Miriam’s dilemma was something many grad students face: just when you’re ready to buckle down and finish your thesis, life happens—again.
She was ABD (all but dissertation), but it had been stop-and-go thesis writing for the past two years.
She had looked forward to the thesis writing process throughout her courses, and passed her exams without trouble.
A few weeks later, however, she started experiencing tension headaches and fatigue.
Her doctor ran some tests, but couldn’t find anything conclusive.
He insisted she was probably just stressed.
Miriam decided to seek alternative therapies.
Acupuncture and relaxation massages relieved her tension headaches and fatigue enough that she could work a few hours a week.
She continued treatments and paid for them out of her graduate student stipend.
While the treatment helped, it also meant Miriam had less money for other things, and less time for thesis work.
After 2 years, Miriam had made enough progress that her thesis committee agreed to let her graduate that semester.
Finally, she thought, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Miriam even started planning a backpacking trip across Europe, her reward for finishing her thesis.
But life had different plans for her, again.
A month after her committee meeting, Miriam’s mom broke her hip, and her doctors predicted that that she would need care for three to four months.
With no one else to care for her, Miriam had to pack up and move 400 miles to her mom’s house.
Miriam was still experiencing fatigue, and now she had to take care of her mom as well.
With this new host of chores, she worried that she wouldn’t have a great deal of time for her thesis each day.
She was sneaking in an hour or of work per day, but it was slow going.
Miriam thought that it would be best to just drop out of grad school.
As a last resort, Miriam went to a coffee shop for 1-2 hours in the evening, to get a break from care-giving and to work on her thesis.
While she hadn’t made much progress after a month, she sent a draft of one of her chapters to her supervisor.
To her amazement, Miriam received very encouraging feedback.
She only had to make minor revisions before moving on to her next chapter.
Over the next three months, Miriam continued to go to the coffee shop every evening for 1-2 hours to work on her thesis.
She also wrote for 30 minutes to an hour in the morning, before her mom woke up.
While she had limited time to work on her thesis, she was able to finish a strong draft in a few months.
After her mom recovered, Miriam returned to her university and defended her thesis by the end of that semester.
Miriam is proof that you can always make some time to work on your thesis, whether you are suffering from a health condition, or you have a commitment to take care of your family.
She had to set a realistic pace for herself, but with persistence she still finished her degree.
The idea that she needed months of uninterrupted writing time turned out to be a myth.
Are you struggling to finish your thesis or think that it may be best to drop out of grad school?
It’s tempting to get discouraged at this stage, especially if you have other responsibilities that you’re balancing against your thesis work.
You’re not the only one in grad school with other commitments.
Almost every graduate considers dropping out of grad school at least once.
No matter how well you plan, life will happen, again, and again, and again.
You cannot stop life from happening.
But, you can become more aware of the most pervasive myths around thesis writing.
If you watch out for these common misconceptions, you could finish your thesis with less stress, and more time to spare.
5 Myths That Push Students to Drop Out of Grad School
Myth #1: If you cannot work on your thesis full-time, you probably won’t be able to finish.
Lots of graduate students envision setting aside months for uninterrupted thesis work. In reality, few students actually have that privilege, but they still graduate.
Your thesis is no different from your coursework, or other aspects of life: usually, it’s one of several things you have to juggle.
It doesn’t mean you’re behind, or that you won’t finish.
Most graduate students are balancing jobs, family life, and other responsibilities while they write their theses.
Each day, resolve to do some writing, even if it’s only for twenty minutes.
Set aside a favorite spot in the house, or a nearby cafe, for tackling thesis work.
Often, it’s getting started that’s the most intimidating part of the process, and writing might be easier than you anticipated.
If you’re diligent about setting aside time weekly—or daily—for thesis work, and sticking to your plan, you will finish.
Myth #2: If you have a health condition, it’s not possible to finish your thesis.
You may be surprised at how many people struggle with their health before they graduate.
Graduate school is grueling and students are older than they were in college.
Grad students tend to be over-achievers and might overestimate their stamina.
Since graduate programs tend to be competitive, many students with health problems keep them hidden from their peers.
You can still complete your thesis, if you’re realistic about what you can accomplish and how long it will take you.
Communicate early and often with your advisor about what’s going on, so they know you’re committed to finishing your work.
