Dealing with a Double Mind: ABD and Soon-To-Be Assistant Professor


You completed all of your coursework. You passed comprehensive exams and now you’re ABD. You recently attained IRB approval to begin collecting and analyzing data. You were a doctoral student, and now you are a doctoral candidate.

However, what happens next is nothing you expected. You decided to apply to that full-time academic position that doesn’t start for a number of months and happened to accept “strong” ( ABD applicants. Following Karen Klesky’s advice ( and after reading her book about how to turn your PhD into a job, you tailored a cover letter, refined your CV, created a teaching and/or research statement, and completed the lengthy university online application. More to your astonishment, you were invited to interview with faculty and administration on campus. While on campus, you were also required to perform a teaching demonstration. And to your great surprise and immense gratitude, you actually landed the job months in advance. Your new Assistant Professor post is just a few months away, and you have to simultaneously tame the wild beast of the dissertation. Then a strange thought occurred. How do you prepare yourself for teaching when you’re still in student mode? You are stumped, because graduate school didn’t prepare you for this wonderful but unexpected “problem.”

You are dealing with a double mind and not sure how to proceed.

As a wonderful problem as it is, this is exactly my situation. I know what courses I will be teaching in January while currently balancing my private practice seeing clients and collecting/analyzing data while writing Chapters 4 & 5. Those courses include content that I have yet to teach. Days off are at a premium, but I have taken steps to clear some of my work schedule in order to prepare in dealing with this double mind.

So here are practical tips that have been helpful for me at this point:

  • Collaborate with your future colleagues about tips for creating course content. At your upcoming post, it’s likely that other faculty members have taught the courses you’re going to teach. They will likely have creative and practical ideas about how to manage content, course expectations, and even be willing to share their resources or activities that they believe have been effective.
  • Set aside time to write on most days. The advantages of writing in smaller bits daily vs. big boosts are well documented. I can say that this has led to a big boost in productivity for me, and this strategy helps keep me focused on writing both for my dissertation and the “writing” that is required by forming new content for courses. Do I write every single day? Can’t say that I have, but I feel accomplished if I can write for four or five days each week.
  • Take 10 minutes a day to read a few pages in Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation. This book does a great job in breaking up the large task into smaller pieces with manageable steps. I feel a lot less overwhelmed with anxiety if I’m staring at three small steps instead of a massive puzzle. As AA quips, one day at a time, so the dissertation process is one task at a time.
  • Don’t attempt to save the world right now. In other words, as my adviser would say, “The most perfect dissertation is a done dissertation. Don’t conquer bigger-than-life problems now. You can start doing that at your next post.” You may feel drawn to conduct that complicated, mixed methodology research that answers ten unique research questions. However, you will have time for that later. Right now it’s more important to stay focused in doing what you need to complete your PhD.
  • Think about others who may have been in your situation and have coffee with them. When I reflected on this, I was able to think of at least one other person that completed my program in the last few years who was in a similar situation. I called him, and we had coffee. He gave me a couple of strategies mentioned here. If you don’t know of anyone in this situation, ask your cohort or faculty members.
  • Stay connected to your dissertation committee, especially your chair. Stay in close contact with regular communication. This is important 100% of the time as a doctoral student/candidate, but especially when you’re dealing with a double mind of dissertation writer and soon-to-be assistant professor. It can be easy to get caught up in the course development side of things and lose sight of what is most important at the moment, finishing the PhD. Talking with your committee can keep you grounded and focused when things have a tendency to become chaotic.
  • Keep your soon-to-be faculty chair informed of your dissertation progress as you move along. By keeping your new boss informed, this may allow for her to give you insight about keeping a balance or may assist you in providing ideas about the collection of data. Ideally, that person wants you to succeed, because there would be nothing worse to a chair than a “failed” search/hire due to the candidate not being able to finish the dissertation. By keeping her in the loop, you gain extra support both in the dissertation process and the new job process.

I feel extremely grateful and fortunate to have a position waiting on me in a few short months. However, graduate school didn’t prepare for what I need to do in dealing with the current double mind of the dissertation and stepping into a full-time role. The above steps help keep me focused on the important goal of finishing the dissertation while preparing me to take the next step. I’m curious if there are other readers who might have been in the same situation and what they did to deal with the double mindedness of it all. I look forward to your comments.




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