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Yes, you can rewire your brain to be more happy and productive


Thank you for reading our article, published by www.finishyourthesis.com. We are excited to announce that we will be launching our "Finish Your Thesis Program" soon. To be among the first to find out when the product is launched click here and you will receive our free e-book "Secrets to Success in Graduate School" instantly

If you went to school in the Unites States you are probably familiar with the white-washing episode from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. After a fight with his half-brother, Sid, Tom dirties his clothes and his Aunt Polly makes him whitewash the fence the next day as a punishment.

Most children in this situation would either rebel or do the chore feeling bitter. Tom Sawyer had a different strategy. Instead of viewing it as a punishment, he pretended it was a privilege and he cleverly persuaded his friends to trade him small treasures for the pleasure of doing his work.

Even at a young age, Tom Sawyer understood that he could instantly change how happy or sad he felt just by changing his perception of the situation. He even made his friends happy by giving them the privilege of whitewashing a fence!

We all have the ability to turn our experiences around by viewing the gift or opportunity in what might seem like a misfortune. If you lose your job, your next job might be even better! (I have heard this from multiple people). If you have survived a personal crisis or serious illness, the lessons you learned from that experience make you a stronger person, and possibly even more successful in the future.

But, isn't it a little contrived or hypocritical to "pretend" to be happy when you lose your wallet, have a fight with your significant other or get a bad review from your thesis committee? Sure, these situations are unpleasant and most people would respond with anger and frustration. So, what is the point of trying to be "happy" during our daily struggles of getting stuck in traffic of trying to stay on top of piles of work?

Shawn Achor, author of the "The Happiness Advantage," argues that when you are happy, you are actually more productive. So it is not just a matter of pretending to be happy, since happiness turns on the learning centers of the brain that help you to perform better at work. Most Americans are sleep-deprived, work long hours, and have little time to prepare nutritious foods. So who has time for happiness-boosting exercises?

It turns out that by changing a few very simple habits you can significantly increase your happiness and productivity, and the time commitment is minimal. According to Achor, you can actually rewire your brain to be more optimistic and resourceful, if you follow some simple strategies for 21 days in a row.

I know this strategy works, because following these simple steps has helped me to get job offers and coaching clients. If you had a choice, wouldn't you want to work with someone who is generally a happy person? In my work experience I have noticed that happier people are more resourceful, and as a result they are more productive.

The five components of the program to make you happier are:

1) Exercise

It is well-known that vigorous exercise releases endorphins in the brain that make you happy. In addition, exercise keeps you in shape, which further increases your self-confidence. What I like most about exercise, especially if it is challenging, is that it also trains your mind to focus. Anyone who has done rigorous exercise regimens (weight-lifting, running, swimming) knows that you have good days and bad days. It is not that on bad days you have less muscle mass; our muscle mass does not fluctuate that rapidly.

However, on some days you are less focused, either due to personal issues or lack of sleep. If you do learn to focus your mind during exercise, you can carry over this focus to your professional life and help you turn challenges into growth opportunities . What if you don't have time for exercise? Any movement, even just a 15 minute walk during your lunch hour, will help to clear your mind and see things from a new perspective.

2) Gratitude

Anyone who is reading this blog can probably fill a whole book with things to be thankful for. Fresh water, fresh air, air conditioning, and heating systems are everyday commodities that we for granted. Yet in many parts of the world people need to walk a mile to get fresh water. In some cities people wear gas masks due to pollution and cannot play sports outside.

Just bringing simple luxuries into your awareness daily can help you realize how many other things you can be grateful for. Maybe your thesis or work is not going as well as it could, but perhaps there is a support group or a professor who can help you? Being grateful takes no time at all. Every time you drink water or take a breath of air, remember the simple luxuries that most people in the world could only hope for.

3) One random act of kindness a day

This is my favorite, because it is so simple to brighten up someone's day. It is really the small things that matter. I remember that once at work I was buying lunch and I handed my credit card to the cashier lady. She had been swiping credit cards for an hour and swiped mine robotically without looking up. I realized how monotonous her job was and I simple said "Thank you Kate, I hope you have a great day!" She looked at me with surprise and a big smile. From that day on she always greeted me with a smile in the lunch line.

Small acts of kindness, letting someone in on the highway, smiling at your coworkers, your children's teachers, and even petting animals can make you happy instantly. The best part is that when you put a smile on someone else's face, you cannot help but smile too.

4) Acknowledging and appreciating yourself at the end of every day for what you have done

Did you ever have one of those days where you felt like you accomplished nothing? Negative feelings about our accomplishments can bring our self-esteem down and lead to even less productivity the next day. Why not turn this spiral around? Even if you feel like you have not made any progress, acknowledge yourself for any tiny accomplishment - you got out of bed, showed up at work, and completed a small part of a project.

No matter how small a step you took (even if you just sent one email or made one phone call) recognize that you took a step in the right direction. Make a few notes in your calendar to keep track of your accomplisments. The more you acknowledge yourself, the more your confidence will increase and the more happy and productive you will be.

5) Mediation or prayer

This was the habit I was most resistant to - especially on a daily basis. At the end of the day I just want to fall in bed. Mediating just seemed like an extra task that would eat into my sleep. However, I always like to kill 2 (or 3 birds) with one stone and meditation is a perfect example of how I can do that.

One evening I sat down on a cushion to meditate, wondering how 15 minutes could rewire my brain. I then realized that meditation is a perfect time to express gratitude and acknowledge myself for my accomplishments. I now begin my meditation practice daily by being thankful for all the people who have helped me during the day, as well as any good fortune that came my way. I then acknowledge myself for showing up for my work and other people. Then, I proceed on to meditate, and just breathe for 10-15 minute.

It is amazing how this simple practice calms your mind and actually improves the quality of your sleep. So, you might have 15 minutes less sleep, but you will sleep more soundly. In fact, I now wake up many mornings refreshed without my alarm clock.

There is no doubt in my mind that if you follow these 5 simple steps you will be more happy in just a few days. But if you want extra credit, I do have two other habits that are tightly linked to how happy and productive I am:

1 )Eating well

In my previous blog I described how the right kinds of foods can help you focus better. However, it is not just about eating "smart" food, but about taking those extra few minutes a day to conscientiously nourish your body.

Packing a healthy lunch or cooking a healthy dinner does not have to be time-consuming. It is just a matter of habit and planning, and recognizing the importance of taking care of your body so you can show up for your work and the people who matter to you.

2) Sleeping enough (and soundly)

Americans are usually sleep-deprived due to extended work hours, long commutes, and significant time on electronic devices (typically late at night). Sometimes there is little you can do to get more hours to sleep if you have a challenging work schedule and a household to take care of. It may appear that there just simply aren't enough hours in the day to get sufficient rest.

