Thursday, February 15, 2018

PhD Defenses around the world: a Defense in Northern Ireland

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Dr Carole Trueman to share the story of her PhD Defense, Dr. Trueman is a recent PhD graduate from Northern Ireland. She has started an educational consultancy business called Clarity Consultancy NI. Carole’s business offers bespoke training, accredited courses, and business / educational research and consultancy services. As well as this, Carole offers advice and support to students on their university assignments and career options. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook

I never thought I would be able to say that I enjoyed my PhD defence (or viva as we call it in Northern Ireland). I had been told horror stories, from the viva that lasted six hours, to the student that was so nervous they couldn't say a word! Now, I know these were extreme cases but I didn't hear too many stories that were pleasant.

I knew that I was going to have a hard time, my supervisors were openly honest that my thesis was not perfect. As my viva approached I did considerable preparation. This is an important part of the process. I re-read my thesis highlighting key points / buzz words and also wrote a paragraph on the general argument from each chapter. I ordered viva cards and prepared answers to each question and practiced them orally to be confident in my answers. I asked my supervisor to point out the weakest parts of my thesis so I could practice justifications for them. I searched many websites for additional questions that could be asked and I read viva preparation books such as Nathan Ryders book "Fail your Viva". I was prepared, I had always been told "to fail to prepare, is to prepare to fail". I even had a mock viva with my supervisors a couple of weeks before the viva, which helped as it highlighted the areas that I was uncomfortable with, which I worked on improving my answers for. As suggested to me, the night before my viva I did not study. Instead I relaxed, pampered myself and tried not to think about what was ahead of me.

The morning of my viva I was very glad that I allowed my supervisor to attend, as I wasn't alone, it was a comfort. My panel consisted of my external examiner, internal examiner from my university, and a member of staff who chaired the viva. Although it was formal, I was extremely lucky as both examiners were lovely and put me at ease straightaway. There are a few general questions to start with for example summarising my thesis, what motivated me to carry out this research and which theories and research most influenced my work. I expected the process to be intimidating but it was instead more like a professional conversation with people who were genuinely interested in my work. It was lovely to share ideas, thoughts, future plans, and I even asked their opinions on aspects of the research. Yes, I was asked difficult questions, but nothing that I could not answer. There were some I paused for a minute to think about, and some I had to ask the examiners to repeat but that was ok, it's better to take time than rush an answer! I did justify my research and the routes I took but I was open to their ideas and changes that I could make. I was questioned about my conclusions in particular and the panel came up with very interesting ideas on some improvements I could make. My viva lasted 1 hour 30 minutes approximately. It was quite short and I didn't know if that was good or bad. I had to wait in an office next door to the viva room and await my fate. I had to wait 20 minutes which trust me felt like a lifetime. Eventually I was called back into the room and told that I had passed with minor corrections. I was that shocked I asked the chair to repeat what she said! Everything after that is a bit of a blur (which is another reason it was nice to have my supervisor with me)! I just couldn't believe it was over.

I had a lovely defence, but one key thing that got me through and gave me confidence in my work was this advice I kept telling myself - "No one knows your research better than you do, you are the expert of your PhD".

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

PhD Defenses around the world: a defense in neuroscience from Australia

Today, Kirsten Coupland is sharing her experiences of the PhD defense with us. Kirsten completed her Bachelor of Science with first class Honours at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. She then worked for a year as a research assistant under Dr. Carol Dobson-Stone at Neuroscience Research Australia investigating the role of copy number variations and miRNAs in frontotemporal dementia. She was fortunate enough to be offered a PhD position in the same lab under the co-supervision of Assoc. Prof. John Kwok to investigate the interaction between lifestyle and epigenetics in non-inherited forms of neurodegenerative disease. She is currently employed as a postdoctoral researcher at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden and am working with Assoc. Prof. Helena Karlström to develop diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for the identification and treatment of a familial form of vascular dementia. When she's not in the lab, she likes to get moving. Stockholm is a beautiful city to explore by bike, kayak and foot! Twitter @KirstenCoupland

