When was the last time that you completed any substantial written work on your degree? More than a week with no written work completed was a warning sign to many of us who did graduate. Notice I say written work because everyone thinks that planning in your head counts and it does not. A permanent written product is needed for you to have made actual progress. OK, I just lost half of the folks who were just reading this and many of them made bad comments about my skills and even my mother.
If you do not write down what you have done then you have made no real progress. Even if you read over and throw away what you wrote the previous day it still counts as moving forward. Written permanent products offset the unhealthy and nonproductive mental games that lead good students into the land of the zombies. You fold your hands; nod your head, you dream and your goals slip away. One professor described how he would do one page a day on his thesis no matter what and never missed that goal. He threw away some bad pages on the following day but he never allowed a day to end that he had not typed out at least one page. He described how easy it is to fool yourself that you are making progress on your paper as you watch the Bachelorette or a football game on the television. You must do something each day and have a permanent product except when you have planned down time. (For down time see my posting on the holidays or responding right after you hand a chapter in to your doctoral committee).
Written work can be taking notes, rewriting a page from returned work, writing down reference materials so it can be found later or any tasks like these. When you have planned down time then completely walk away from the work and do not think about it. Walk, play with kids, go out and eat with friends and spend intimate time with a spouse or significant other. Exercise is great including weight lifting, biking, Zumba and many others. Keep the rest of your body happy and working well and let that big brain rest.
But why do people become zombie students? Why is it that a dream that once burned so hotly dims and fades? No one was ever able to answer that for me. No one expected to fail and drift away from their goals. All of the doctoral students were highly successful before in education and in career situations. Why do some of the brightest and most successful people crash and burn usually in slow motion? One doctoral student got up in the middle of his midterm statistics exam in one of his final doctoral courses. He went home packed a bag, attached it to his motorcycle and left town for Alaska. He left his test papers, backpack and personal items causing concern for the professor who searched the building for him at the end of the exam. Yes the stress of the degree is real and it can have great impact upon your life.
Most people who did not graduate tell a story of just drifting away and never even sending a withdrawal letter. They just fade from the degree program and ignore any further letters from the university. The results then vary from divorces, bitterness, denial, moving, new careers and soul searching. Some make the best of the situation quietly paying the school loan payments each month. Many have professional jobs and continue to have success after a bit of an internal reorientation.
So our website exists to keep this outcome forever in front of your eyes. The articles repeat themselves driving certain core ideas into your skull so that you are prepared and may recognize danger signals such as a lack of written work on your thesis in the last few weeks. Our readers love this (ha) and some of the email treats our work like the reminder that you get from the dentist that problems were found on your last visit and cavities need to be fixed. But if you understand that if you do not watch how you talk to yourself and track how often you create a permanent product (paper, notes, citation) then you can fall away from completing the degree. Then you are that zombie shambling along behind the live doctoral students. You forget more and more each day and confusion sets in along with a loss of confidence.
Zombie students it is right now [today] time to visit the library, email your professor and do the same things that you did in the beginning. See yourself as the successful, capable and confident person that you are and have been throughout your life. You did not just stumble into a doctoral program by mistake, you were chosen due to your skills and abilities. Move, do something and throw off that warm sleepy haze that is covering you now. Do something today and each action will build on the others and the energy will come back. Come back Zombies, our nation needs you.
National Doctoral Student Association