10 things to do when disillusioned with your Dissertation

by Anna Blanch on February 23, 2011


  1. Ramp up the Exercise – In addition to this being a positive diversionary (read: procrastination) tactic, exercise will help with your endorphin levels, and being in a better (read: braver) mood might help with the Dissertation.
  2. Write it a love letter – Try a free-writing exercise wherein you write your thesis or dissertation a love letter exploring why you fell in love with it in the first place. Let your emotions show…noone else has to read it!
  3. Cook – making food to satisfy yourself and others is a great way of helping to banish the self-pitying blues. I’d encourage you to avoid junk food when you’re in a funk – but even I acknowledge that icecream can provide some comfort when you most need it!
  4.   Create Build a deck, knit some booties, make some cards, write a poem, make a cake. Find something that will get those creative juices flowing again.
  5. Explain your project to someone outside your field – a couple of commenters mentioned that it was in the process of defending their PhD to a bystander that they realised that they still had passion for the project. Don’t be afraid to talk about it when it isn’t going well.
  6. Take a step forward – Avoiding it won’t help. Do something small today that’s positive. Read your introduction or a chapter aloud. Commit to spending 15 minutes freewriting about the project to try and identify the heart of the matter
  7. Seek counsel – Ask a colleague who’s been through this, or is done how they handled the dissertation disillusionment doldrums. Ask for suggestions, or to talk about your project. think about whether a dissertation coach or writing group would help.
  8. Ask for encouragement from those closest to you – sometimes we need a little pep talk. Admitting how you’re feeling isn’t weakness. Ask those who know you best for some TLC.
  9. Plan some intentional time away from it – you may be burnt out and need 1-2 weeks or more off. Rather than avoiding it, give yourself permission to take an intentional break. You may even want to ask/inform your advisors. 
  10. Find the Love – Share some aspects of your work – some of your source material (primary sources or otherwise) may be beautifully written or inspiring. Allow it to inspire you again.

The Basics consists of general and introductory advice for research tasks and professional development, like using research libraries, reading and note-taking, submitting and presenting conference papers and journal articles. 

image: Microsoft clip art

Anna Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD student in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland. She is also a regular contributor at Transpositions.

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