Unleash Your Genius: Better Dissertations and Doctoral Projects in Less Time with Less Stress

Dr. Frederick shares invaluable insights regarding the importance of self-care and how it can lead to self-love, including a better academic experience and an increased overall sense of well-being.

Unleash Your Genius- a picture of students paying attention in the classroom.

Academic leader and podcast host Heather Frederick, Ph.D., believes a happy doctoral student doesn’t need to be an oxymoron. For over 20 years, Dr. Frederick has worked in doctorate programs teaching courses, mentoring student research, and training faculty. Her passion centers around the delivery and experience of graduate education. 

This episode of Unleash Your Genius is focused on the importance of self-care when undertaking a doctoral (or any academic) program. Dr. Frederick shares three gems of knowledge that support an effort to better understand self-care as well as ways in which self-care can be –and should be– applied to your life. This article summarizes several meaningful ideas Dr. Frederick wants you to know about self-care during your graduate studies. 

Here’s this week’s episode in full. 

Gem #1: Adopting a simple self-care practice is the single most powerful thing you can do to unleash your genius. 

As a doctoral student, creating your dissertation/doctoral project can be stressful, therefore it is vital to develop, apply, and sustain self-care practices. Self-care practices are associated with less stress, a healthier body, and a clearer mind. 

We know, from research that 50% of doctoral candidates do not finish their programs. That’s a lot of people who start a program and don’t finish. Unfortunately, most of these students are dropping out during their capstone project due to the stress they incur. 

Stress negatively impacts your body and your mind. If you’re stressed, your body functions are affected, including your ability to think clearly. There’s a valid, scientifically-supported justification for the expression “stress makes you stupid” and this is a crucial time when you need to remain sharp.

Simple self-care exercise: Try a ventral vagal toning exercise to reset your nervous system and give yourself access to the part of the brain that is necessary for stamina, brain power, and emotional aptitude. 

When it comes to cognitive function, managing your self-care is beyond necessary. A calm and clear mind brings many benefits. It allows students to research more efficiently, think critically, write better, respond rather than react to feedback, and maintain harmonious relationships in and out of the school setting, to name a few. And faculty are able to manage activities and instruction more skillfully, provide better feedback in less time, remain calm and cool during student “meltdowns” and have more fun mentoring.

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Gem #2: A self-care practice expands time

The conventional definition of self-care is “the things we do to take care of our health, especially during times of stress”. This is fundamental and sounds simple, but so few are able to successfully sustain their self-care practices– so the question then shifts to why. Why don’t we better sustain self-care practices? Why aren’t we all “self-care gurus?” 

The majority of the responses to why sustaining self-care is difficult are:

  1. Time: “I don’t have time to…” (this is the most common response)
  2. Ability: “I don’t know how to…
  3. Resources: “I don’t have access…
  4. Lack of joy: “I don’t like to…

Time” is the most common response and considered the biggest barrier for those who are unable to sustain self-care, however, Dr. Frederick proposes the idea that a self-care practice expands your time. When your mind is clear, your ability to think rationally increases, which gives you more control over your decisions and allows you to make fewer mistakes.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”. – Viktor E. Frankl

Dr. Frederick argues that you don’t necessarily need a self-care practice to be successful, however, if you want to “experience an enjoyable journey, keep your sanity, your health, and your relationships intact and unleash your genius, then self-care is non-negotiable.” She suggests thinking of self-care as a necessary element of your doctoral program because it is just that important to your health and your academic success. 

Gem #3: As a species, most humans are short on self-love, the fuel that motivates a self-care practice. 

Picture a rocket going into space. Dr. Frederick wants you to recognize that self-love is the rocket fuel that motivates you – the rocket– to practice self-care. When you do that, you can blast off towards the best version of yourself.  

Dr. Frederick proposes a new definition of self-care. She says, “self-care is any activity that provides evidence that you care about yourself.” It is the expression of self-love, the rocket fuel to becoming who you were meant to be. 

Many students find themselves in a highly stressful process that causes them to doubt their abilities. This is imposter syndrome and you’d be surprised to find out how often it affects students. It can be scary stepping into the “growth zone” where bad or unhealthy habits or your naiveté are often challenged. 

Dr. Frederick’s philosophy for navigating those feelings: it all starts with self-care, then self-love will follow. This seed of self-love is buried under layers and layers of junk (think of an onion). Take small steps toward a daily self-care practice and the layers of doubt will come off.

Here is an easy way to get started. Just remember the acronym SEA.

S: Simple: Is it easy to do? What can you do in about 5 minutes?

E: Enjoyable: What sounds fun? *critically important* This activity needs to be FUN!

A: Agile: Be ok with it changing if something arises

Unleash Your Genius: a picture of a woman enjoying her coffee.










Bottom line:

If you do not take care of yourself, you will be making your journey tougher, plain and simple. You will accomplish your goals, including your dissertation/doctoral project much more seamlessly if you can show up with a calm and clear mind and a happy and healthy body. 

Self-care is paramount to not only your success as a doctoral student, but also for the well-being of your mind and body. Self-care will help you to live more intentionally, with less stress. Finally, self-care will help shape you into the person you want to be, and with some work, self-love will bloom, allowing you to fully unleash your genius.

If you found this webinar episode valuable, be sure to tune in next month for our next episode of Unleash Your Genius, when we have special guest, Mark Woods, author of Attack Your Day Before It Attacks You!, here to discuss the new time paradigm for greater productivity. 

If you’re looking to advance your career, consider Aspen University’s online DNP or ED.D doctoral programs with start dates every two weeks and tuition starting at $375 per month!

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