If you have any flexibility in your schedule (eg, cutting down on TV/computer use late at night), try to squeeze in some extra sleep even for just 15 minutes. Studies that have shown that adults who regularly sleep 6 hours a day perform no better on cognitive tests than those who stay up for 24 hours straight.

Sure, some people claim they can perform well on 5 hours on sleep, but if you know you are not one of them, see if you can rearrange any part of your schedule to get some extra sleep. Getting a few extra zzz's can be one of the best investments of your time. Even if you just catch up on weekends it can make a big difference in how happy and productive you will feel during the day.

Have you tried to follow any of these habits regularly in the past? Did you notice any improvement in how happy and productive you have felt? We have readers all over the world and and we would love to read your feedback.

To be among the first to find out when our "Finish Your Thesis" program is launched click here and you will receive our free e-book "Secrets to Success in Graduate School" instantly

Can Healthy Foods Make You Less Productive?


Thank you for reading our article, published by www.finishyourthesis.com. To receive our free e-book "Secrets to Success in Graduate School" click here

All of us have at least two things in common (besides paying taxes): we all need to eat and we all want to be more productive. These two concepts might seem to be unrelated as most productivity boosting strategies hinge on modern technology that helps people to stay organized, communicate faster and have information at their fingertips.

It turns out, however, that what you eat affects how productive you are - perhaps even to a greater extent that the latest technology gadgets. Unfortunately the Standard American Diet (also known as SAD, pun intended) does not support you in being productive during the day. What is the SAD diet? The SAD diet consists primarily processed foods that are low on fiber and nutrients such as breads, muffins, bagels, artificially flavored cereals, and "meals out of a box."

While some of these foods claim to be fortified with vitamins and minerals, the SAD diet is high in carbohydrates, which leads to grogginess and cravings for more SAD foods. To make matters worse, most people eat a very large (SAD) dinner, go to bed on a full stomach and might even gain few extra, and very stubborn, pounds. This process can result in even more fatigue, frustration and cravings for SAD foods. Not a good way to live, right?

I have always been conscientious of my diet and I tried to eat "healthy". Yet, I did not have the energy levels that I desired. After some research, I realized that even foods that were supposed to be "healthy," were actually making me more tired. For example, I used to eat fruits and oatmeal for breakfast, whole wheat sandwiches for lunch and some type of protein (meat, fish, tofu) with rice, potatoes or pasta for dinner.

Overall, this seemed to be a healthy diet, but I was always hungry between meals. It is tough to focus when you are hungry. It is even tougher to concentrate when there are vending machines nearby, filled with lots of delicious SAD foods.

If you want to stay focused throughout the day, you need to consistently provide nutrients for your brain. Your brain needs to stay active and its preferred fuel source is glucose, which is the breakdown product of carbohydrates (1-3). So why is it that the SAD diet, which rich in carbohydrates, makes you tired and hungry? It turns out that eating a lot of carbohydrates by themselves (e.g a bagel) leads to significant fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.

When your sugar levels are high, you are jittery - if you have kids, you know exactly what a sugar high looks like after a birthday party where the menu is pizza, ice-cream and cake. High blood sugar levels send a signal to your body to produce insulin which gets the extra glucose out of your bloodstream to store it in your liver. After insulin removes the extra glucose, your blood sugar level can become too low, which leads to drowsiness, headaches and cravings, also known as the "mid-afternoon low."

If you want to keep your energy and focus in a peak state during the day, you need to eat a diet that keeps your blood glucose level fairly constant. This can be achieved by "complexing", or eating mixed meals. A mixed meal, which includes a balanced combination of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, will maintain your blood glucose levels for longer than eating carbohydrates by themselves.

Unless you are on a special diet, however, it is not necessary to precisely calculate the amounts of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates for each meal. Simply try to include some amount from each nutrient in every meal, including your snacks.

As a former graduate student, I know it is tough to set aside time and money for sophisticated diets . Therefore, I narrowed the most important concepts for you that are easy to implement and very cost-effective. Preparing healthy meals does not need to be expensive or time-consuming.

Here are my top tips to help you maintain a heathy weight and increase your performance - I know tip #7 will be your favorite

Tip #1 Increase fiber by eating foods close to nature

A nutritionist told me that she calls fiber her "secret weapon" to help her clients lose weight. Foods that are high in fiber include fruits and vegetables, and unprocessed grains such as quinoa and brown rice. Foods that are high in fiber help you to stay satiated for longer, helping you curb cravings maintain a healthy weight. As an added bonus, foods that are high in fiber increase your alertness and help you focus on your work (See references 1-3 below)

Make sure that besides your main meal, the snacks you eat are also high in fiber. As my elementary school teacher used to tell me, "The best snacks come in their own wrappers" (e.g. fruits, vegetables, nuts). Combine them with a little bit of protein and you will be all set to do great work for the next few hours.

Tip #2 Combine healthy sources of fats, protein and carbohydrates at all your meals

Before I discovered the concept of complexing, I thought that grabbing a whole wheat bagel and an orange juice for breakfast was a healthy choice. While whole wheat products contain fiber and orange juice has a lot of vitamin C, this combination is way too high in carbohydrates, with very little protein and no healthy sources of fats. (Sorry, cream cheese is just empty calories even if you choose the light kind). No wonder I felt hungry just 2 hours later!

Healthy protein sources are lean meats, fish, chicken, beans and lentils. The best carbohydrate choices are fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber such as whole grain breads and pasta, sweet potato, and brown rice.

Now you need to choose your fats. This is a tricky one. Wait a minute, isn't fat bad? Actually, your body needs healthy sources of fats to function well. Healthy sources of fats include nuts, olive oil, avocado and eggs and will help you to stay satiated for longer. If your breakfast is a yogurt, sprinkle some nuts on top and eat a fruit with it. If your lunch or dinner is a salad, use olive oil as a dressing or include some nuts or avocado.

Tip #3: Eat every 3-4 hours

You do not want your body to starve. When you starve, you cannot concentrate and you are likely to perform poorly or distract yourself with social media, emailing and other time sinks. In addition, you will not lose weight the healthy way either, because when you starve your body breaks down muscle tissue in addition to fat.

To prevent being hungry (followed by possible binge-eating), bring some healthy snacks with you to work (nuts, fruits, yogurt) so you can get over the mid-morning or mid-afternoon low quickly. If you work out in the afternoon or evening, be sure to have a healthy "mixed meal" about 2 hours before so you have energy to do your exercise.

