Making the most of "Winter Break" (when dissertating)

Making the most of "Winter Break" (when dissertating)


Ahhhh, the end of the semester…

The time to breathe.

The opportunity to take a moment, pat yourself on the back, and remember “we made it.”

The time to catch up on Netflix and Hulu, the opportunity to sleep in late, a dedicated timeframe to do nothing but hangout with friends and family you’ve had to miss spending time with to finish work.


Winter break can be one of the most relaxing times of the year but it is not a time to slack off (I say in my mirror as I write this post). Though there are several religious holidays and we can usually find a way to bask in some of that holiday cheer that comes along with them, winter break is not the time to put your work away and come back to it later. In fact, if you’re dissertating, winter break can be a crucial time period for you to get caught up, get ahead, or to simply stay the course on your timeline to completion. Whether it’s working towards a proposal defense or defending the entire work, below are three ways you can stay on track towards completion.

These three suggestions are just that and they certainly aren’t the end all be all. But at SisterPhD, we know first hand that the difficulty is rarely completing coursework. Instead, it’s the process of starting and completing the dissertation given how isolating the entire process can be. Check out the three steps below and let us know your ideas for making the most of winter break.

Step 1: Create a list of goals

The dissertation is scary when you think about it in its totality. Trust me— so many people tell me “you’re so smart,” “you’re an amazing writer,” “you’ll get it done,” etc. and I have still found myself STUCK. For an entire month of fall semester I did not touch my dissertation. The only thing I did was focus on my personal life and healing. Were there moments I wanted to work? Sure. But it felt like too big of a project as I sat there staring at my personal life crumbling. To get myself going again, I set a goal of what I wanted to do: Send a complete draft of chapters 1-4 and a start (read: outline) of chapter 5 to my dissertation chair before finals end.

I know that sounds scary, right? And I would have agreed with you a few weeks ago. So I started to break down how I was going to get this done.

  • On the first Monday, complete initial analysis and codes of participant ones’ transcripts.

  • On Tuesday make all of the edits my committee suggested for chapter 1.

  • On Wednesday complete initial analysis and codes of participant twos’ transcripts.

  • On Thursday watch TGIT and do nothing but think of a new title for my dissertation.

  • Etc. Etc. Etc.

I would shift and set these goals based on how much time I had to write/work. If I knew I had a long Saturday, it was a data analysis day. If I had a short Monday, it was editing day; and so on and so forth.

I plan to continue this process over winter break by working to complete the out line of Chapter 5. Because the outline is going to my chair already, all I have to do is fill in each section. My plan is to write two-to-five paragraphs per day over winter break until the entirety of Chapter 5 is complete. Setting this list of goals is helping me to see the dissertation in a more digestible manner and to be sure I stay on track to have a full, full draft, come Jan. 1. I’ve also made a second plan in case I end up ahead and a third in case I end up behind. But planning will be essential to ensuring you don’t waste your winter break.

Step 2: Set a routine: Work 4-5 Days per week

Writing can suck when you’re not in the mood. But one way to make sure you reach you goal is to set a routine. Because my schedule can change so often, I set the days I’m going to work but allow myself the freedom to shift them. Over winter break, I plan to work four days per week and always have the remaining three days for family, friends, and fun. Because I’ll be working a part time job over the break (#socialclassoncampus anyone?), I won’t be able to control my schedule until I know what that looks like. However, I am committed to working 1 long day per week (6-8 hours with some breaks built in for procrastination) and 3 short days (2-3 hours of working). Knowing I will do this each will will help me get used to what it means to sit and write and do so in a way that works for me and my schedule. If you only want to write two days or if you want to write everyday, that’s okay. Just be sure to set a reasonable goal and tell someone who can hold you accountable. Don’t be afraid to switch it up, too, if you need to adjust. The dissertation requires flexibility and grace— something we often fail to give ourselves.

Step 3: Connect with other writers


Over the past few weeks, my friend Lamesha and I have met on Google hangout every Friday to work on various writing tasks. Often times, when she’s called, I’m exhausted, I don’t want to do anything, and I voice some variation of “my life sucks.” However, I know Lamesha is counting on me and I am counting on her. So despite being busy, schedule changes, life, and exhaustion, we get our butts moving and get to work on various writing projects. Sometimes I have used these hours to write for #CiteASista and #SisterPhD, other times we’ve used them to finalize research studies we are preparing to submit and to even look over one another’s job applications. There’s no one thing we work on as we set a goal at the start of each working meeting, but it has helped me stay the course especially as it' has gotten colder and darker outside.

Consider doing this for you as you set your writing hours. Text, tweet, call, whatever you need to do a friend and say here’s where I am, this is my goal, let’s reconnect and see how far I get. For Lamesha and I, we literally write with our cameras on in the background and can hear one another working away on the keyboards. For others of you it may not take as much. But seeing someone else who is committed to completing their dissertation and knowing I’m not alone in the process will certainly help to make winter break writing less isolating.

I’m not saying don’t have ANY fun this break or don’t relax at all. Self care is important. But I am saying be sure you don’t confuse them with laziness and feelings of apathy that can have long term consequences for your work.

How will you make the most of winter break? Sound off in the comments or on line and let us know and see you in 2019!

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