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How to Survive the Summer Doldrums

Dissertation Survival Skills:
How To Survive The Summer Doldrums

What happens when everyone, including your dissertation advisor, disappears for the summer? For all too many students I have known, this is the time when they feel most isolated and alone. When the weather is nice and the library is empty, enthusiasm for doing a dissertation vanishes and you find your dissertation becalmed in still waters.

How can you make this summer count? In today's column, I would like to suggest three tools you might consider adding to your dissertation survival kit: a dissertation support group, a dissertation coach, and a dissertation summer camp.

Dissertation Support Group

A group is a powerful source of motivation; and identifying with individuals who are experiencing their own dissertation journeys tends to keep everyone on course. Some programs actually provide dissertation support groups or dissertation seminars, however, some of the most effective support groups are those that individuals like yourself create to avoid the isolation, loneliness and sense of overwhelm and to maintain the necessary focus to sustain themselves even when everyone else is on vacation.

There are no rules about how to structure a support group, but if you decide to take the initiative to create your own support group, you might begin by trying to find a group of 4-6 doctoral candidates who are similarly committed to maintaining their productivity over the summer months and are willing to contribute to such a group. Since you may have some dropouts, you may want to recruit 6-8 members to begin with. If the group is to sustain all of you, it is important that meetings be scheduled on a regular basis and that an agenda be set up in advance to determine who is presenting when. You will find that this an excellent venue for presentations and critical feedback as well as for sharing expertise on subjects such as effective oral presentations, reviewing statistics or setting up a bibliographic database.

The group may also help members brainstorm ways of handling diplomatic problems with advisors and provide a source of information about the unspoken politics of various programs.

Dissertation Coach

Another effective strategy to overcome the gloom and doom of the summer months is to hire your very own personal, totally loyal and dedicated dissertation coach. A coach that you meet with on a regular basis can drastically boost your productivity by providing support and helping you set up a structure with realistic goals. Some of the things you can expect from working with a coach are:

  • Self-confidence that comes from regular feedback and acknowledgement

  • Accountability knowing that you will have to report to your coach on a regular basis

  • Prioritizing weekly tasks

  • Breaking down huge tasks into do-able chunks

  • Focus that comes with deadlines and accountability

  • Objectivity from an external, uninvolved professional

  • Venting to someone who is familiar with the intricacies of the dissertation process


Dissertation Summer Camp

Yet another strategy for surviving the summer months is to organize your own dissertation summer camp far away from the pressures of family, work, e-mail, cell phones, television, traffic and all the rest of it. Find a nurturing setting in the mountains, on the desert, or near the ocean and identify a few like-minded scholars who are willing to support each other's writing. Create a structure for rising early and sustaining long days of writing. Allow for group breaks for communal meals and walks or other forms of exercise that will stimulate the creative juices. Set aside time to discuss your work and your progress with the group and to foster the sense of community and shared intellectual purpose. A week intensive writing camp may be just what you need to dramatically increase your productivity and reduce your sense of isolation during those long, hot summer days.

Be Proactive

The best advice I can give you is to be proactive in setting up a structure that will support your dissertation before the summer arrives and the doldrums set in. So be resourceful in choosing and creating tools to bootstrap your dissertation this summer!


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