Tip #4: Drink LOTS water, but not during meals

We have all heard that drinking water is important for staying hydrated and flushing out toxins. If you drink a lot of water it also helps you to stay satiated. However, studies have shown that drinking water prior to your meals will increase your feelings of fullness try to drink your water half an hour before or after your meals.

However, drinking water during meals is not recommended as water dilutes digestive juices and interferes with the digestion process. So, if you want to maintain a healthy weight and absorb your nutrients, drink water 20-30 minutes prior to each meal.

As a side note coffee, juices and sodas are not substitutes for water. In fact, they will make you thirstier, and can lead to weight gain (watch out for the caramel mocha lattes with the extra whipped cream, and the fruit shakes that are really high in sugar)

Tip #5: Eat a hearty breakfast and a lean dinner

I know, this is the complete opposite of the SAD diet, which consists of a small breakfast (if there is a breakfast at all), and a very rich dinner. However, eating a hearty breakfast has been shown to help people lose weight and reduced the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The word breakfast literally comes from "break the fast", so be sure to eat a breakfast that includes a good source of protein, as well as carbohydrates high in fiber and healthy fats.

Eggs, greek yogurt, turkey bacon and even dinner leftovers such as chicken or fish will give you protein. If you cannot eat in the morning, at least have a protein shake and some fruit. Be careful with protein shakes as they can have lots of sugar.

Choose a protein shake that is low in sugar and does not contain many processed ingredients. Also, do not rely on protein shakes as your primary fuel source. They are delicious and if you drink too many you could put on a few extra pounds. Drink protein shakes sparingly, at most 1 or 2 a day, and mix in some fruits or vegetables (and even ground flax seeds) for extra nutrition and fiber.

Tip #6: Watch how caffeine intake affects your sleep quality and day-time performance

Controlling caffeine intake is a sensitive subject. Some people will give up dessert before they give up caffeine. For many people it is not possible to get out the front door without having some caffeine in their system, or if they do they go straight to the coffee shop. The good news for coffee drinkers is that caffeine does have some health benefits.

Studies show that low amounts of caffeine can increase alertness, while high levels of caffeine can actually reduce cognitive ability. The best way to decide how much caffeine is right for you is to watch how caffeine affects your own body so you can determine how it affects your alertness and sleep quality.

Most people who decide to control caffeine intake usually cut down on caffeine in the evening or late afternoon. Others cut down cold turkey as even the tiniest amounts can interfere with their sleep. If you do decide to cut down on caffeine significantly, do it gradually (possibly with the help of a doctor), as withdrawal symptoms can lead to headaches, irritability and lack of concentration.

Tip #7 (my favorite): Indulge yourself with your favorite foods once in a while - or all the time

If your favorite food is kale, by all means indulge in a kale shake daily. Most people, however, crave foods that are low in nutrients, high in fat and sugar, and are incredibly delicious. My cravings happen to be for dark chocolate, which fortunately has a high concentration of antioxidants and cardiovascular benefits.

Many diet program allow you to have a "cheat day" once a week, or after you reached a certain goal. In fact, if you allow yourself to have a cheat day once in a while (in moderation, of course) you are more likely to follow through on your diet plan as there will be something to look forward to at the end of your week. Ice-cream is usually high on most people's favorite's list, particularly as the weather gets hot, and is a great choice on a "cheat day"

Interestingly, once I started eating healthier my chocolate cravings disappeared. I used to chocolate bars daily during my mid-afternoon low - and not surprisingly I crashed a few hours later and had chocolate cravings in the evenings.

Now that I eat mixed meals I can go for days without dessert and I don't even think about it. So when I do have one of the scrumptious dark chocolate truffles it is really a guilt-free snack that I can enjoy to its fullest.

As you can see, eating healthier does not need to be expensive or even time-consuming. There is some planning involved in the beginning as you transition to a healthier diet and put together a revised shopping list, but on the long run healthier meals and snacks will help you to have more energy, stay focused and will save you time (and money).

Disclaimer: The suggestions in this column are not meant to be substitute for medical advice. Always consult with a medical professional before modifying your diet.

References:

1. Benton,D., Owens,D.S., and Parker,P.Y. (1994) Blood glucose influences memory and attention in young adults. Neuropsychologia, 32, 595-607.

2. Benton,D., Ruffin,M.P., Lassel,T., Nabb,S., Messaoudi,M., Vinoy,S., Desor,D., and Lang,V. (2003) The delivery rate of dietary carbohydrates affects cognitive performance in both rats and humans. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 166, 86-90.

3. Owens,D.S. and Benton,D. (1994) The impact of raising blood glucose on reaction times. Neuropsychobiology, 30, 106-113.

To receive our free e-book "Secrets to Success in Graduate School" click here
Best wishes,
Dora Farkas, Ph.D. Thesis and Career Coach
Founder, www.FinishYourThesis.com
Helping Graduate Students Finish Their Theses and Find Their Dream Jobs

Five Strategies to Help You Answer Tricky Job Interview Questions


Thank you for reading our article, published by www.finishyourthesis.com. To receive our free e-book "Secrets to Success in Graduate School" click here

Congratulations, you have a job interview! After months of networking, filling out job applications and speaking with recruiters, you finally have an interview. You know that it is important to put your best foot forward, whether it is just a preliminary phone interview or a formal face-to-face interview.

Hiring managers are busy, and they would not have scheduled the job interview unless they were confident you had the credentials for the job. They want you to succeed and get the job offer so they can delegate assignments to you and not spend any more time screening candidates (a more time-consuming task than most job applicants would appreciate).

So, why is it that after all that trouble of screening your CV and going back and forth to find the right time for your phone or in-person interview, they would ask you tricky questions that seem to set you up for failure?

We have all heard about the infamous:

"What is your biggest weakness?" , and its close cousins: "What did you least like about your last job?", and "Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?".

If you are not happy with your current job, then the question "Why are you looking for a new job?" could also be a tricky one.

Unless you prepare a well thought-out answer to these questions you could jeopardize your chances of getting an offer. Another, and more empowering, way to look at these questions is that they give an opportunity to demonstrate to your future boss that you (1) perform well under pressure (2) can communicate diplomatically, (3) are enthusiastic about this company and position and (4) are always looking for professional growth opportunities.

Employers understand that you might be nervous during a job interview and you are not expected to give a perfect answer to every question. However, they are looking for someone who has the right background, shows a high level of interest in the position, and acts in a professional manner.

Here are the top 5 strategies you can use to help you present yourself in the best light even if you are asked "tricky" questions:

1) Research the employer and the job description well.

A job interview is your chance to get a good understanding of the position and the company culture. Come prepared with a list of questions regarding your responsibilities and career path. If you ask relevant, well-thought-out questions, both you and the employer will benefit.

