Tips for Finishing a PhD Degree

Female doctoral student at graduation after finishing PhD

A doctorate degree confers prestige and recognition as an expert in one’s field. It can also improve a person’s job qualifications and empower them to climb to a pinnacle position within their company. Given all of these benefits, it should come as no surprise that finishing a PhD is no mean feat. 

So, how hard is it to get a doctorate? It’s generally quite challenging, but as with most things in life, the harder the journey, the more rewarding the accomplishment. Wherever you are in your doctoral journey—whether you’re still contemplating enrollment in a program or well on your way through your dissertation—you can benefit from the following tips for finishing your PhD.

How Hard Is It To Get a Doctorate?

Earning a PhD is certainly challenging, but not in the way that you might think. Students may assume that the intellectual or academic challenges are the greatest ones. However, if you’re smart enough to get accepted into a doctorate degree program, then you’re certainly smart enough to finish your PhD.

In fact, doctoral students often discover that the emotional burden is the greatest challenge. It’s difficult to commit to working on your dissertation and PhD coursework every week for multiple years, and work/life balance is tricky to achieve for doctoral students.

It’s also important to enter your doctorate degree program with reasonable expectations. You’ll have to make sacrifices in your life by reducing your leisure activities to have enough time for your dissertation work. You’ll experience stress and pressure, but if you are prepared to deal with these challenges and plan ahead for them, they can be easier to overcome.

Improve Your Time Management Skills To Earn Your PhD

The process of finishing a PhD requires exceptional personal discipline regarding time management. As you’re developing your schedule, keep in mind the times of the day when you tend to be most productive and creative; schedule your most important tasks for those times of day.

Many people struggle to stay on task, yet it’s necessary to maintain your focus to make substantial progress. Consider downloading all the materials you’ll need and then disabling your internet access to avoid being tempted to check social media or the news. You may also find that using a timer helps you stay on task.

The Dissertation

Because a dissertation is such a huge part of finishing a PhD, it can seem like an overwhelming task. Here are some tips on how to best complete a successful dissertation.

Save the Introduction for Last

When working on any major paper, many students find that the hardest part is getting started. Fortunately, when composing a dissertation, it’s best to leave the introduction for last. The introduction should offer an overview that includes preliminary background information, the focus of your work and its scope.

Because your work is subject to change throughout the dissertation process (depending on the results of your research and your advisor’s feedback), it’s best to write the introduction last. This allows you to jump right into the body of your paper, which you may find easier to write about.

Address the Unanswered Questions

It is not possible for a dissertation to answer all the questions about a topic. Indeed, you’re likely to find that you discover more questions than answers in the process of performing your research. Some students try to deal with unanswered questions by ignoring them in the dissertation. However, the best way to deal with unanswerable questions is to acknowledge them. In the conclusion, for instance, you can identify these unresolved issues as areas that are worthy of future investigation.

Fight Against the Tendency Toward Perfectionism

The author of a novel will always find words, sentences and even whole chapters that can be improved upon, even long after the book is published. Similarly, there is no such thing as a “perfect” dissertation, because improvement is always possible. Try to resist the tendency toward perfectionism, as this can delay your progress.

Edit With Fresh Eyes and Trim the Fluff

Although your dissertation doesn’t have to be perfect, it does need to be carefully edited and proofread. Once you’re done with the rough draft, set it aside for at least a week or two. Then, reread it slowly with fresh eyes; this will allow you to more easily spot mistakes. As you edit, strive to trim unnecessary words.

Finishing a PhD Takes a Strong Support Network

Few people succeed in finishing a PhD in a vacuum. Rather, successful students tend to be those with a strong support network throughout the life of the program. Your support network should ideally feature two types of people: those who are in academia and those who are not.

Mentors, peers and other contacts in academia can offer helpful guidance along the way whenever you feel stuck in the dissertation process. These people can offer constructive criticism and a fresh set of eyes on your work.

Non-academic members of a support network are also important. Periodically, try to enjoy a non-academic conversation that is completely unrelated to your PhD work. This can rejuvenate your mind and help you feel energized.

Take Advantage of College Resources for Doctoral Degree Students

Most universities that offer doctoral degrees also offer resources to support their graduate students. These typically come in the form of writing labs, residencies and fellowships. University librarians are another key resource for graduate students; they offer exceptional research assistance and may even have the authority to order materials you might need for your work.

Some schools, such as Grand Canyon University (GCU), take graduate student resources a step further. GCU has established the Doctoral Community Network™, or DC Network™, which is a unique online community for doctoral scholars that is designed to support them as they work toward finishing a PhD. This community also features a wide catalog of resources that students can access.

If you would like to join a close-knit community of dedicated doctoral learners who support each other through the PhD process, it’s time to explore all that Grand Canyon University’s College of Doctoral Studies has to offer. When you enroll as a doctoral student at GCU, you’ll benefit from a full range of student support services as you work toward finishing a PhD, including our Doctoral Community Network. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to begin exploring our broad selection of doctoral degree programs today.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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