Unless you’ve visited Australia, it is pretty difficult to comprehend how far away it really is. When I tell colleagues in Europe that an 11-hour flight to southeast Asia only gets me half way to Sydney, they are shocked. ‘Half way?! I thought Australia was much closer!’ is what I usually hear. The distance isn’t the only thing that shocks. In Australia, we have a very different PhD format to the Bologna system. For starters, you don’t need to complete a master’s degree to do a PhD. It means you finish with a couple of extra years under your belt, but a smaller research track record. In addition, government funding for PhD positions is capped at 3.5 years. Your supervisors can fund some additional time (as mine did), but the University starts to get a bit nervous if you don’t look close to finishing at around the 4-year mark. Finally, to complete your PhD you need to submit your thesis. This is done with minimal fanfare. You literally deposit your thesis at the graduate research school, or whichever department manages the souls doing a research degree, and it is sent out to two external reviewers who then review your thesis as though it is a massive journal article. This is usually done anonymously. There is no oral defence, there is no grilling by your thesis committee. Instead you receive an email some time after depositing your thesis with a score ranging from ‘Accepted as-is’ to ‘Significant further work required for thesis to satisfy requirements of PhD’. You then have the opportunity to respond to the reviewers and, in the most dreaded of scenarios, perform further lab work. The system varies a bit University to University (some require publications, others don’t), and I want to share with you exactly how my thesis defence went down.

I handled my PhD defence in a bit of an odd manner. Before I even started writing my thesis I set about securing a postdoc for myself. Having a job to go to before finishing my thesis was possibly the smartest and dumbest move I made during my PhD. On the plus side it set an absolute deadline; I had to move to Sweden to start my work at Karolinska by February 2015, and it took some of the pressure off writing a ‘perfect’ thesis. I had a job; that’s the goal after PhD right? On the downside, I probably could have used an extra couple of months to more carefully put my thesis together. It was a bit sloppy, as evidenced by the comments I received from my reviewers. In the end I deposited my thesis at the graduate research office two weeks before flying to Sweden. This meant that I received my reviewers comments while in my new position. This was a bit of a nightmare to be honest. I was rebutting my thesis while trying to get to grips with a new role and new project. The rushed submission meant that I had totally botched one of the chapters (wrong figures referenced in the text) and I spent many weekends in the office writing my rebuttal. Tears were shed on more than one occasion. In the end my revisions were accepted and my PhD was conferred without fanfare; I received an email whilst at my desk here in Sweden.

The rebuttal process, while time-consuming, was fantastic practice for journal article rebuttal. I had the time to carefully examine my reviewers comments, incorporate them where I felt it was warranted or find literature to reinforce my stance. Furthermore by having external reviewers rather than local or internal reviewers, my thesis was reviewed by global experts in the field who provided valuable feedback that was incorporated into more than one subsequent paper.

Having experienced the far more ceremonial PhD defence system here in Sweden, involving months of administrative deadlines and an oral defence in which you are grilled by an external opponent, I can definitely see the pros and cons of the Australian system. I loved (read: hated but learned from) the written rebuttal, and had access to the minds of two prominent researchers in neuroscience and epigenetics. Time and financial constraints are perhaps less tight in other countries and would have made for a less stressful submission. Overall, no matter the PhD defence format, you will learn, and you will be glad when it is over.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Research and maternity leave: My story (part 3)

In previous posts in this short series of entering motherhood as a research, I described the challenges I faced during my pregnancy. Even though I had a textbook-perfect pregnancy, and quick and painless labor and delivery, I had my share of struggles: I was so tired during my pregnancy, and it took me some effort to accept that I would not be seen lifting heavy barbells while being very pregnant - which had always been what I expected from myself.

Just like I had some misconceptions about pregnancy, I did not know what to expect for my maternity leave. I had 12 weeks of maternity leave, and they flew by. The first weeks I spent in my home country, arranging my daughter's paperwork, before returning to Ecuador for the remainder of my leave. My expectation was that, since I wouldn't be that tired anymore, I'd be able to resume workouts right when my gyn/ob gave me the green light. I did not expect that I'd be planning (well, planning is not a good word here, as there was little to plan) my entire day around the feeding times of my baby (sometimes just 20 minutes apart), that I'd still be very tired, and that leaving the house without the baby would be a logistic nightmare, involving sitters and figuring out where and when to pump.

