June 22, 2008

"ABD" -- what does it really mean?

I thought I knew what the definition of ABD was. It was exactly the same as defined here in Carnegie Mellon's University Doctoral Candidate Policies for All But Dissertation (ABD):
After the completion of all formal degree requirements other than the completion of and approval of the doctoral dissertation and the public final examination, doctoral candidates shall be regarded as All But Dissertation(ABD).
I have, though, occasionally run into the term ABD being used as a somewhat disparaging designation for one who fulfills the formal degree requirements of the Ph.D. but never finishes the dissertation, and then quits the program. Most recently, I saw it in What They Didn't Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career, by Paul Gray and David E. Drew.

Number 9 of their helpful hints is one that I strongly agree with: "Remember that a Ph.D. is primarily an indication of survivorship." They go on to say, "You stuck with it until it was done, unlike the ABDs (All But Dissertation), people who complete all the other requirements but bail out before they finish their dissertations."

In hint number 12, in which they remind the reader that "You must have the Ph.D. in hand before you can move up the academic ladder," they say "ABD's may be much abler and more brilliant than you but they didn't possess the stamina (or the circumstances) to finish the degree. In our judgment, being an ABD is the end of the academic line."

My guess is that the authors, as professors, have had to give such stern advice to their own students who were wavering about finishing the dissertation.

My only quibble is with their terminology. What do you think is the correct use of the term "ABD?" Should it refer only to people who have "bailed" on the degree? Or does it refer to those who are in the process of writing the dissertation, having fulfilled all other requirements?

June 18, 2008

The psychological mine fields of grad school

You must establish a firm psychological stance early in your graduate career to keep from being buffeted by the many demands that will be made on your time. If you don't watch out, the pressures of course work, teaching, language requirements and who knows what else will push you around like a large, docile molecule in Brownian motion.

That quote is from an excellent list of tips for graduate students, entitled "Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students," by Yale professor Stephen C. Stearns. I particularly like the section called "Psychological Problems are the Biggest Barrier." As a psychologist, I see all the time that the grad students I coach are plenty smart enough to do the job. What impedes their progress are the psychological mine fields that are in their path. I suggest reading this article if you have been running into these mines.


June 16, 2008

Anti-Procrastination Tips

An Academic Writing Club member recently posted these anti-procrastination techniques on the message board.

Here are the tips I try to use to get myself to work:

1) WARM UP ROUTINE -- Instead of starting with email, news sites, or any of the other things that I find lead to hours of procrastination ... I try to have a "prep time" for writing as warm up:

  • I put on the same mix cd each time I write (mental cue)
  • Open the diss chapter (NOTHING ELSE except EndNote -- Close email and web browser)
  • Then clean off my desk
  • Warm up my coffee
  • Set the kitchen timer for the min. amount of time I want to write
  • Finally -- And this may sound quite odd, I light a prayer candle (I use the Virgin of Guadalupe, because I have deemed her patron saint of anthropologists, given the role she played in colonization and the Catholic church's stance on indigenous Mexicans). Although I am not really religious -- I say a little prayer (a mantra would be good to) to just write something, regardless of whether or not it is good. Then I write.

I find if I get the ball rolling with this routine, it really helps me to actually write.

2) WHY AM I PROCRASTINATING? At the same time, since Friday was a complete loss, I am trying to be more mindful of what I am feeling (or rather, what precisely I am anxious about) when I am avoiding work. If I allow myself to be aware of what I am feeling, I find I can combat it more easily.

3) REWARD CHART See Gina's newsletter this month I give myself points for writing before a certain time, writing a second session, writing a certain length of time. Also, because my problem is too much time, too few outside responsibilities, and isolation from virtually ALL of society -- I give myself points for doing other things, too .... Racking up the points makes me feel good and then I give myself weekly rewards for getting certain levels of points.

4) JUST 10 MINUTES Jayne [Writing Club coach] has a good point about just 10 min ... I find when I completely miss a day the next day is less productive, too. If at least sit down for 15 min, I do better. Likewise, I also will procrastinate until midnight ... and whatever time I spend then isn't as productive, and still makes me feel guilty for wasting the day when I could have done 30 min in the am & had a great day.

5) DRESS FOR WORK Sometimes I find it helps me if I get out of my pajamas, shower, and put on the type of clothes I would wear to campus for a talk or to teach. It gives me the mindset of "going to work" as a professional.

6) BOOK COVER MOCK UP In my case, the goal for my dissertation is to then publish it as my first book ... I made a little mock up of the "book cover" just in Word with clip art -- Printed that out and have it hanging above my desk. A friend of mine who is a screen writer, prints and frames the title page of his scripts before he begins working -- A visual reminder of the end product to get beyond the tedium. I try and take the time to look at the book cover & visualize being at the point where I'll have that friggin book in hand with my name on the cover!

I don't know if any of this will help ...or if sound like a nut case ... but those are my little mind tricks ...when I use them (!), they make a difference.

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June 14, 2008

Shame about being a mother and an academic

A recent pseudonymous article in The Chronicle of Higher Education brings to light a theme that I've heard from academic mothers in the Writing Club. They struggle with a feeling of shame, starting in graduate school, when they have to "admit" that they are parents. This feeling of shame is not necessarily brought on by the particular person or situation that they are dealing with at the moment, but by the attitude that they feel is rampant in academia, towards any non-scholarly activity in academia. For example, one person wrote, "I once APOLOGIZED to my advisor (when I had my first child) for being a mom in academia."

This gets back to the theme I've been writing about lately; that of finding balance in academia. If the appropriate amount of balance existed, then it should be possible for half of the human race to participate equally in academia while raising a family. While not feeling ashamed.

June 13, 2008

Balanced Life Chart

Image by Kim Carney
Reproduced with permission
Balanced Life: Myth or Possibility?

Tracking what you're doing on a daily basis can help you realize what is missing in your life.

The latest issue of my newsletter, entitled "Get a Life! A Chart for Living a Balanced Life(Even if You're an Academic)" just came out on Wednesday. In it, I wrote about the fact that academics feel that they're never good enough and that there's always someone better than them. Both of these factors, among others, lead to a guilt-caused imbalance in their lives.  You can find the PDF of the Balanced Life Chart here:

You are Worthy, so Reward Yourself

One way to motivate you to take some time for yourself is for you to notice what you are accomplishing on a daily basis.

If you realize how much you're accomplishing, then you will feel that you deserve to take time to savor a cup of tea, to schedule a lunch or squash game with friends, or to read a book for pleasure!

So, reward yourself in a way that is meaningful to you.  It doesn't have to be food, you don't have to buy anything.  Your own reward may be spending time with the kids, or it may be hiring a babysitter so you can sit in the park.  Small rewards that are meaningful, even symbolic -- it could be something like lighting a candle, meditating or taking a short walk, all help you feel better about yourself and your life.

I created (along with the help of one of my brilliant clients), a Reward Chart. I'm providing a download of the Balanced Life Chart in a Word Doc format, so that you can modify it as you need. You can download it here.

Feel free to change the categories, delete categories, change the size and shape, etc.  The idea is to give yourself credit for the things you do already, and then REWARD YOURSELF FOR NUMBER OF MINUTES SPENT WRITING DAILY.  Sorry for shouting.  Do not reward yourself for accomplishing something like finishing a chapter.  Reward yourself for EFFORT!