First, the employer will see that you are enthusiastic, motivated and really interested in the position. Second, you will get a good understanding on whether this position would be a good fit for you. Use the information about the company and the position to formulate answers to typical questions such as "Why do you want to work here?" and "What interests you about this position?"

Research the background of the interviewers on Linkedin prior to your interview. Also be sure to update your Linkedin profile as I highlighted in one of my earlier blogs.

2) Think about how you overcame major challenges, what you learned from them and how you grew professionally.

This is your chance to shine. Pick one major obstacle or growth opportunity that you had to overcome, that really demonstrates imitative, creativity and persistence. It could be a skill, software or an instrument that you had to learn on your own.

Perhaps you volunteered to organize an event, teach a seminar, or organize the group meetings at your previous position. Was there any situation where you went the extra mile, above and beyond what the employer expected? Many employers will ask you "What is the biggest challenge you had to overcome?" so be sure to get an example that really highlights your commitment, initiative and leadership.

Leadership skills are highly valued in every career path and the more you can demonstrate that you are independent and take ownership of your responsibilities, the more attractive you will be. You can weave parts of this example into your answers if your employers ask about challenging situations, examples of leadership, and the most rewarding parts of your professional experience.

3) Think about areas of improvement which are not critical for the job you are applying but are important in your professional development.

These examples could be used in response to your "What is your biggest weakness?" The best answer to the "biggest weakness" is an area that is not critical for the job that you are applying, but it is an area that you are working on. For example, if you are hired to do programming or labwork, then you could say that one area that you are working on improving is public speaking because you know it is important to give presentation as you advance your career.

Be sure to frame it as an area of growth where have already made progress, rather than a real weakness. Your answer could start as:

"I am not sure whether I would call it a weakness, but one area where I would like to grow is public speaking. I have already given some presentations at my previous company (or college), and I know how important it is to communicate my research well. This is an area where I would like to grow, and if I am hired, I would be happy to give presentations to your team during group meetings to improve my public speaking skills."

If you frame your answer in this way you demonstrate that you are a person who takes initiative and you are thinking about your career development- two key qualities employers look for in candidates.

4) Ask yourself, "Why am I the best person for this job?"

That's right, the first person you need to convince that you are the ideal candidate for this job is yourself. Think about reasons why the employer would be so fortunate to hire you, and write down specific examples of how you have demonstrated that you have the skills that are important for your prospective employer.

Include examples of your technical expertise, as well as work ethics (self-motivated, detail-oriented, takes initiative). You can use these examples in an answer to "Tell me about yourself" or "What are your strengths?".

If you have friends who are already working in industry, they will be great resources to tell you about the qualities that employers look for. Be sure to leverage your professional network to get interviews and also to prepare you for your job.

5) Never bad-mouth a previous employer.

What if the interviewer asks, "What was the least rewarding part of your last job" or "Why you are looking for a new job?"

The best way to approach these types of questions is to emphasize what you learned from your previous job, and what growth opportunities you are looking for in the next job.

For example, "I really enjoyed working at XYZ because I gained a lot of experience in doing (fill in the blank). However, I am now ready for a new opportunity where I can also gain experience in (fill in the blank), because I know that is important for my career development." This type of answer shows that you are diplomatic, and that you are enthusiastic about your career development.

It would be nearly impossible to think of answers to every possible question that an interviewer could ask. In fact, if you memorize replies to typical interview questions your answers will sound contrived and unnatural, and will decrease your chances of getting a job.

Your attitude, enthusiasm and energy are nearly as important, or perhaps even more important than your actual answers. Since you will be interacting with your employer daily he or she wants to know what type of person you are, how you present yourself and whether it is easy to communicate with you.

If they ask a question that you do not know the answer to, stay relaxed and be honest. You can say something like: "That's a great question, let me think about that for a minute" or "I don't have experience with that, but I hope that is something I would be very interested to learn about if I am hired."

If you walk into an interview with excitement, and the mindset that you are the perfect person for this position, your energy will shine through and you will also answer questions more spontaneously and with enthusiasm.

To receive our free e-book "Secrets to Success in Graduate School" click here
Best wishes,
Dora Farkas, Ph.D. Thesis and Career Coach
Founder, www.FinishYourThesis.com
Helping Graduate Students Finish Their Theses and Find Their Dream Jobs

Enhance Your Career Planning Through Networking and LinkedIn

Linkedin has become one of the top job searching and career planning tools in the world. Whether you are a first year student, close to graduation, or in the middle of your program, LinkedIn offers many opportunities to learn about the professional world and help in you career planning. I also offer many job searching tools specifically for graduate students on my website

If you are just starting out in LinkedIn, follow these strategies to establish yourself in your professional community:
1. Take time to build your profile.
Your LinkedIn profile is your online resume, so be sure to highlight all your skills and work experience. Employers will frequently look at your LinkedIn profile before calling you in for an interview. If recruiters contact you and you are not close to graduation, add them to your network and reach out to them when you are looking for a job.

2. Add alumni from your department and any other professional acquaintances to your network.
After you add someone to your network, you will see their contacts as well. When you apply for a job, you can check if there is anyone in your network or your contacts' networks at the company. If so, ask to be introduced. Don't be shy, because people are almost always glad to help. Be sure to return the favor in the future by offering to help if they look for a job.

3. Join professional LinkedIn groups and participate in discussion boards.
Professional groups on LinkedIn are a fantastic tool to support your career planning. When you join a professional organization, you will get the opportunity to get in contact with professionals in your field, learn about potential employers and view discussion boards. If you are exploring alternative career paths, consider the following groups: (1) Alternative PhD Careers and (2) PhD Careers Outside Academia.

4. Sign up for job alerts
Many professional groups have job alerts. Even if graduation is a few years away, alerts will expose you to companies which are hiring as well as types of positions in your field. If you have a few years left in grad school, you may be able to include marketable job skills into your thesis work.

5. Cast yourself in the best light if you are unemployed.
Examples of your professional headlines if you are unemployed or close to graduation include:
Open to Opportunities in (insert field)
Seeking New Position in (insert field)
Be sure to tailor your profile to appeal to employers. Employers look for specific and practical skills. Job ads will help you to identify which skill sets are valued in your field. Of course, you need to be honest. Companies who are hiring for entry-level positions understand that applicants straight out of school do not have extensive work experience yet.

If you are active job seeker, then daily persistence will be the key to a successful career planning and job searching strategy. Part of your routine will be to monitor online job listings, but a bigger and even more important part will be to follow up with key contacts.
What does it mean to follow up? One of the most important things to keep in mind about networking is that it is a two-way street. While you are still young, networking can help you to find mentors who can guide you in your career choices and maybe even recommend valuable contacts for your job.
Therefore, the best way to follow up with contacts is to request some of their time (perhaps over lunch or coffee) to give you advice on career planning. Never ask whether they have a job for you - even if they do, they will probably not bring you in for an interview until they get to know you better.