Returning to the box did not happen - and it still has not happened. I joined a 30 day yoga challenge during my maternity leave, and managed to find some time for yoga (with the baby) while I was on leave. As I returned to work and my days got even busier, that time for myself went through the window. My maternity days was filled with growth spurts and cluster feeds and nappy changes and accidents and endless laundry. I thought I'd have time for leisurely strolls with the baby and coffee dates with friends, but very little of that came into existence. I thought I'd have time for pampering myself in the spa.

Clearly, I had no idea of what to expect of life with a newborn. I've nominated myself for the title of the world's most clueless mom. To my defense, I did not have younger siblings, my sister does not have children, and babies were always a very abstract thing to me. I had never changed a diaper until my baby's first diaper change in the hospital. I positively know nothing about parenting. I thought newborn babies were boring because all they do is eat and sleep - never did I imagine I'd have so much fun with my baby. But here I am, momming around as best as I can.

As I didn't know what to expect for life with a child, I had informed all my students and coworkers about my maternity leave, and told them I coudn't promise I would work on anything during my leave. That was a smart move, since somewhere between weeks 3 and 10, Adeline did not sleep and would nurse up to every 45 minutes at night, so my brain was very foggy. I had to do some work though - journal editors can't wait a few weeks when they send you the print proofs of your article.

My first work-related activity after my maternity leave was a conference in the USA, so I had to prepare my presentations and revised version of my paper during my maternity leave. It was nearly impossible to get anything done with my baby around, so at some point I had to ship her off to my sister-in-law to get any work done. I also had to make sure there was enough food for the baby for the days I'd be gone, so I spent a few weeks trying to get the hang of pumping and building a stockpile of frozen milk for my absence. Double electric pumps are extremely hard to find in Ecuador, so I struggled with a single electric of poor quality until somebody could bring me a better pump from the USA. I found that pumping at 4 or 5 am ("stupid o'clock") was the only thing that worked for building the stockpile, and it was exhausting.

Since I also wanted my maternity leave to be a special time to spend with my little human, I enrolled in a baby massage class and took some postnatal mommy-and-me yoga classes. I'm glad I did so, as I wouldn't have had the time for these when returning to work. I tried to enjoy spending time with my cloud of love as much as I could, but sometimes I felt the pressure of all the work accumulating in my mailbox. Some people were kind enough to reply to my out of office reply notifying them about my maternity leave that that is very nice and everything, but that they have something really urgent that I need to take care of right now. I never deactivated the notifications of my mailbox on my phone, and in hindsight I probably should have done so.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Research and pregnancy: My story (Part 2)

This post starts where my previous post about my academic work throughout my pregnancy ends. For your reference, I also wrote a post with some advice related to doing academic work while being pregnant, and here you can read my reply to a reader who worried when would be the right time to have a child if you want an academic career.

As I am writing this post, my wonderful little baby is already four months old - and I finally manage to write about the third trimester of my pregnancy. I was planning to write this post towards the end of my pregnancy, and since everybody told me that a first child usually comes past his/her expected date, I thought I still had plenty of time.

When I went for my checkup at 39 weeks of pregnancy (on a Thursday), and she was still in breech, the doctor said I would have to go in for a scheduled c-section next Wednesday. He told me to confirm on Sunday, as my husband would be arriving from Ecuador on Saturday. Breech delivery is forbidden for a first child in the hospital where I go. I was worried, especially because of the amount of paperwork we'd need to take care of before returning to Ecuador with the baby. I couldn't imagine running around government offices while trying to recover from major abdominal surgery, and then dragging 10 suitcases to the airport while not being allowed to lift anything.

But my little rebel decided otherwise. With a speedy labor and delivery of less than 2 hours, she was born less than half an hour after I arrived to the emergencies of the hospital. Originally, they planned to do an emergency c-section, but things moved along so fast that there simply was no time to get started before Adeline arrived. Sorry hospital policies! Looking back on that day, there were some signs that something was happening, but since I didn't really experience pain or discomfort, I didn't pay much attention to it. In fact, I wrote a conference paper while I (apparently) was in labor *___* By the time I got settled into my hospital room with my newborn, I had the proofs of a paper in my mailbox and the notification that another paper had been published. So far for combining academia and pregnancy/childbirth.

Most of the third trimester of pregnancy was uneventful. I went to a conference in April, and while I thought I had a red face and was wearing maternity dresses, nobody made any comment about it - they must not have noticed. Then, in May, I returned to Delft. By then, I had become a bit 9OK, a lot) clumsy in my movements. We had to furnish my studio in Delft, and let me tell you: assembling IKEA furniture when you have a rugby ball sitting in your abdomen is not very practical. But somehow it all worked out.

