We keep suggesting that it is a bunch of small events that undermine them but many want to point to a bad committee member or stupid university. Our theory is a series of events like an infestation of carpenter ants that invade a home and eat out the support beams and ruin an otherwise well-built home. Small behaviors and habits that you ignore can undermine you.
So over and over we keep gently reminding folks to watch the small simple things. Our work has been called (by a few) simplistic, retarded and even delusional yet we all graduated and have moved on with our degrees to better jobs and lives. So let’s look at another one of those simplistic ideas.
As you move forward in your degree process it is important to watch the clues the environment and your peers are giving you. You become so obsessed with the equations, material strengths in metals, or effects of cross breeding glia cells that you lose focus on yourself. So use your surroundings as a mirror. Are people avoiding you, including you or have you become invisible? Do you only talk about your dissertation work and things going wrong? When was the last time you did something (anything) for another person?
Have you become gray? Are you a colorless blob of living cells that has no connection with others? Do you see nothing exciting about this day you have been allowed to experience? Have you exercised your body recently by walking, weight lifting or running? Does anything or everything seem like too much work for you to even think about unless it is about your dissertation? Does anything bring you joy anymore? If not, then you are in the gray zone and you are in trouble. I am not sure if you will graduate.
Steve was a few cohorts ahead of me in our doctoral program. While I was still taking my last courses he had started his dissertation writing. He was in his late thirties or early forties. He ended up working as a contracted expert for my organization, so I worked with him professionally for a year or so. He wore this nineteen fifties type of hat and on him it seemed to fit. He dressed like a professor and was pretty smart with an air of learning and professorship around him. He worked very hard on his doctoral degree and then he disappeared with no reason.
Six months later in my doctoral dissertation seminar (the class we took as we started to write our dissertation), his wife visited our classroom. She appealed for our help to convince the university to give her husband an honorary doctorate. He had been diagnosed with a fast moving brain cancer and was soon to die. She and his children wanted him to die with the prize he had worked so hard to obtain. What a wonderful wife who loved and honored her husband. From everything I heard Steve was not in the gray zone.
So my warning to you is to make sure you are not living in the gray zone because tomorrow is not promised to any of us. If the degree has pushed all of the joy and brightness out of your life then something is wrong. You can enjoy your life and complete the degree successfully and that is why we exist here at this website. The gray zone is another trap that you must avoid. A small piece of how to succeed.
You should continue to live a full life and you can do this as you succeed. Just be aware of the toll the degree can take on you and counter this by enjoying your life and keeping your family and friends close to you. Share in the day to day joys of this world because you may not live to the end and the degree should not cause you to miss life. You will miss some things (and some sleep) grabbing for the next educational goal but you can still have a good time as you move forward. You get what you expect in life so expect a good life as you move forward to achieve the doctoral degree.
We want you healthy and happy as you move forward.
Mind your goals,
Dr. Randy Parker
National Doctoral Students Association