BONUS POST: “Where do I start after having been stuck for years?”


Recently at, a new member introduced himself/herself, asking the question: “Where do I start after having been stuck for years?

Below are the tips I–as a peer and not an advisor–shared. What are your thoughts?

“Where to start?” you ask?

Well, the answer likely varies from person to person and from case to case. However, this is what has helped me (I am not “phinished,” and am thus just a peer, so please take this with a grain of salt!!!):

  1. Manage emotions: Obtain whatever advice, resource, quote, activity, etc. that empowers you to manage emotions related to doing this type of work. Emotion affects cognition. This framework on the topic helped me:…of+researching
  2. Find the type of participation at Phinished that works best for you, whether it is participating in one of the productive chat rooms, participating at the daily or weekly, etc.
  3. Refuse to work in isolation: (1) Let others read your work, especially if you need to clarify your thinking. I have had people read my freewrites, outlines, mind maps, etc. Never was open to that before. Helps tremendously! AND/OR (2) Have group work sessions (for accountability, camaraderie, growth) when prudent.
  4. Be aware of the skills that research requires. I have found the Researcher Development Skills information at Adelaide University to be incredibly illuminating.
  5. Find out what KNOWLEDGE is needed to join your discipline’s conversation. For instance, I needed to know the relationship between theoretical frameworks, methodology, methods, and philosophical perspectives. Nobody told me I need to know ALL of that. I “figured this out” by floundering and reflecting on why I was floundering: “Hmm. I don’t have the ability to comment on the cohesiveness of a paper’s theoretical framework and methods. I also don’t know the significance of working under phenomenology versus some other framework. Wait: Is phenomenology a methodology or perspective or framework?” I hope your coursework helps you to understand what knowledge you need. Mine did somewhat. I had to learn to reflect, read example work, attend conferences, etc. in order to discover what OTHER knowledge I was missing and needed. Challenging!
  6. Mine the resources link at Phinished (see Resources drop-down menu above). There is a wealth of inspirational and practical information for every aspect of this process.
  7. Do what ever it takes to obtain and then work from a VISION for your thesis/dissertation/project. Having an overall vision is just key, key, key momentum-wise, at least for me. (May not be true for everyone).
  8. Get organized. For me this involves Mendeley, having a physical thesis binder, Citavi (for especially their research task management utility), working from both physical and digital copies of the literature integral to my paper (so that my computer is not domesticating me! See Thesis Whisperer blog post “Is Your Computer Domesticating You?)
  9. Be willing and empowered to deal with the non-linear aspect of the process.
  10. Learn to work as briskly as prudent, but also be willing and empowered to take it “bird by bird” (day by day, outline element by outline element, word by word, etc.).
  11. Get whatever tools you need, but don’t let the tools “overtake” the process. For instance, I need to have my thesis outlined in Scrivener. This enables me to envision my entire thesis as a whole, and it enables me to paste finished sections into the folders or files corresponding to each Scrivener outline element, and see myself gradually building the thesis. (Boy, does hitting “compile” in Scrivener every now and then feel good!) However, it is critical for me not to get LOST in Scrivener and I have discovered that it is CRITICAL that I avoid Scrivener until the drafting stage. I could spend FOREVER trying to find every way that Scrivener might help me (it is chock full of features). It’s just a tool. “Get in and get out” is my motto. Other tools I need are Mendeley (for the purposes of searching through my vast literature collection), Citavi (for reference management, bibliography generation, note-taking and analytic memo-making, task creating, raw draft generation, etc.), Docear (for importing PDF annotations I’ve made as mind map nodes, and then working those around to develop a paper), NowDoThis (for writing down my vision for how the work session at hand will go), and OmmWriter (for peaceful freewriting to get some organization to the many thoughts that jump into my head when I’m reading across PDF files).

That’s just what is helping me. Everyone’s “helps” will be different, because our issues, skill set, and challenges are. I, for instance, struggled with the writing process. While mining the Phinished resources, I discovered the book “Sense of Structure: Writing from the Reader’s Perspective) and a paper by a professor named Carlis that is about how to complete a one-draft dissertation. Sounds almost crazy, but it is PRECISELY how my mind works (I need to write from a plan of the thoughts I want to share instead of just writing open-endedly). Docear helps me to arrange all of my notes and quotes from the literature before writing. The Carlis document was so affirming and immediately set my emotions in a good place (the affirmation was so soothing!), and helped me to develop a vision for my thesis. That vision is what drives me! It is of this format: “My contribution to my field (in the form of my thesis) is this: ___________________.” (I learned this from the Carlis doc).

So, it may not be the Carlis document that does it for you affirmation- and inspiration-wise. But by seeking and posting and talking with your advisors and/or colleagues, I think it’s possible to capitalize on your strengths, mitigate your weaknesses, develop skills that need developing, and get a vision for what you are doing.

I still miss personal and publicized deadlines and am still developing skills, but at least I know what I’m aiming to do! I might crumple if not for having that very concrete vision at the forefront of my mind all of the time!

What advice would YOU give this poster? Do any of the items above resonate with you? Or there any that you disagree with? If so, what do you suggest instead? As always, our blog would LOVE to have your input: You never know just how many people your shared wisdom might help!



One thought on “BONUS POST: “Where do I start after having been stuck for years?”

  1. Pingback: The Thesis Whis… « :transportgeo:

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