What’s more, don’t be afraid to use whatever extra resources might be available to you.
Learn everything you can about your rights, how your institution accommodates students with health issues, and how to get help when you need it.
As with everything, finishing a thesis despite a chronic health issue takes some extra research and self-advocacy.
If you attempt to “power through” your health issues, you could end up much sicker later on.
Prioritize self-care, as well as your thesis work, to stay on track.
Disclaimer: The information in this article about physical and mental health is based on my personal experience and opinion and is not substitute for medical advice. Please seek help from a health professional if you experience any changes to your health and/or symptoms associated with depression or anxiety.
Myth #3: If you don’t have a full hour to work, it makes no sense to get started.
Myth number three might seem minor compared to the others on the list, but it’s one of the most important to debunk.
Ultimately, you can only finish your graduate degree with persistent work and smart daily habits.
You might be tempted to ignore your thesis during your breaks throughout the day.
But if you put off thesis work until you have a big chunk of free time, you’ll never finish.
Particularly if you have other major commitments, like a job or a health concern, you’ll need to seize every opportunity to make progress, no matter how small.
Look for those one-hour (or even smaller) bits of free time in your schedule.
Keep your work with you, and scout out coffee shops or libraries near you where you can sneak in some quick thesis work.
Give yourself the tools ahead of time, so you can get started quickly when you have a chance.
This little-at-a-time approach will also get you accustomed to the hardest part of the writing process: getting started.
If you’re in the habit of writing for short periods throughout the day, sitting down and typing those first words is much less daunting.
You will be surprised how much you can accomplish in these short productivity spurts.
Myth #4: If life keeps getting in the way, then you are probably not meant to finish your thesis.
It’s easy to get discouraged when life gets in the way.
Most students have worried at one time or another that they won’t be able to graduate.
In particular, when you’re measuring yourself against peers who seem to have less outside responsibilities than you do, you might feel like you just don’t belong.
The truth is, no one is—or isn’t—meant to finish a graduate degree.
Most thesis candidates juggle multiple commitments, and worry that they aren’t meant to finish at one point or another.
In the end, those who do finish aren’t necessarily the ones with the most free time.
The key to finishing your thesis is to take charge of your work and your schedule, no matter how many things are on your plate.
You may have to prioritize, and take some time away from responsibilities and activities that are optional.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re meant to finish your thesis if you decide you are.
Myth #5: If your family needs you, you have to completely drop your thesis.
If you have a spouse, children, or aging parents, you might feel torn between finishing your degree and your family’s needs.
In particular, if you’re one of the only family members to pursue a PhD or graduate degree, your family might not have a clear understanding of just what you’re doing in school.
Remember that you always have a right to set aside some time and energy for your own life.
You can still finish your thesis, even if unexpected family needs arise.
Be sure to communicate with your advisor if you have a family emergency, or need help balancing your thesis with your family responsibilities.
They might have ideas for how to rearrange your schedule so you can keep working.
Most of all, communicating clearly shows that you’re committed to finding a way to graduate, even when it gets tough.
Ultimately, you’re in charge of your thesis work.
If you use family as an excuse to abandon your graduate studies, you may regret it forever, or worse, resent your family.
Many graduate students, like Miriam, manage to finish their thesis while helping a family member through a hard time.
Like she did, you’ll have to set aside some time to work, even if it’s only one or two hours a day.
On the other hand, family can be an important balancing influence when you need a break and a little perspective.
Communicate with your loved ones about how important your thesis is to you, and let them know what they can do to support you.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, whether it’s help with chores, or an hour or two per day of quiet work time.
You might find your family is eager to help but simply doesn’t know how.
Again, slow, consistent progress is much better than sporadic progress, or unrealistic expectations.
Among these five myths, there’s a theme: successful graduates can come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life.
Almost no one has a trouble-free road towards finishing their thesis.
Chances are, the thesis-writing process will not be how you imagined, or hoped, it would be.
Even if you’re not putting in several hours a day writing, the experience of finishing a thesis despite obstacles can be educational in itself.
Learning to balance your thesis with all your other responsibilities will make you a better and more-rounded professional in the long run.
If you can demonstrate, in grad school, that you can finish your research in addition to other responsibilities, that’s a skill that will improve your post-grad career, as well.
Which one of these myths resonates with you the most, and how is it interfering with finishing your thesis?
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