Most mentors will not have a job for you, but they can recommend professional organizations, job boards and other contacts that can help you advance your career. If you find a good mentor, be sure to follow up with them from time to time. Job opportunities frequently open up unexpectedly and employers are most likely to bring is someone whom they know and trust.

Many job seekers find that one of the most important aspects of job searching is to develop an efficient strategy. Depending on how soon you need a new job, job searching can turn into a part-time or full-time job in itself. One of the advantages of the digital age is that there are many online tools to help you keep track of new job openings and professional contacts. At the end of the blog I listed some services to help you track new job openings.

I highly recommend a system to help you keep track of your job searching activities. In many cases a simple Excel spreadsheet will be sufficient which lists the dates you applied to each job and professional contacts you have made. This will help you determine when to follow up with leads or contacts. There are professional job search management tools out there as well. One of them is Jibberjabber.com, which has the option of a free account.

Inspire Yourself to Complete Your Doctoral Thesis

Happy April! As winter slowly turns into spring and many of us shake off the winter blues, it is a good time to evaluate your professional and personal goals, and the milestones that you need to complete your doctoral thesis. Do you ever wish that you were more productive work? We all carry the power to inspire ourselves and those around us at any time. In the next few weeks, I will be publishing a series of blogs that include all the tools you need for inspiration, motivation and maximizing productivity to complete your doctoral thesis.

Part 1: Find your purpose

When I was a postdoc, I saw an inspiring quote: "Vision is seeing what will be," which is a fantastic reminder while working on a long-term project such as a doctoral thesis. When faced big projects most students begin by exploring "what" they need to do and "how" to do it. Logical, right? In and ideal world all you would need to do is check off everything on your list and then you get your degree. The problem with this approach is that things almost never go according to plan. There will be setbacks, and perhaps you will be back to square one. Your enthusiasm might wane, and you might find yourself puzzled not knowing what to do in order to complete your doctoral thesis. You might even wonder whether it is worth staying in graduate school.


If you do feel overwhelmed about the uncertainty in graduate school, click here to read the following six strategies for beating stress anytime.


Fortunately, there is a better way to get your doctoral thesis than constant worrying. Instead of "what do I need to do" or "how can I accomplish this goal" I would like to invite you to ask a more profound question. For a few second, consider the following question: "Why" is it important for you to get your degree? "Why" do you want to answer the question proposed in your thesis? How will your life be different once you get your degree? Why is your thesis important for your field of research?

Take for example the true story of graduate student who lost her grandmother to cancer when she was only 10 years old. Her grandmother had raised her, and as she stood by her grandmother's bedside she made a commitment to find a cure for this terrible illness. She kept her commitment in her heart and mind while she completed her doctoral thesis, and as a cancer researcher later on, because she was driven by the desire to spare others from the terrible pain her grandmother had to endure. This student's success, as demonstrated by her publication record and career path, was not due to luck or a very high IQ, but to her commitment to save other people's lives.

While most of us are fortunate enough not to have lost a close family member in childhood, we all have a burning desire to accomplish something for the greater good.

To get your doctoral thesis back on track, really think about "why" it is so important to get your Masters or PhD? The "how" (the actual technicalities of accomplishing your goal), is secondary. If you are 100% committed (like the graduate student above) you will find a way to make an original contribution to your field, help the greater good and get your degree. There will be no hurdle too big for you to jump over.

Once you find your true purpose (or calling), getting the day-to-day tasks done will come with ease. Over the next few weeks I will continue this series by helping you: 1) build realistic short and long-term plans that are in alignment with your underlying purpose, 2) follow through on your commitments and 3) increase motivation (and beat procrastination) with well-tested tools. I hope that during the next week you will find a few minutes to think about your true purpose, why your doctoral thesis and research are so important, and how your life and those of others will be different once you accomplish your goals.

Best wishes,
Dora Farkas, Ph.D. Thesis and Career Coach
Founder, www.FinishYourThesis.com
Helping Graduate Students Finish Their Theses and Find Their Dream Jobs

Would you like to finish your thesis or find a job? Click here to schedule a free consultation

Five Steps To Writing a Thesis Proposal

I remember the time that I was in the process of writing a thesis proposal in my second year of graduate school. It had to be 10-20 pages long, which was short compared to the length of the actual doctoral dissertation (close to 200 pages).

Yet, I found myself stuck because as a relatively young student I had to propose how to do an extensive research project that would take years to complete.

There was so much information in the literature and so many directions in which I could take my research, that it was challenging to nail down one project that would have a high chance of success.

After many discussions with my supervisor I finally selected a topic that was a great learning experience for me and also had a relatively high chance of success.

The choice of thesis topic usually involves many discussions between supervisors and students, so click here for one of my earlier articles on how to get the mentoring you need to complete your thesis proposal.

Through my years of helping graduate students finish their thesis on time, I realized that we always used the same process for writing a thesis proposal.

This system is designed to help you draft a thesis proposal that can be completed on time and prepares you well for your ideal career.

Number 1: Choose an area of research that you are excited about

When you begin writing a thesis proposal, your advisor might give you a choice of dissertation topics. What criteria should you use to make this decision? The most important advice that former graduate students have given, is that your thesis topic should cover an area that you are truly passionate about.

Regardless your field, you will have good days and bad days.

On good days you will be enthusiastic and motivated to work. On bad days, you might question whether your research makes any sense, and you might even doubt your ability to graduate. If you pick a meaningful topic, the daily setbacks in your research will not bring you down.

You will still be working in an important field, and you will be learning the skills and expertise necessary for your career.

Number 2: Select a project which balances novelty with established research

Given that you want to finish your thesis within a reasonable amount of time, should you research a novel or "hot" area, or to go with a "safer", better-understood topic? One way to answer this question is to visualize yourself at every stage of your thesis.

How will you make it happen? Can you gather the resources and complete the work by your proposed graduation date?

Most likely your project will take longer than you anticipated, so allow some flexibility to account for contingencies. The general rule of thumb is that things take 2-4 times longer than predicted.

If you have little expertise, begin your work by exploring questions in well-understood areas. For example, you could learn the basics of your field, by extending the research projects of previous students, or trying to reproduce their data.

Starting your research in an area where the methodology has been established will teach you the necessary research skills for your field. Once you learn the basics, you can expand your research by exploring novel areas, and build your own unique niche.


As we have all heard, one of the thoughest parts about writing is the beginning. How do you put the first few sentences on the page? Click here to for the top eight tips to get your writing done faster.


