Post Dissertation Stress Disorder
First, a confession. I thought writing a dissertation would be, if not a piece of cake, at least a manageable project—one that would fit into tidy buckets similar to the large marketing projects I had done countless times over the years. The other reason I thought it would be easy was because I’m a good writer. I’ve got a master’s in journalism and 20+ years of writing experience. Add to that the fact that I’m organized, disciplined, creative, motivated, and focused.
So what happened? Following my defense and my committee saying, “Congratulations, Doctor,” I had a mini meltdown. Nothing major like going on a major spending spree or taking an exotic vacation (which I deserved but couldn’t afford with all those graduate school loans), or even staying in bed for a week. Instead, as friends and family report, I was pretty testy, crabby, short, and a few other choice words people were afraid to use around me at the time. One friend suggested I talk to other recent doctors from my doctoral program cohort group to see how they managed what I was by now referring to as “post dissertation stress disorder” or PDSD. The same friend thought this information might be helpful for the next cohort who was just beginning the dissertation process.
Get professional help.
This was a common theme. Not the psychiatric kind although that was also suggested. Four people in the cohort used professional dissertation editors and proofreaders. There were probably more but these are the ones I know about. And there were even more who wish they had gotten help but for some reason didn’t. (I’m one of those but more about that later.)
ESL editing. One guy got pre-editing and editing help because he speaks English as a second language and felt he needed an editor to, as he put it, “smooth out the bumps.” He used an editor for the proposal and the dissertation and a proofreader for the final review before it was turned over to the committee.
APA 6th. Another guy used a dissertation proofreader whose claim to fame was that she knew APA 5th and 6th –and probably dozens of other style manuals–by heart. He said this gave him the time to focus on the content instead of “where the commas and periods went and how a citation differs when you have two, or three, or four, or seven (what’s that about?) or more authors.” Truth be told, I think he was a little “creeped out” by her attention to detail, especially when she’d put in a comment about seriation in section 3.04 of APA 6th and he was positive she didn’t have to look it up. And this from a guy who was the first in our cohort to understand all the “ology” and “istic”—epistemology, etymology (or is that bugs?), ontology, phenomenology, heuristic, positivistic, interpretivistic, masochistic (that one was mine)—words that are part of any doctoral program.
Stroke prevention. One woman was looking for a combination of editing and proofreading and polish. She, like many others, said “you get so close to it [the dissertation] you can’t see the forest for the trees.” She added, “I’d look through yet another version of my literature review and see sentences where I just stopped writing or ended a sentence mid-word. It looked like I had a stroke.”
Saving friendships. I was one of those doctoral candidates who said I was going to have family and friends look at different versions and provide feedback and edits. My rationale was that they’d be happy to help because “the sooner I finish the sooner I stop whining about not being finished and how hard it is and how I never have time to see anyone or do anything or….” But, as one wise friend put it, “Is it really worth it? If I ask a friend to read my dissertation, he or she might ask me to read theirs.” Another friend suggested that asking a friend to read your dissertation was an unfair thing to ask of anybody. I mean, just because we thought our dissertation topic was a true spell-binder and that copies would be flying off the shelves when we finished it, didn’t mean that others would have quite the same passion for the topic that we had. Better to use a professional dissertation editing service and save our friends and family for other distasteful (her word, not mine) tasks like “moving a piano or cleaning a storm drain.” That hurt!
So…it’s been 18 months (and three days and six hours and …) since I officially became a doctor. If I had it to do over again—which I never would and that explains why they call it a terminal degree—I would have opted for getting professional help. The dissertation editing help, not the therapeutic treatment of PDSD. Now if I could only get rid of that pesky eye twitch.