From mid May to mid July, I worked on my research in Delft. I was more tired than the other years, and didn't work out at all, besides biking my commute (10 km in total) every day. I couldn't do lab work or field work, but there was some nice desk research that I could do. I also had to take the long train ride to Belgium frequently for medical checkups. Towards the end of my annual research stay, I was extremely tired though. I remember that the last 3 weeks were tough. At some point, I went home at 4:20 pm. And even though I had been at work since 7:30 am, and thus had a regular workday behind me, it felt like slacking. During those weeks, I took a nap of about an hour right after coming home from work. I literally walked in the door, dropped my backpack, and crashed into my bed. The tiredness of pregnancy, combined with the discomfort at night, had exhausted me.

During the third trimester, I didn't worry about reactions of colleagues anymore. The last conference I attended was when I was 34 weeks pregnant, and it was nice to have many international colleagues come to congratulate me on the pregnancy. It also turned out to be a conversation starter - people telling me about the maternity leave rules (or lack thereof) in the country where they work, or tell me about the adventures of their kids. It was heartwarming.

What I did worry about during those last weeks was my baby's position. I must have read every website that mentions "breech baby". The doctor told me to be on hands and knees as much as possible, so I spent my entire evening on hands and knees. I kept trying to feel where her head was positioned. More than anything, I wondered if I had done something wrong: Did I not exercise enough? Or did I exhaust myself too much on the bike? Was it my personality (there's a theory that claims some moms have a "breechy" personality)? Is it just because I, too, was a breech baby and it runs in my family? I tried everything possible to make her turn, and everything my gyn/ob said there was no medical reason for her to be breech and that she would turn, but at every appointment she was still sitting happily with her head close to my heart. Admittedly, I was so obsessed with her position, that sometimes at work I had difficulties concentrating.

In the end, all went well, and on July 22nd 4:28 am Adeline was born with perfect (10/10) Apgar scores. She's been the light of my eyes ever since she was born, and the love that I feel for her, since that first moment when the midwife passed her on to me, is beyond words. In a next post in this series, I will write about my maternity leave, and after that, I'll chronicle my adventures as a working academic mom to a newborn.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: How to use LinkedIn as an academic

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!

LinkedIn. The website may sound to you like a place for consultants and other folks in the industry. You may consider ResearchGate and your blog as your online venues of choice. Perhaps you prefer to interact on Twitter. Maybe you once made a profile on LinkedIn when you were an undergraduate student, and then never updated it. Wherever you are, I'd recommend you to build and maintain a profile on LinkedIn. For academics, LinkedIn can serve the following purposes:

1. Become findable
Sometimes, your profile page on your institution or your blog can become more difficult to find. Your LinkedIn profile can be a good tool to monitor and manage your personal online brand. It can be a source of consistency as you switch institutions. Use it to have your most important information and specialty online, and keep it updated.

2. Have your elevator pitch online
Your summary on LinkedIn is your online elevator pitch. Use a paragraph to summarize where you studied and worked in the past, your current position, and your service appointments if these are important in your field. Keep this summary updated in the same way you keep the summary of your resume updated. Whenever you are invited somewhere as a speaker, you can simply copy and paste this summary for your introduction.

3. Use it to keep in touch with contacts
E-mail addresses are unreliable, especially for early career researchers. If you move from short-term post-doc project at one institution to another place, it can be difficult to keep in touch with your contacts. I use LinkedIn as my digital address book - and one that updates itself all the time. The only drawback of this approach is that it may be harder to get a response from a colleague when he/she has a profile, but actually doesn't use LinkedIn at all. Whenever I receive a business card, I search for the name in LinkedIn, and add this person as a contact - business cards get lost easily, but a LinkedIn profile connection can stay (provided that a contact doesn't block you or deletes his/her profile). An added plus is that you will get notified when a contact has a birthday, changes jobs, or has a job anniversary. These occasions are always good to touch base.