Number 3: Ask well-defined open-ended questions for your thesis

One of the mistakes that some PhD students make while writing a thesis proposal is that they ask "High-risk" questions. The most common type of high risk question is a "Yes/No" question, such as "Is this protein produced by cells under these conditions?"

The reason that Yes/No questions can be "high-risk" is that sometimes the answers are only publishable if the answer is "Yes".

Negative results are usually not interesting enough for publication and you could have spent months or years researching a question that has a high chance of not being published. For many students open-ended questions have a much higher likelihood of success.

In the case of one student in Biology, he thought about asking a question such as: "Do cells produce a particular protein under these conditions?" However, if the answer had been "No", it would not have been publishable. Instead, he phrased his research question as follows: "What proteins do cell produce in these conditions"? or "How does XYZ influence the production of proteins"?

Be sure that your question is well-defined. In other words, when you ask your thesis question, think about the possible outcomes. What results do you expect? Are they interesting and publishable?

To summarize this key point, consider the following when constructing your thesis question:

1) Ask open-ended questions

2) Be sure that your possible outcomes are interesting and publishable

Number 4: Look for projects that are educational and incorporate marketable skills

Think about your progression through graduate school as a pyramid. As the years pass, you become more and more specialized with fewer and fewer people being experts in your field. By the time you graduate you will be part of a small community of people who specialize in your particular area.

On the other hand, you will probably need a diverse skill set after graduation, so it is important to avoid the common mistake of narrowing your pyramid too quickly. It is not necessary to learn all the subspecialties, but do familiarize yourself with the background literature and technical skills in your field.

Some students make the mistake of focusing only on finishing graduate school quickly, rather than taking advantage of the learning opportunities. One way to add marketable skills to your resume is to collaborate on a side-project.

For example, if you specialize in cell culture then it would be advantageous if you collaborated on a project that added a different but related skill set such as DNA/RNA work, liquid chromatography, mass spectrometry or imaging. If you browse through job listings you will get an idea of which skill sets employers look for.

Collaborating on complementary projects will help you to broaden your marketable skill sets, and also help you in deciding which career path is best suited for you.

Number 5: Visualize your finished publication(s)

A physics PhD student I worked with had an advisor who outlined each paper even before the research was started. He wrote down what questions he wanted to be answered, and what each graph and table should show.

This method was so helpful for the student, that he still designs his research papers in advance. As you are in the process of writing your thesis proposal draft some preliminary answers to the following questions:

  • What is your central hypothesis or research goal?
  • What is the motivation for this study?
  • What have other groups contributed to this research?
  • What methods do you need to learn to complete this project?
  • What are the possible outcomes, or results, of this study?
  • What will your tables and graphs show?
  • How does this work contribute to your field of research?

Visualizing your publications while writing a thesis proposal will motivate you to work, because most graduate students feel a sense of pride when they hold their very first published paper in their hands.

Most likely, the answers to the above questions will change with time and you might have several setbacks or forks in the road. Fortunately, most students become more efficient as they progress through graduate school.

Your cumulative experience will pay off during your last year when you are racing to finish your research and your dissertation simultaneously. In the meantime, work on defining your questions and methods meticulously, so that you will have a realistic plan to work with.

The last step in the process, "Visualizing your finished publications", is probably the most important one in the 5-step process of writing a thesis proposal. First, visualizing the end result of a major project is very motivating in itself. Second, publishing a paper is one of the most important steps towards earning your graduate degree.

Most PhD programs require at least one publication. When you structure your research and the writing of a thesis proposal by asking the right questions, you will be able to design a realistic project that canbe completed in time and provides you with marketable job skills.

Best wishes,
Dora Farkas, Ph.D. Thesis and Career Coach
Founder, www.FinishYourThesis.com
Helping Graduate Students Finish Their Theses and Find Their Dream Jobs

Would you like to finish your thesis or find a job? Click here to schedule a free consultation

How to Finish Your Thesis a Few Minutes at a Time

Is it possible to finish your thesis a few minutes at a time? It was certainly not something I had planned. I had envisioned sitting in front of the computer for many hours typing incessantly.

Unfortunately, life happens when you are making other plans. In my fifth year I started experiencing excruciating pain in my wrists and elbows, which was later diagnosed as tendonitis (not carpal tunnel, fortunately). As I result I had to limit my time at the computer, which was quite inconvenient at a time when I had to write a doctoral thesis.

My injury was so severe that my arms began to hurt after just a few minutes of typing despite my ergonomic keyboard and pain-relievers. I considered quitting graduate school, but I knew that I was not a quitter. I was determined to become super organized so I could finish my thesis despite my injury.

Through trial and error, I was able to manage my pain by alternating a few minutes of typing with a few minutes of rest and stretching. Ironically, my injury forced me to become more focused and I developed several organizational strategies which I still and also teach my clients.

Here are the top 8 strategies that you can use to finish your thesis more effectively:

1. Delay checking of email and social media by one hour. To this day I always work for at least one hour before I check my email. It is amazing how much better you can concentrate before your mind gets flooded with information from emails. Of course, during this first hour of writing I also limit social media, messaging and any other technology that will distract me. The first few days when I tried this, I felt the urge to check my emails during that hour, but the surge in my productivity was so rewarding that I now look forward to distraction-free writing in the mornings.

2. Determine your top 3 outcomes for each day. Most people don't get everything done they had planned to each day. There are usually unexpected phone calls, emails, experimental results and personal events that get in the way of your plans. Many students go very hard on themselves because they are not as productive as they would like to be. Unfortunately, the tougher you are on yourself, the more likely you are to procrastinate. One way to lift the pressure off your shoulders is to determine in advance your top three outcomes for the day. What are the top three things you would like to complete to call this day a success? You will probably not get to complete everything - most people don't - but you can prioritize your top three goals. To increase the likelihood of your success, choose one top priority, the one that would make the biggest difference. If possible, commit to completing this task before lunch, or even before you check your email. How would you feel knowing that you had completed your top priority during the first hour of the day?

3. Get clarity from your supervisor and thesis committee on what you need to do to complete your thesis. It is amazing how many students need to rewrite parts of their thesis (or even collect new data) because of misunderstandings with their supervisor. Some students are afraid to ask for help, others are afraid of confrontation. In one of my earlier blogs, I describe a simple method to help you communicate more assertively with your supervisor and get the mentoring you need.

4. Determine your "thesis" statement and add layers of detail to it every day. Almost every thesis has a central question or hypothesis, which is (not surprisingly) called a "thesis statement." Your thesis statement is usually one sentence in the form such as "The purpose of this thesis was to determine…". Once you have your thesis statement, you can begin adding details to it every day - background (motivation for study), methods, data, graphs, tables etc.

