3 Ways to Cure DPA: Dissertation Prospectus Anxiety

Whew, this summer is turning out to be a whirlwind of craziness!

While I should have been reading, writing, and drafting work related to my dissertation prospectus, I’ve found myself swamped with work from a summer research assistantship that I committed to – it’ll look good on my C.V., right?! – and running around with an eleven-month-old who loves to be taken on walks in 100 degree plus heat.

In short, I’m tired. Worn out. Kaput.

But hey, everyone’s stressed, right? Everyone has things to do and places to go! Moreover, if there’s one rule in this academic racket, it’s that there’s no crying in academia. Want a hug or some encouragement from your dissertation director? Well, it ain’t gonna happen. You better pull yourself up off the floor and push forward toward that Doctorate with everything you’ve got, baby!

Well, maybe that’s just how I’ve felt lately but I know that it’s a feeling shared by colleagues and academic friends from universities in the states and abroad. Although it can be tempting to give into the dissertation prospectus doldrums, I’ve found three effective ways to circumvent these feelings and push forward with confidence into the next – and perhaps most daunting – phase of graduate school. Dissertating!

  • Throw a fit: Let me tell you that there absolutely is crying in academia. The struggle between living a healthy, well-adjusted life and being an academic is very real, so it’s important to avoid falling into that pit of despair that can keep you from completing a degree that you’ve spent so much time on. That’s why I encourage you to throw an all-out, screaming temper tantrum – when no one is around to feel your wrath, of course. Grab a punching pillow, some tissues, and go crazy. I know that for me, allowing myself to be truly upset and have a good cry helped me to move past the main issues and insecurities I was having related to the prospectus specifically and my future in academia more generally. After your tantrum, make sure to take at least twenty to thirty minutes to really think through the things that angered you. Write them down in a journal, talk to a friend, or see a therapist to work through these issues so that you can move forward with more confidence than before.
  • Record Yourself: I don’t know about you but I have trouble stopping my mind from thinking, thinking, thinking. On top of that, I struggle to keep worthwhile thoughts in my head long enough to put them down on paper before they disappear forever. The solution? Grab a voice recorder! I’ve heard this before from other grad student colleagues, but now know it’s a thing – a glorious, amazing thing. Keep portable ones in your bag, next to your bed, and at the office so that you can record any dissertation chapter worthy ideas when they pop in your head which, for me, is typically in the car, shower, or at bedtime. There are even waterproof recorders so you can “keep up with yourself” while you’re washing your do!
  • Grab Your Earplugs: Ear plugs have saved my life. OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic but they’ve definitely helped me get some serious work done. Before ear plugs, I couldn’t block out noise – any noise. Even studying at coffee shops invariably made me want to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations more than pay attention to my own reading. After discovering the magic of earplugs, I can focus, sleep, and even remain calm in stressful situations (i.e. baby crying fits). So if you struggle to concentrate or keep your chill, give earplugs a try and let me know how it goes!

I’ve successfully knocked out a 5-page draft of the prospectus by incorporating these three things into my schedule, so hopefully they’ll be just as effective once I start the real writing!

What tips do you have for overcoming “DPA”?

Drop me a line in the comments!


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  • Reply Andrea August 16, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    love this post! i have a lot of anxiety about grad school because of too much work/stress, and these tips are great! i will take your tips into consideration. I write lists with everything i have to do to remember, but sometimes that stresses me out even more cuz its soo long! lol 🙂 xo

    • Amanda
      Reply Amanda August 16, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      Hey, girl! Uuugh, I’m exactly the same way – especially when I know I’ll have the kiddo all day and nothing will get done! I’ve actually just joined a really supportive accountability group for other Doctoral lit grad students at my university and I’ve found it to be really helpful for setting daily goals. Might you have anything like that available in your department? It might be fun to network and have a support group! It can be so tough to think about all the things we have to do since academic work is essentially never ending! 🙂

      • Reply Andrea August 23, 2015 at 2:47 am

        Now that you mention it they do have dissertation support groups, my friend was telling me about it but it was a weekly thing and one more thing to add to an already busy schedule haha but it is a good investment in yourself! Xo

        • Amanda
          Reply Amanda August 25, 2015 at 2:31 am

          Hey, girl! I totally understand – that’s why I opted to get involved with something that’s a Facebook group so I can post when I need advice or encouragement but not feel obligated when I’m unable to set daily goals. 😛

  • Reply Elizabeth July 25, 2015 at 2:48 am

    I find making task lists helpful and actually calming — to an extent. It’s helpful that it keeps me organized, but trying to get too much done in a day (and creating the corresponding list) only frustrates and discourages. Every time I make a list, I include a few “gimme” items, tasks that are pretty easy, as well as the real work. All the while, I try to remember the old saying, “people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can accomplish in a lifetime.” Either Tony Robbins or Buddha said that.

    • Amanda
      Reply Amanda July 25, 2015 at 2:03 pm

      Lol yeah, someone smart said that because it’s pretty true. Making task lists has helped me in the past, but since Ines it gets a little frustrating when I can’t complete even one thing in a week. Lists are still really necessary, though. Just giving ourselves more time to complete those tasks might be the key! Thanks for stopping by, E! 🙂

  • Reply Karen July 24, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    I love this post. You forgot to mention implicit anxiety-reducing tip #4: hearing about other people’s struggles with DPA! I am right there with you this summer, sister.

    Another tip I’ve been using to deal with the anxiety is to measure my progress only in time I’ve put in and not in actual progress on the prospectus. It’s discouraging to recognize that it will take me all summer to write a single 20-page document, so I just make sure I put in a number of hours each week (I’m aiming for 20 hrs/wk for now). When I’ve genuinely put in my time, I let myself rest. Feeling like I’ve accomplished something measurable (even though the development of my thought is slow and immeasurable) helps me stay on top of the anxiety, and taking a real break from working keeps me fresh for the next surge of the-hardest-thinking-and-writing-I’ve-ever-done.

    • Amanda
      Reply Amanda July 24, 2015 at 3:49 pm

      Hey, Karen! Ugh, yes! That’s definitely a fourth! 🙂

      Your point on measuring progress is SO true! I constantly feel like a hamster on a wheel with the endless reading, drafting, and re-drafting associated with the prospectus. The project is so huge that it makes you feel like you have to read ALL the things before even putting a sentence down on the page. This advice is really, really smart. I’m going to start managing my time better with this in mind since at this point I’m finding it difficult to determine if I’m actually moving forward or just spinning my wheels. The cool thing is that we’re all in this together! 😀

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