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7 Tips to Help You Successfully Complete Your Dissertation

Grad Studies staff member Elizabeth Sturdy ringing the bell for a graduate student
Wednesday, May 16, 2018 (All day)

Let’s face it - writing is hard! Writing your thesis/dissertation is a lot like long-distance running; it requires isolation, endurance, time, and motivation.  Most doctoral students are long-distance running for about three years.  Here are seven quick tips to help you put things in order well before your final deadline.

1. Keep your thesis/dissertation committee up-to-date on your progress.

You want to communicate with all members of your committee regularly.  Schedule meetings, at least once a year in the beginning, and much more frequently as you approach your final draft.  You do not want any surprises about your committee member’s expectations and you need some structure to keep going. You need feedback. Establish timelines your entire committee agrees upon. If there is an issue with a committee member, make some changes to your committee so you have the support and engagement you need to succeed.

2. Don’t wait to ask for help.
So many students who feel the most anxiety and stress about the thesis/dissertation never wanted to admit they needed help earlier in the process.  Remember imposter syndrome. It’s not limited to early-career graduate students. The thesis/dissertation is the ultimate test of resiliency and resourcefulness, and the rigor sometimes leaves students feeling inadequate. Maybe you feel as if your writing isn’t strong enough. Maybe you feel embarrassed to show your committee how little you have researched or written.  If you’re feeling anxious or unsure of yourself, please do not wait to reach out for help.

Many faculty and graduate students do not know about the thesis/dissertation support groups offered on campus. Our resident graduate student counselor, Dr. Bai-Yin Chen, hosts these groups to help students with goal setting, time and stress management, and problem-solving. Bai-Yin also provides discreet counseling services in Mrak Hall, allowing you to get the help you need without worrying about running into undergraduates. Think of counseling as self-care and panic prevention. Learn more about our counseling and support services on the Graduate Studies website, or email Dr. Chen at

3. Face conflict and confusion head-on.  
Does your major professor never email you back?  Are you not getting any feedback from your thesis/dissertation chair?  When you’re in the final months of writing your final draft, the last thing you need to be dealing with is long-ignored interpersonal issues. Approaching your thesis/dissertation chair with complaints can be daunting. Seek advice from trusted colleagues, mentors, and advisors on how to have these conversations. You can talk to your program coordinator, advisor at Graduate Studies, the Associate Dean for Graduate Students JP Delplanque, or even the UC Davis Office of the Ombuds. You have a built-in support network – don’t be afraid to use it!

4. Plan the last four weeks.
Faculty have four weeks to review the thesis/dissertation.  However, you cannot necessarily assume the faculty will all be in their UC Davis offices reading thesis/dissertations the last four weeks before the big deadline.  Faculty could be on sabbatical, traveling (always internationally it seems), or reading four other drafts.  Be conscientious of their time and discuss a timeline that is reasonable for them.  Yes, policy requires they return the draft in four weeks, but based on unique circumstances perhaps five weeks would be more appropriate. 

5. Don’t forget the wet signature requirement!
The most important submission for your degree besides the uploaded thesis/dissertation is undoubtedly the signed title page.  Graduate Studies requires all original, wet signatures on a single page.  Have a committee member who currently lives in France?  They have to sign the same paper, just like everybody else.  If you do have a remote committee member, I recommend you email the blank title page to them to save time and have them mail it back to you.  You then could route it to the other local members to sign.  Have two remote members?  Arrange for them to mail it around to each other.  Though this coordination will add a little time to your final submission, you cannot receive the degree until you have that title page.  If you know your committee members will be out of town, plan ahead!

6. Make the important decisions.
When you file your thesis/dissertation, you will be asked whether you wish to copyright and/or embargo your thesis/dissertation.  ProQuest, the publisher for all UC Davis thesis/dissertations, will copyright your thesis/dissertation for a fee.   You can also read more about copyright by following the links below.  An embargo delays the public access of your thesis/dissertation for a limited amount of time - typically six months, 12 months, or two years.  You might desire an embargo if you have sensitive data you do not want released immediately or if you are trying to get your chapters published elsewhere first.  Your committee will advise you on what is best for your situation. Explore the links below to learn about your options

7. Commute to campus? File remotely!
I have had students fly from another state to meet with me to file for graduation.  Save your money and file remotely!  You can complete most of the requirements online and over email.  You do need to get the original title page to Graduate Studies by the deadline so you can either mail that in or have a friend/staff member/faculty member submit it on your behalf.

Above all, if you have any questions or concerns about graduating please reach out to your program’s Senior Academic Advisor here in Graduate Studies.  There is an advisor here for each of you that can walk you through the final steps of your degree and help you navigate any hurdles you are facing.

About the Author

Elizabeth Sturdy, Senior Academic Advisor

Elizabeth Sturdy is a Senior Academic Advisor, responsible for advising graduate students on degree milestones, Graduate Council and campus policies, graduation requirements, mentorship issues, and admission requirements.  She serves a variety of programs across campus, including Chemistry, Education, Statistics, and Ecology. 

She also serves on the Mentorship at Critical Transitions Committee, which serves to promote mentorship resources for UC Davis faculty.  Prior to her arrival at Graduate Studies, she worked as the Graduate Program Coordinator for the Graduate Group in Ecology and as an advisor at Undergraduate Admissions.  She continues to serve as an admission reviewer for Undergraduate Admissions each year.  Elizabeth earned her M.A. degree in English from CU Boulder and her B.A. in English from UC Davis.

Learn more about our academic services by visiting our Academic Information and Services page.

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