5. If no ideas come to mind, just write about anything that comes to mind about your thesis. Most students expect to have ideas before they sit down to write, but it is actually the other way around. Ideas are born with writing. When you write (even if those paragraphs will not make it into your final piece) you allow yourself to think creatively. As you write freely, you will be amazed at the number of ideas that pop into your head spontaneously.

6. Write fast. This technique is particularly useful when you are still in the beginning stages of writing and you are trying to get ideas onto the paper. When you write fast, you are blocking your inner critic who will censor you before you put useful ideas on the page. Give yourself permission and get as many ideas as you can on the page.

7. Break down thesis into manageable bits. One of the most overwhelming aspects of writing a thesis is that it is so long. Keep in mind that no one has written a thesis in one day (to my knowledge at least). Some students find it overwhelming to write for even a couple of hours at a time. However, most people can write for a few minutes at a time. For students who have writing blocks I recommend to begin the process with 15 minute writing bursts. Fifteen minutes is short enough to seem doable, but long enough to put at least a few paragraphs on the page. There is also a difference in how people approach writing if they have 2 hours vs. 15 minutes. With 2 hours to write, many students get very ambitious and frequently end up writing less (and slower) than they had planned. During a 15 minute burst, however, students set a very small and specific goal which is realistic for such a small segment of time (e.g. write the methods, begin the introduction etc.).

Balance excellence with perfectionism. Perfectionism is your archenemy during the thesis writing process. Your goal is to write something excellent, not perfect. If you aim for perfect, you will never be done. When you feel your thesis is 98% complete (and revised carefully by professors, peers and editors), it is time to let it go.

To Finish Your PhD You Need a New Strategy

I used to be a runner in high school, college and graduate school. In high school I ran the 800m event, but as I got older I transitioned to long distance events. Those of you who are runners probably know that you need a different strategy to win a 100 m race than a marathon. Here is a question for you. What is the world's record for completing a marathon? And what is the world's record for completing a 100 m race? (Just guess, don't peak).

Currently, the world record for running a marathon is approximately 2 hours and 3 minutes. The record for the 100 m race is about 9.6 seconds. Here is the real question. If the world's fastest marathon runner would keep his pace for 100 m, how fast would he finish? In other words, if he kept the same pace for 100m that he keeps for an entire marathon, how would his time compare to the world record of 9.6 seconds?

It would nearly double to 18s! Clearly, you need a different strategy to finish a 100m sprint than a marathon. If the 100 m sprinter tried to keep his pace for over 26 miles, he would collapse of exhaustion way before the finish line! In college and in industry we do 100 m sprints. We have small (frequently well-defined) projects with short deadlines. Most projects need to be completed in a few weeks or even days. To complete these small projects many people stay at work late, maybe even pull an all-nighter or two. In graduate school we are running a marathon - we have a big (frequently not well-defined) project with a very long deadline, years in the future. Endurance is the key. Late nights at work can only be sustained for so long before you exhaust yourself, even burn out.

To finish your phd you need a different strategy. Most importantly, you need to pace yourself for the long journey, so you can actually complete the event. Most first-time marathon runners just want to finish, and they are not concerned about the time so much. Similarly, to finish your phd you need to focus on taking care of yourself so you can complete your journey.

Here are some tips to help you stay focused and do high-quality work to help you finish your PhD:

  • Be proactive about scheduling time for recreation, hobbies and friends. If you tell yourself that you "will see how the writing goes and then decide whether to go out" you will never go out. Writing and research are never complete, and if you chain yourself to your desk you will be even less productive. Time away from your desk will actually help you to be more creative and lead to high quality results.
  • Establish a regular schedule. This might be a foreign concept to students who go to graduate school straight after college. In college it is common to have an erratic schedule, with late night parties and sleeping in on the weekends. Of course, you can stay out late and sleep in late during graduate school too. However, given the unstructured nature of graduate school it is common for students to fall into an unpredictable schedule. Without strict deadlines it is tough to motivate yourself to complete your research goals. A regular schedule will help you to establish which times of day you are most productive and plan challenging assignments for those time of the day.
  • Plan the weeks in advance. Did you ever come in on a Monday morning confused about what you were supposed to do that day? Sometimes it can take hours to make a plan! My recommendation for the students I work with is to plan their weeks on the Friday before. Friday is a great day for reflecting what you and have not accomplished during the week and then decide how to best plan the week ahead. Set a few realistic goals, and put them in your planner so when you come in Monday you will be ready to go full steam ahead.
  • Acknowledge yourself frequently. In college and in most workplaces there is frequent feedback. Grades from exams and conversations with your supervisor. Many graduate students see their supervisors once a month or even less. During the lonely times it is up to you to give yourself a pat in the back. If you always focus on what you have not done, you will feel disappointed in yourself and lose motivation. However, if you acknowledge every step you take, even the ones where you were not as successful as you had hoped, you will gain self-confidence and become even more productive.

Remember that the number one strategy to help you to finish your PhD is to take care of yourself so you can show up filled with motivation and energy to make the best of every day.

Best wishes,
Dora Farkas, Ph.D. Dissertation and Career Coach
Author: "The Smart Way to Your PhD: 200 Secrets from 100 Graduates."
Founder, www.FinishYourThesis.com
Helping Graduate Students Finish Their Theses and Find Their Dream Jobs

Would you like to finish your thesis or find a job? Click here to schedule a free consultation

Job Searching in the Digital Age

It is hard to believe how much job searching has changed in the last 20 years. A good education alone does not guarantee you a job anymore. In the mid 90's, for example, most people got their jobs the traditional way: in-person networking, on-campus interviews and responding to job ads. Today, you have many online tools at your disposal adding several layers of complexity to your job searching strategy. It is still true that many people get their jobs through personal contacts ; "a friend of a friend" in most cases. However, online job searching tools have become an essential part of generating job leads, reaching out to recruiters and making professional contacts. In fact, online tools are also important for people who already have jobs. In contrast to our parents' generation, you cannot count on staying at one job for your entire career. Many people switch jobs every 3-5 years, either out of necessity or to advance their careers. Since the job market is so dynamic, building your professional "brand" is becoming a necessity for every professional.

What is a professional brand?

Your professional brand is the area that you are an expert in, the niche that you are known for in your professional circles. Building your profile in LinkedIn is one of the first steps to developing a professional brand. In addition to completing your profile (education, awards and job experience), be sure to widen your professional network by joining groups in your field and participating in discussion boards. If you are just about to graduate or out of school recently, add alumni from your department to your network. After you add someone to your network, you will see their contacts as well. When you apply for a job, you can check if there is anyone in your network or your contacts' networks at the company. If so, ask to be introduced. Don't be shy, because people are almost always glad to help. Be sure to return the favor in the future by offering to help if they look for a job and giving recommendations and endorsements to people who have earned it.

