According to research on dissertation completion, only around 50-57% of students who have reached the stage in their doctoral studies in which they are expected to complete their dissertation end up succeeding (Batacan, 2010; Holmes, Seay, & Wilson, 2009; Liechty, Liao, & Schull, 2009). However, these odds can be improved by taking preventative steps to eliminate or minimize potential barriers to completion, including the need to maintain physical, emotional, and spiritual health throughout the process of working on the dissertation.
In a study about the impact of health/wellness on the experiences of graduate students completing their dissertations, Batacan (2010) noted that students were often so consumed by their research that they did not take time to exercise, eat, or sleep properly, leading to “physiological and behavioral signs and symptoms that negatively influenced their wellness such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels, hair loss, sleep deprivation and irregular sleep patterns, weight gain, and irregular eating patterns" (p. 110). According to Liechty, Liao, and Schull (2009), graduate students may also fail to complete dissertations due psychological problems, such as fear and anxiety about not being able to complete the dissertation or being afraid of what will happen when they do complete them (anxiety about postdoctoral employment), perfectionism, self-criticism, self-doubt, lack of independence or responsibility, procrastination, unrealistic thinking, relationship stress, low frustration tolerance, and difficulty making decisions.
As noted by Batacan (2010), spiritual practices, beliefs, and motivators are often an important factor in dissertation completion as well. Trube (2007) provided some excellent suggestions for how graduate students can maintain spiritual health, such as: a) balancing the intensive workload by setting boundaries on their work, taking Sundays off as a regular day of rest each week (Sabbath), and taking periodic retreats; b) preventing isolation and loneliness by taking part in communities (such as church, prayer partnerships, and Bible studies) and by volunteering time and resources to help others; and c) dealing with fear of failure or rejection by seeking spiritual direction, praying, viewing identity through spiritual eyes, taking part in dissertation support groups, and focusing on a greater sense of purpose or meaning that puts their fears into perspective. Other suggestions for spiritual health include meditative reading of the Bible, mentoring, journaling, consideration of motives, writing a mission statement, living by faith rather than anxiety, and sticking to “non-negotiable commitments to worship and family life” (Trube, 2007).
Batacan, J. M. (2010). The experience of wellness during the dissertation process of recent PhD graduates: A heuristic study (Doctoral dissertation). University of Idaho, Moscow, ID. Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. UMI No. (3414285).
Holmes, B., Seay, A., & Wilson, K. (2009). Re-envisioning the dissertation stage of doctoral study: Traditional mistakes with non-traditional learners. Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 6(8), 9-13. Retrieved from http://www.cluteinstitute-onlinejournals.com/
Liechty, J., Liao, M., & Schull, C. (2009). Facilitating dissertation completion and success among doctoral students in social work. Journal of Social Work Education, 45(3), 481. Retrieved from http://www.cswe.org/
Trube, B. (2007). Critical junctures: The spiritual formation of graduate students and young faculty. InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministries. Retrieved from http://www.intervarsity.org/gfm/resource/critical-junctures
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