That Dreaded Third Year

During the third year of my Ph.D program I broke out in hives and had to take steroids in order to breathe. I made it through OK, but it was a bit scary.  As I look back on it now I realize that it was all related to the stress of trying to nail down a dissertation topic, prepare for comprehensive exams, and thinking about the birth of our first child.

I can thus relate to this article about the third year of Ph.D studies.  Julie Miller Vick and Jennifer Furlong talk about the difficulties of the third year and offer some advice for sticking it out.  Here is a taste:

Julie: We recommend this book—Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis by Joan Bolker. It’s the classic guide to working consistently and productively on your dissertation, although we are sure there are many others that readers might suggest. In addition, there are some terrific Web sites out there, such as Grad Hacker and The Chronicle’s ProfHacker, that regularly deal with the challenges of being productive in the academic world and offer some tech-savvy tips for dealing with a world filled with easy (online) distraction. A recent GradHacker post on “Getting More Done in Less Time” was particularly helpful, and includes a list of apps that “will boost your willpower.” Finally, if you haven’t done so already, you might meet with the subject-specialist librarian at your university to make sure you are up to speed on all of the research-support tools available to you. 

Jenny: For many doctoral students, it’s not the scholarly challenges but the psychological ones that make the transition from coursework to dissertation writing so hard. It’s difficult to motivate yourself to work when you’re facing an uncertain job market or are unsure whether completing your dissertation will lead you down a rewarding career path. 

Julie: The Ph.D. student in communication added this about her third year: “In terms of how I survived—well, I integrated a lot of different experiences into my graduate-school career, which helped me feel like this time was about personal exploration as much as it was about professional growth and development. I also finished my coursework in my third year (in my program, it usually goes until halfway through your fourth year), so it gave me some wiggle room to integrate my other selves into my academic persona (an internship, working with underserved youth and doing campaign stuff).”