Chasing the Heffalump

Photo Courtesy of the Walt Disney Company

This post is a little late, but I feel like it’s still important to share…

After the comps extravaganza, I became a candidate.  I felt flustered and happy.  I felt a little bit like this.  However, knowing the dangerous chasm that lies between accomplishment and satisfaction (or, rather, resting on one’s laurels), my advisor and I had a meeting almost immediately to start planning next steps.  Don’t get me wrong, there was a little happy dance of celebration.  But, “student” to “candidacy” means that I have hit the stage where dissertation will be the sole focus.  It is a milestone, not an endpoint to the journey.

In that meeting, we discussed many things: timeline, logistics, and the next steps in firming up a dissertation committee.  We also discussed the need for self-motivation and the huge swing in self-efficacy that must take place in order to keep yourself on deadline when no one external is assigning due dates. To sum up the sometimes intangible nature of the dissertation, my advisor compared the process to Winnie the Pooh chasing the Heffalump: a process filled with mystery, some hysterics, misperceptions, and ambiguity.  You have to have faith that the Heffalump exists, and moreover, be persistent in your pursuit.

So, since then, I have been treading that line between achievement in one realm and continuing to work towards the dissertation every day.  I look back at the year and can feel confident, but I am thankful that my advisor had the insight to keep me on task before I let that happy warmth of accomplishment set in too deep.  That pressure is the necessary catalyst to keep motivated and finish.  So, how do I negotiate the line between feeling good about myself and slacking off?  As I quest to keep myself on track, here are a few of the motivators that have helped me to remember why I am here, what I need to accomplish, and why I should not get discouraged.

  • The Dissertation Calculator tool provided by the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities is one huge help that I have found.  It is amazing not only because it breaks down the process with achievable, measurable milestones for your study, but also gives more in depth information on each one of those stages to help guide you through the process.
  • ProfHacker published a great article exploring proposal anxiety and the THATCamp format for pitching ideas.  The focus of the article is creative ways to break out of that moment when you feel that twinge of self-consciousness before you let your idea out there into the world.
  • Banishing Imposter Syndrome” is a much needed reminder from Andrea Zellner over at GradHacker (celebrating one year this week!). We’ve all experienced that feeling of uncertainty and inadequacy we’ve all felt as we work through the graduate school process.  Sometimes it is that stress that we put upon ourselves that paralyzes us from moving forward.  This article takes a look at ways to move past that anxiety and reminds us that we’re good enough, we’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like us.

Becoming a PhD is a tricky business, much like the Heffalump hunt.  But, with persistence and reassurance, we’ll get there.


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