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Waiting for your dissertation advisor's feedback

I like to ask people who sign up for the "Dissertation Writer's Toolkit" what the biggest challenge is in writing their dissertation. Here is what one wise responder wrote:

Feedback. Writing something, say a chapter, and getting feedback from the supervisor on it. Somehow it always goes on the 'to do' pile ....and you wait and wait. I found it was much more helpful to agree to a deadline, and push push push (in a nice way) to have my supervisor look at it. It doesn't work long distance; you have to be right under their noses and booked on an airplane and out again 10 weeks later. Somehow the whole thing will be done, written, corrected and finished in that time. Worked for me.

Sometimes students are just too 'in awe' of their supervisors to expect action, and politely sit back and wait for the feedback. I have friends who waited 6 months for chapters to be returned. I waited too long, too (I was 20,000 km away), then I just got fed up, shipped the kids off to Grandma and got on a plane.

I'm very much in agreement with this writer. Professors are human; they sometimes need deadlines, they often operate in "overwhelm mode." So especially if you are writing your dissertation long-distance, consider the airplane and grandma method that is recommended here.


  1. I agree.
    There's also the issue of what to do while waiting for feedback. For me, the day I send something off, I take a day or half day off and treat myself to a movie. I learned this the hard way, by trying to jump right into the next task. Personally, I need a little breather between chapters, even just a half day or so.

    The part that's really difficult for me is opening the email with my advisors feedback....eek! It's usually ok, but it still scares me to take the first peek!

  2. It's definitely a good idea to take a planned break after you send something in. Otherwise your body or mind will tell you that you should have done so, and you won't be able to write due to brain fatigue or some illness.

    Many grad students have told me how hard it is to work on something else while you're waiting for advisor feedback. Especially when the next chapter's contents depends on the feedback from the previous chapter.

    And I've seen people put off looking at the feedback for days! And then you may need to take a day or two to digest that feedback, because it's hard to take in all the "criticism." After a couple of days, it may not seem so bad or unreasonable.

  3. Anonymous9:25 PM

    Learning that the dissertation is a balancing act between your committee members, and the power of your brain(including the toning down of your intellectualism for fear of alienating your chair), so you can push through and graduate. Also, becoming humbled by all that you don't know, despite of all that you do. One more thing... you will never write all the great ideas swimming in your head; but you may write a quarter of them and express those thoughts articulately and eloquently.
    R. Slotnick (just finished a draft of chapter 5 using interpretive policy analysis).

  4. I like a lot of what you've said here, R., and I agree with all of what you've said! Pushing through and graduating always has to be your main goal, or you could spend forever in grad school. You'll remain humbled by all you don't know even when you're a tenured professor. And the reminder that you'll never write down all the wonderful Nobel-prize winning ideas in your head is right on. I always tell people to create a folder called something like "for the book," or "future articles." That way they don't feel like they've lost the ideas.

    And congrats on finishing this draft of chapter 5!

  5. Anonymous3:56 AM

    I love what you wrote, R., about "toning down...your intellectualism for fear of alienating your chair." I'm so glad to know that I'm not the only grad student who has had to deal with that.


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