I had never considered and helped me think about my career beyond my time in the particular program I was currently in. That person also had different connections than the faculty in my department, so I was able to extend my network.

What were some challenges to finding time to write, and how did you manage them?

I followed the National Center for Faculty Development Monday Motivator newsletter, and they talk about how we all have an internal bodyguard who wants to prevent us from dealing with difficulties. Writing has a lot of difficulties, including imposter syndrome! So, our bodyguards often try to put up roadblocks that prevent us from writing. This might be a wandering mind, procrastination, anxiety, prioritizing other tasks that feel more urgent, and so on, forever!

I found that it was difficult to write when I didn’t have chunks of time. So I worked with my husband to block out some weekend mornings where I could have a 4-hour uninterrupted chunk of time. He would take care of our daughter, and we would not schedule anything during those hours. That was my work time! I think it also helped me to know that that was my ONLY writing time that day! I also suggest setting up boundaries for yourself. If you don’t have natural time boundaries, like a kid who needs you, you can schedule a get together with a friend for the afternoon so that you don’t have time in the afternoon to write.

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