Self-confidence is a character trait most people would assume graduate students working on their dissertations possess. After all, a dissertation is a book-length project that requires intelligence, insight, dedication, and perseverance to complete. As such, people assume those beginning their journey have a certain level of self-confidence. However, that’s not always the case. In this blog post, I’m going to present a case study of one of my clients who lacked this confidence. We will discuss what caused them to struggle, and explain how I helped them build that confidence and move forward.
N.B. The names and specifics have been changed to ensure client confidentiality.
This client, whom we’ll call Leigh, was a professional counselor serving a marginalized community. They noticed a glaring gap in the literature surrounding burnout among counselors and sought to conduct a study to help fill that gap. At the time Leigh began their doctoral studies, they had been out of school for almost a decade. The combination of the stressful nature of their job, the swiftness of the chair’s desired timeline for completion, and the forgotten proficiency in reading academic writing created a perfect storm that threatened to wash away Leigh’s self-confidence.
At the eye of this perfect storm was one primary cause of frustration: the opaque wording on the dissertation template. Not every school provides students with a template, and while templates aim to be general enough so as to apply to all disciplines, not all templates provide the level of detail and/or clarity needed by all students. In Leigh’s case, the template was detailed but dense. It had long, confusing sentences that were filled with jargon.
Leigh had a firm grasp of their framework, problem, literature, and planned methodology; however, the template’s wording remained confusing and opaque to them. As one might expect, this proved frustrating.
Leigh approached us for assistance with their Methodology chapter, and I was assigned to be their mentor. During our initial consultation, Leigh demonstrated their understanding of all aspects of their proposed study. Their words, however, revealed a lack of confidence. When I inquired about why they felt defeated, they responded that while they knew what they needed to do, they found themselves unable to understand how to meet the requirements the template set forth for the chapter.
After we discussed the various options for how I could help them, Leigh insisted that they be the one to draft the chapter. They also confided that it felt overwhelming to draft this chapter as they looked at the requirements.
Normally, during the initial consultation, we go over the requirements for each section of the Methodology chapter before the client works on a draft that we then edit for them. From her nonverbal reactions during our discussion, I could see Leigh’s anxiety growing at the thought of this process. As a result, I offered an alternative: We would discuss only a few sections during that meeting. Leigh would then draft those sections. After they emailed me those sections, we would schedule another meeting to discuss the next few sections, repeating the process as needed.
This helped relieve some of Leigh’s anxiety and made the project manageable. In each of our meetings, I went over 2-3 sections of the chapter and explained what was required. Sometimes, I provided examples for Leigh to look at. With each subsequent meeting, Leigh’s confidence grew. They were always capable of doing the work, but they needed a boost over the fence doubt and fear had erected to prevent them from seeing their capability.
Each client is different. Each has their own circumstances, and each needs different types of assistance. Our website discusses the specific assistance we offer clients in each stage of the dissertation process. What Leigh needed was someone to listen, to understand their struggles and fears, and to then show them how to move forward. I met Leigh where they were, saw the struggle, and guided them in overcoming it. Self-confidence is essential for successful completion of the dissertation process, but the process is long and arduous. It’s easy to lose confidence in one’s abilities, sometimes, the greatest service we can provide is helping the client see their own capability.
We work with graduate students every day and know what it takes to get your research approved.