Since people change jobs so frequently, there is a saying that there are two types of job seekers: active and passive. Active job seekers are looking for jobs, either because they are unemployed or dissatisfied with their jobs. Passive job seekers are usually happily (or mostly happily) employed, but they are always keeping an eye out for better job opportunities. Most employed people today are passive job seekers. While they might be satisfied with their employment, they recognize the importance of continuously building their professional network of contacts and polishing their online presence. Given the frequent (and sometimes unexpected) layoffs and company restructuring, most people are constantly marketing themselves in person and online. Sounds tiring? It can be, especially if you are shy or already too busy with your current workload to have lunch with important contacts or to build your online profile.

Your Job Searching Strategy

People who are successful at branding themselves have built marketing into their professional routines. The best strategy to build your professional network is to attend monthly or at least quarterly networking events where you can catch up with old contacts (find out where they are currently employed), make new contacts and then getting into the habit of following up with them over email promptly after the event. One of the reasons that your online presence is important is that the contacts that you make in person at networking events will probably look at your LinkedIn profile before they follow up with you. Thus, in today's digital age, a professional online presence is necessary but usually not sufficient to get you a new job.

If you are active job seeker, then daily persistence will be the key to a successful job searching strategy. Part of your routine will be to monitor online job listings, but a bigger and even more important part will be to follow up with key contacts. What does it mean to follow up? One of the most important things to keep in mind about networking is that it is a two-way street. While you are still young, networking can help you to find mentors who can guide you in your career choices and maybe even recommend valuable contacts for your job. Therefore, the best way to follow up with contacts is to request some of their time (perhaps over lunch or coffee) to give you advice. Never ask whether they have a job for you - even if they do, they will probably not bring you in for an interview until they get to know you better. Most mentors will not have a job for you, but they can recommend professional organizations, job boards and other contacts that can help you advance your career. If you find a good mentor, be sure to follow up with them from time to time. Job opportunities frequently open up unexpectedly and employers are most likely to bring is someone whom they know and trust.

Many job seekers find that one of the most important aspects of job searching is to develop an efficient strategy. Depending on how soon you need a new job, job searching can turn into a part-time or full-time job in itself. One of the advantages of the digital age is that there are many online tools to help you keep track of new job openings and professional contacts. At the end of the blog I listed some services to help you track new job openings. I highly recommend a system to help you keep track of your job searching activities. In many cases a simple Excel spreadsheet will be sufficient which lists the dates you applied to each job and professional contacts you have made. This will help you determine when to follow up with leads or contacts. There are professional job search management tools out there as well. One of them is Jibberjabber.com, which has the option of a free account.

As you get older and more experienced, be sure to give back to the professional community and mentor younger students. In addition to the rewarding experience of helping a younger person, you will also continue to build your own professional network, especially when you get in the position of hiring young talent into your organization.

Online job searching resources: (be sure to sign up for job alerts/rss feeds)

http://www.careeronestop.org/jobseekertools/

http://www.indeed.com/tools/jobseeker/

http://www.employmentguide.com/

http://www.jobtarget.com/corporate/

http://jobsearch.monster.com/

Most professional organizations have job boards, including automatic job alerts

Online job searching management tool:

http://www.jibberjobber.com/

Are you job searching internationally? Stay tuned for our follow-up article on international career opportunities and job banks.

Best wishes,
Dora Farkas, Ph.D. Dissertation and Career Coach
Author: "The Smart Way to Your PhD: 200 Secrets from 100 Graduates."
Founder, www.FinishYourThesis.com
Helping Graduate Students Finish Their Theses and Find Their Dream Jobs

Would you like to finish your thesis or find a job? Click here to schedule a free consultation

Training for Your Thesis Like It is a Marathon

While I was in graduate school, working on my thesis reminded me of training for a race. After all, finishing a thesis requires perseverance, just like a long-distance event. When you train for a race, what do you focus on? Winning of course! Every day while you are training, you visualize yourself crossing the finish line It is your belief that you can perform at your best during your athletic event that will give you the necessary fuel to actually finish the race.

Through my years of helping graduate students I found that those students who complete their dissertations in a relatively short amount of time (compared to the average for their departments) have a very different attitude towards their thesis than those who linger in graduate school for years without significant progress. High achieving graduate students begin with the end in mind. They are usually highly motivated individuals who have very specific goals for graduate school either in terms of their thesis topic, marketable job skills they want to pick up or the career path they want to follow. These highly motivated students see themselves succeeding, and have confidence in themselves that they will complete their dissertations and follow their desired career paths.

Students who have more difficulty completing a PhD thesis usually do not see themselves completing their thesis and defending it confidently in front of a committee. They frequently focus on the obstacles (challenging thesis topic unsupportive supervisor, family commitments), which eventually leads to a negative outlook on their project and career paths. The problem with this attitude is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you focus on how little you have accomplished and all the mistakes you have made, the less confidence you will have in yourself which will in fact lead to decreased productivity.

Do high achieving students sail smoothly across the graduate school process without any obstacles or without making mistakes? Of course not. All students make mistakes along the way, have disagreements with supervisors, and might even have personal issues to contend with. However, high achieving students package their mistakes and challenges into learning opportunities, rather than beating themselves up for not making as much progress as they had hoped. The difference in the attitude is small, but critical.

To use a sports analogy, if you trained for a marathon, would you focus on all the rocks you might trip on, and the little aches and pains you will feel during your race? If you did, you would not be very motivated to run. Visualizing yourself winning is one of the key elements of training for an athletic event. Similarly, when you visualize yourself finishing the writing of your thesis and defending it confidently in front of a committee you will actually be more motivated to work on your thesis. Most importantly, you will have increased confidence in yourself to keep on working on your thesis.

This week: Focus on what you have accomplished versus all your mistakes and shortcoming. It can be tough to acknowledge yourself if you feel you have not made as much progress as you had planned. End each day by listing one of two things that you have accomplished. By acknowledging yourself consistently every day, you will feel tremendous increase in your self-confidence, leading to even more results and, eventually, a completed thesis.

Best wishes,
Dora Farkas, Ph.D. Dissertation and Career Coach
Author: "The Smart Way to Your PhD: 200 Secrets from 100 Graduates."
Founder, www.FinishYourThesis.com
Helping Graduate Students Finish Their Theses and Find Their Dream Jobs

Would you like to finish your thesis or find a job? Click here to schedule a free consultation