4. Digital CV
Consider LinkedIn your online CV. Update it regularly, and add the information that you have on your CV: educational background, work experience, honors and awards, language proficiency, skills and publications. Moreover, you can link LinkedIn to other services such as Slideshare to showcase your presentations, and to Publons to have your verified peer review record visible. If your graduation is approaching, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date, does not have spelling errors, and gives a good overview of your contributions to the profession.

5. Participate in groups
Just as with other social media, you can join groups on LinkedIn, and participate in these groups. You can ask questions, and/or answer questions. If you are getting towards graduation and consider a job in the industry, interaction in professional groups can be an excellent way of getting noticed.

6. Follow institutions and companies

You can follow business pages on LinkedIn (institutions and companies) to keep up-to-date with some important players in your field. These pages can notify you of open positions, and give you a general idea of the culture of a certain institution beyond what is available on their webpage. The same holds true for other social media platforms, which are all less static in nature than a website.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Q&A: What does my job look like?

A reader recently asked me the following question:

Some of the language we use here (South Africa) is a little different. Could you clarify what you mean with 3:3 or 4:4?. If you are teaching 3-5 courses, is that full semester (half a year) courses? Or 'just' involved in some way with the course? Is it repeat classes? Or 3 - 5 completely different modules?
Particular relevant is then what else is on your plate. Do you also supervise thesis work of other students, work on your own credentialing, research and publish, admin etc?

My answer was as follows. You can also have an insight into my days here:

Dear Kerry, thanks for asking! In Ecuador we have 3 semesters: Fall, Spring, Summer (short semester). I used to teach 3 courses in Fall (mid august - mid december) and 3 in the Spring (January - May). Each course is 3 hours of class a week (2 times 1,5 hours), and we don't have TAs (unless the course has more than 40 students - I never qualify for this). So I do all the teaching, grading, and course material development. There are courses that I teach each semester, but it can also be that I have to set up a new course. Once, I had two modules of the lab class, but generally these are 3 different courses. In addition to that, we all teach in the final course (a preparation for the comprehensive graduation exam or thesis course - students can chose the thesis option or final exam option here). We also tutor first-year students, and I am the academic supervisor of the student chapters of the ASCE and ACI. Besides that, I do research and publish. I have limited administration duties - I try to avoid admin as much as I can, but there are always department forms and reports that need to be prepared. I hope this gives you an idea of what my work is composed of.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Choose your perfect dissertation topic

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Dr. Noelle Sterne with a guest post on dissertation writing. Dissertation coach and nurturer, editor, academic and mainstream writing consultant and soother, author, workshop leader, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne, Ph.D. (Columbia University), has published over 400 pieces in print and online venues. Her monthly posts appear in theTextbook and Academic Authors blog Abstract and the literary blog Two Drops of Ink. In her academic consulting practice, Noelle helps doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion. Based on her practice, her handbook addresses students’ largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). In Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), with examples from her academic practice, writing, and life, Noelle shows readers how to release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Noelle also shares her knowledge with ongoing community writing and meditation workshops and university academic presentations. Visit

Dan sat in the library, his dissertation materials spread out before him. On the table, his laptop was open, ready to go, and papers, open books, and note cards were strewn across the table. He had promised himself that today he’d actually start writing. But all he could do was to stare at the wall clock. Dan had made the mistake of trying to leap into the dissertation without enough forethought or real passion for his topic.

It’s undeniable. The dissertation engenders a love-hate relationship, with all the exasperations, frustrations, teeth-clenching, and eye-rolling, and occasionally all the affection, elation, and fulfillment (eventually) of a primary human relationship. Therefore, your topic should be one that initially excites you, during the process sustains you throughout the inevitable peaks and gulleys, and eventually morphs into a satisfying career.

Topic Considerations
As a longtime coach of doctoral candidates, I’ve seen many, in the heat of first passion, bite off a topic that would take 40 monks without tablets 60 years to complete. I’ve seen other candidates take on topics because their professors suggest them or they think the topic is “hot” and they’ll have a better chance of publishing. None of these reasons are the right ones.

Right Topic Considerations

It’s almost axiomatic that many people choose concentrations and careers because of early personal experiences. A man becomes an oncologist because he couldn’t save his mother from Stage 4 cancer. A woman becomes a social worker specializing in cases of battered women because in childhood, every night from a crack in the closet door, terrified she watched her father beat her mother. A man raised in poverty becomes a financial counselor to help merchants in neighborhoods like his own succeed in their businesses.

