This week we feature a guest post by PhD student and Whisperer reader @cuteangel. Here she reflects on whether or not an academic coach is the answer to PhD woes.

Being a PhD student and a mother made realise there can be certain similarities between being a child and a student. My kids are young and are still in the needy years. They are always seeking attention; wanting me to do things for them, or at least wanting me to tell them what to do.

At the same time attention is what I crave most from my supervisors. I know I am post grad who is supposed to be in control of my project, but the overwhelming size of the project, and the length of time it takes, makes me long for a mother figure. Someone to nurture me through the various stages of self-doubt, loneliness, and writing dilemmas.

This yearning is fierce when I am stuck. During this state of mind I find myself starting the morning by typing into Google terms like ‘PhD help’ or ‘PhD support’. One of the interesting (at least for me) approaches I discovered through this searching was people who act as a thesis or dissertation coach. I was fascinated to read about the various issues that coaches claim they deal with including: time management, procrastination, practical ideas on dealing with writer’s block and so on.

When I discovered these services they seemed unreal – exactly what I’d been looking for. Could it be that someone with a magic wand would be able to help me and take me through this journey? Could an academic coach really tell me what to do and when to do it? I was happy enough to pay someone – so long as they could be there for me in this way!!

So I got in contact with some very interesting people and ended up working with one for a while. The first few sessions were alright I guess. But there was nothing new to me. I have already read dozens of ‘How to’ books which detailed the experiences of other PhD students. Sadly, in the end I have to say the academic coaching ended up being a complete waste of time and money. Most importantly, my progress, especially in terms of writing, was not positively affected.

The coach I worked with was patient and supportive, but she was not right for me. So I ended the coaching relationship and went back, determined to work things on my own and be more assertive about writing everyday in the morning before anything else. But my difficulties were not at an end. I got into the same cycle of self-doubt and began a second journey of seeking help.

I tried university counseling. Not a very good experience. The first thing the counselor said to me was: “what makes you think you are the only one going through this?” which made feel very bad, almost like a whining child. Then I looked for another thesis coach, thinking “maybe my first choice was not very good”. I still had the idea in my head that I could invest in a coach who could help be finish quicker, hence move on and find a job with a decent salary. But after sending few emails and talking to some great people, I realised the advice is the same everywhere.

The problem is that advice is not always easy to translate into action.

It’s funny how I can pay strangers to tell things and then get angry with my husband, when he actually says the exact same thing! I get angry with him when he tells me; “just write it. You can do it”. I reply most of the time: “what do you know about a PhD?!!”  I will make it up for him once I finish – one day 🙂 As for my supervisor, he is great – once I actually submit something for him to comment on. Otherwise he waits for me to make the first move. He is appreciative of my being a mother so does not pressure me into regularly producing written work.

I am sure there are students out there who may benefit from a coach, or who actually need one, but it doesn’t work for me. I think the problem is I am looking for help everywhere, but not looking at myself.

I know all about the ‘Awakening the Giant within’ self empowerment stuff. I know I can do this, I have enough faith in my abilities. I have attended conferences, I presented papers, I even organised a an international conference last year. I passed (though not very smoothly) my two milestones (confirmation and mid-candidature review). So why am I not able to keep up? Why do I act like a child seeking attention? Do I really need someone to mother me through this journey? Someone to hold my hand every step of the way so as not to get lost?

I honestly don’t know how to answer these questions. At least for me, these tendencies to act like a child seeking motherly attention creep up when I am under pressure. I can say with certainty that support is important and I find reading blogs or forums on PhD related issues very helpful to me. And at least they have no financial cost.

I am nearing my submission date and feeling the pressure. I wake up every morning determined to work harder. Sometimes it is o.k; sometimes it is not. But I at least I am trying, and I know no amount of help, coaching or mothering will help me unless I have the determination to finish. I need to repeat that to myself, or engrave it on my desk, to avoid searching again for a coach who will tell me things I already know.

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