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Looking for the Easy Way Out

One idea that seems completely foreign to grad students – and doctoral students in particular – is that there is nothing wrong with looking for the “easy way”. We are taught early in our lives that hard work is good work, and that easy things are inherently bad/wrong/less valuable. It makes sense, then, that many doctoral students believe the dissertation-writing process should be hard (painful, even) and sometimes make the dissertation more difficult than it needs to be.

We, for some reason, refuse to accept that “easy” (or “easier”, relatively speaking) can still be meaningful. It goes without saying that the definition of “easy” is subjective, determined (in part) by your skills, your subject, and the non-academic demands in your life. But, by framing the dissertation-writing process through the lens of “What’s the easiest – but still meaningful – way?” you may be able to sidestep some of the most common pitfalls grad students encounter during their academic programs.

I know it sounds strange – and not every shortcut can be taken by everyone – but, if you try it, it’s bound to lighten your load. For example, I assumed at the start of my study that only I could transcribe all my interviews (rookie mistake). I imagined that listening to the audio recording and simply typing out the exchanges would be easy (tedious, maybe, but easy) and that allowing anyone else to handle that part of my data collection would compromise the integrity of my work. Have you ever tried transcribing a conversation? Nothing special, I mean just a 5-minute back-and-forth between people? It is 100x more difficult than most people assume it to be. Never mind the idea of transcribing a 40-60-minute conversation…

I quickly gave in to the idea that it would be easier to pay for the interviews to be transcribed, even if it was money I didn’t really want (or expect) to spend. The service I chose transcribed each interview in less than 24 hours and each 10-12-page transcript was nearly flawless. They also had clear and consistent formatting, allowing for a quick and easy upload into NVivo (which helped later with my coding process – another aspect of data analysis that I had thought I would be doing by hand until I wised-up).

Plenty of people have expanded this principle to other parts of their lives and found ways to alleviate some of the other stressors in their lives, too. For example, as much as you may love yard work or working in the garden, it may be a good idea to contract a landscaper/gardener for the time that you are in your academic program. By getting the front yard nicely manicured for the neighbors to admire by someone else, you’ve just found a few hours each week that you can spend on higher priorities. Again, not every shortcut can be taken by everyone – the simple point here is that there is nothing wrong, in this situation, with looking for the path of least resistance.

Remember, you get no extra points for suffering through your capstone project. Your study is no better and earns no more praise just because it’s covered in blood and tears. Yes, there is something to be said for growing through the process you’re going through – but the tendency to make things harder than they need to be is just needless suffering (and nothing good ever came of that).

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