Such motivations generally guarantee sustained interest in a dissertation topic. Whether or not your motives stem from earlier suffering, you don’t want to be like Dan. From my extensive experience, and the success of many graduate students I have counseled, I offer you ten suggestions, including questions and examples, to help you identify the perfect topic you’ll be living with for a long time.

  1. Revisit your childhood dreams. How did you see yourself? What “professions” were your play favorites? Many kids like to play “doctor” (not that kind), and one of my clients loved to play “nurse.” She showed me photographs of herself at age 5 with an impressive collection of play bandages, ointments, even casts, and a doll house she’d made into a “clinic.” Today, with her doctorate, she’s director of a regional hospital.
  2. Review your favorite undergraduate and graduate course papers. Which did you really like doing the work for? Which did you get As on? What about your master’s thesis? Would you feel excited expanding it? Lynn was an elementary school reading teacher who really cared about those struggling, stuttering readers. When she shuffled through her course papers and reviewed her master’s thesis, she saw that the comparisons of different reading programs were her best work. Her dissertation topic? A comprehensive comparison of two elementary school reading programs for their relative effectiveness. Now a Ph.D., Lyon is a professor teaching aspiring elementary reading and literacy teachers.
  3. Think about troubling experiences you’ve had. Would you like to help remedy their causes? If, like the social worker, your pull toward the topic originates from an early traumatic experience, accept it. Negatives can be powerful motivators toward positive actions and activities. And think of all the people you’ll help.
  4. What topic has fascinated you for a long time? What are you passionate about? What do you want to jump into and explore? A client in nursing and leadership and with many years experience at several hospitals, Jill observed how older nurses were discriminated against. Other than the obvious chronological reason (Jill was in her 40s), she burned to explore the assumptions and possible myths that administrators held in hiring and making assignments to these nurses. Jill’s dissertation and the article she developed from it became valuable additions to the literature—and helped change hospital policies.
  5. What especially meaningful experiences have you had that you want to explore and know will make a difference? During surgery, Derrick had what he swore was a near-death (NDE) experience. He delved into the research, interviewed many people who had had similar experiences, and even scored an interview with a major author on the subject. Derrick’s dissertation dealt with NDE theories and testimonies. He is now revising his dissertation into a book and has a publisher interested.
  6. What would you like to be known for? In the examples above, the students’ passion for their choices drove their ambitions. The answer to this question is likely inherent in your choice. Don’t be modest. Think about what you really know you can contribute. 
  7. Don’t be deterred or discouraged if the topic has been “done.” Even if you discover that many scholarly articles have been published on your topic, your slant will be different. You can use those articles to show how your study is better, different, and worth not only the doctorate but publication.
  8. Dream: Imagine how the topic can be used in your dream job and how you look forward to devoting your professional life to your interest. Sandra was a counselor in a geriatric care agency advising adults on the placement of their elderly parents in appropriate care facilities. She felt needed and fulfilled, knowing she was helping both generations to the best choices. Imagining her dissertation topic, Sandra saw how she could identify and discuss the many elements involved in placement. Exploration of this topic, she saw, would help her professionally to broaden her knowledge, enhance her abilities, and open her mind to new counseling techniques. After obtaining her degree, Sandra gave several presentations and published her findings in an elder care journal.
  9. If you’re not in your dream job or career, paint mental pictures of the one you are aiming for. Observe and talk to others in this or a related career. What topic did they write on? How did it help their careers? What pointers can they give you about topic choice? Have they successfully transitioned from the dissertation results to real-world application? Do they seem happy and enthusiastic?
  10. Finally (and maybe this should be first), listen inside for the topic that’s right for you. If you meditate, in your sessions, silently ask the question about topics. You may be “led” to certain people, scholarly literature, movies, or magazines that clarify or confirm your choices. If you don’t meditate, keep asking yourself the topic question and stay aware and open. If several possible topics occur to you, test them against the suggestions here and keep listening to your intuition.

Tiptoe to Your Topic
Choose one or two of these recommendations to explore each day. Don’t push but relax and let your unconscious lead you. Remember how important the choice is and how it will influence and direct your career and life. You deserve the perfect dissertation topic.

© 2017 Noelle Sterne

Adapted from Noelle Sterne, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015).

For reprinting, please contact Noelle Sterne through her site: