Tips for a Successful Dissertation Defense

2017-03-17 23.24.54Starting a doctoral program is fun, completing a dissertation can be stressful, and when it finally comes down to the defense, it can be an overwhelming experience for some! For others, the process is relatively smooth with the expected anxiety and stress that can come from completing any major project. Wherever you lie on that continuum, you learned something along the way that can benefit others, I know I did! So I am sharing some tips that I found very helpful for a successful dissertation defense.

  • Success doesn’t start at the defense! In order to complete your defense, you need to have a finished project to actually present to your committee. Therefore, a successful defense begins with a well designed dissertation study. After you complete your data collection and begin your write-up you want to start thinking critically about your data and the possible questions that may arise when you present your information. Think carefully about how you write up your results and discussion, think about your target audience (committee and others who may potentially read about your study), and always include some recommendations and/or implications.
  • Things to consider: When you prepare your defense presentation be sure to consider what other supplemental information you may need. Do you need to provide copies of assessments again? Will you make a handout of your results for your committee? Will you make a copy of your presentation as a handout? Also, think about small things like will you provide water and refreshments? Is the room set up in a way that you will be comfortable presenting?
  • Check technology: It’s easy to take little things for granted or forget some things during this busy time. However, one important thing to be sure you double or triple check is the technology you will use for your presentation. Get to the room either the day before and/or very early on the day of your presentation (at least an hour early) to check out the projector, lights, computer, internet connection (if needed), clickers, and flash drive.
  • List-makers get things done! Make a list of the things  you need to take with you on the day of the defense. If you’re anything like me, you write everything including “take your laptop!”  Prior to the defense, make a list of things you need to do, for example, do you have forms to submit to your graduate school office? do you need to make copies? did you schedule your room for your defense? did you ensure that all your committee members are aware of your defense date/time/location? 
  • Believe in yourself: I know you’ve heard this before, maybe several times, and it’s true: YOU GOT THIS! You know this study better than anyone else! You worked hard all year, you are familiar with the results, and you are capable of demonstrating your knowledge! Do what you need to do to take care of your physical and emotional well-being so you remain healthy and strong to give it your best shot!
  • Consider the next thing: One of my mentors gave me some advice that stuck with me during my proposal and defense – think ahead of your committee members. She advised me to think about 10 questions that my committee members may possibly ask me based on my study and have an answer prepared! For example, during the initial proposal of my study, I discussed two dependent variables. However, after data collection I had to discard one of my DVs due to insufficient data. Although I discussed this situation in my write-up, I ‘considered the next thing’ and figured my committee may want to know even more. So I thought about other possible questions and had answers ready. This helped me tremendously!
  • Buddy up: One thing that I did that was incredibly helpful and beneficial was to ask a friend to review my presentation. The key is that I didn’t just ask “any” friend, I asked the one person I knew would give me critical yet substantial feedback whether I wanted to hear it or not. Because of that, I was able to come up with extra potential questions, was able to re-arrange the content of my presentation, and included more information.

These are just some of the things that helped me to be successful during my defense. I hope that as you prepare for your defense, you too will discover what works for you and how you can pass it on to someone else!

“Success is not how high you have climbed, but how you make a positive difference to the world.”
― Roy T. Bennett

Endings and Beginnings


It’s been quite some time as I’ve been super busy trying to wrap up this semester. It was filled with data analysis, dissertation writing, completing one class, editing, and administrative duties. However, I completed my final semester of graduate school! Yay me! I can’t believe that I am preparing for my defense and that I will be graduating soon. It’s a bittersweet feeling and I know I will leave with many good memories as I transition to the next journey in my life. I’m excited for all the changes and new beginnings and although big changes are difficult for me, I’m trying to prepare myself as best as I can for this transition.

I’ve learned so much about myself in the past three years and I am grateful for the people I met and the experiences I had. I’m learning to understand and accept that sometimes in order to have new beginnings, some things must end. If nothing else, I’m constantly reminded that the only consistent thing in life is change. I use my meditation practice as a way to help me adjust to everything around me.

With new beginnings around the corner, I plan to take some time between this transition, to rest and rejuvenate, even if it’s for one day because I deserve it. I want to continue being focused, dedicated to my work, and healthy. So taking care of my needs is a great way to encourage those things. I also need to decide what direction I will take with my blogging and what it will look like once I graduate! I’m thinking of expanding to include more research and lifestyle posts. What do you think? Share any ideas with me!

Thank you for reading!

[picture taken at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Fransisco, CA]



End of Year Reflections

img_6457I have mixed feelings about 2016. What about you?

On one hand, I am so grateful for everything that has happened in my life this year: the accomplishments, personal and professional growth, and the challenges. On the other hand, those challenges really tested my faith, strength, and beliefs this year. I think I’m ending the year with more anxiety than usual, but eventually, I know that will be released.

In order to stay surrounded by positive energy, I want to focus on the good things about this year! Challenges will always come and challenges will go, this is life, so no need to give it too much attention 🙂 As I reflect on this past year, I want to share some of the things I believe to be important. Moving into 2017, I look forward to more growth, more blessings, more moments to celebrate!

  • Work hard for what you want. I think this explains itself, but I realized that sometimes, most times, we cannot depend on people to give us what we want or need. If you set a goal, make it realistic and find ways to work as hard as you can towards accomplishing it.  Work hard and try to avoid the thinking trap that things will just come to you. It won’t.
  • Believe in yourself. It’s tempting and sometimes easy to give up. Negative thoughts can take over and we can begin to feel very discouraged. During times like this, we need to be sure we have healthy people we can reach out to who can support us.
  • Recognize your efforts, even the small ones. Listen, progress can come in small portions too! Don’t wait for major milestones to give yourself credit. The small, baby steps you take towards your goals should be celebrated and recognized. You got half of your to-do list done? Eat some ice-cream, go for a walk, take a nap, or take a break.
  • Surround yourself with good people. Find people who will motivate, encourage, and inspire you. Find people who can be honest with you because they genuinely care about you. Avoid the people who try to discourage you. Be very careful about what advice you take and where the advice comes from….just saying.
  • Be kind to yourself. You are doing your best and you deserve as much self -compassion and kindness as possible. Try to avoid being too hard on yourself if you don’t get everything done. I know it can be difficult to accept that sometimes, however, small progress is better than doing nothing. Right? Yes!
  • Laugh a lot. It’s one of the best ways to get through tough times!

I hope that you can find some fun memories from 2016 and that you have great memories to take into 2017!

Best wishes to you all for a very productive, blessed, happy, and peaceful 2017!


Happy Holiday To You

Wishing everyone a happy, peaceful, and relaxed holiday! During this festive time, I am happy to be with loved ones, to eat all the yummy food I don’t usually get, and to catch up on well-deserved rest. During this time, I am also mindful of those who do not have a family or loved ones to be with, those who are homeless, without food, and basic needs (shelter, warmth, security). The holiday season reminds me to be extra grateful for the very small things I have and what I have access to. It’s also a time when my desire to be of service to others is stronger than usual, and I try to reach out to one person who may not be as fortunate as I am.

The holiday season reminds me to be extra grateful for the very small things I have and what I have access to. It’s also a time when my desire to be of service to others is stronger than usual, and I try to reach out to one person who may not be as fortunate as I am.

I am also grateful for my readers here on this blog and for all the work that you do as you write to reach out to others. May you continue to be blessed.

Happy Holiday!

Whirlwind Wrap Up

img_6412The semester has ended! YAY! I made it out alive, in my right mind, with a few more gray hairs, and few extra pounds. But that’s okay. It really is: I made it! I completed two classes, weekly activity for my dissertation, weekly supervision for my dissertation, three conferences, co-teaching, grading, administrative duties, and five interviews! <insert slow dance move here> So now what?

Well, I am wrapping up data collection. My fabulous participants are in the process of completing assessments and in a couple weeks I will begin official data analysis. Fun stuff! I must say that I had a great time conducting my study (I’ll write more about it soon) and I intend to have fun doing data analysis. Once the data analysis is complete, it’s on to writing up my results. Fortunately for me, what I will defend as my dissertation is a manuscript ready for submission to a peer-reviewed journal of my choice. I’m actually planning to write two manuscripts. Do you sense that I am over-achiever-ish? Maybe 🙂

Before the new year begins, I plan to take some days off to do nothing. And by doing nothing, I mean nothing related to my Ph.D. degree. I picked up some books to nourish my brain with non-academic related reading:


I just finished reading Year of No Sugar. I’ve been trying to find ways to cut down my sugar intake and it is so.very.difficult! So when I randomly came across this memoir at Barnes & Noble I couldn’t help but purchase it! I feel more motivated to try my best to eliminate as much added sugars as possible.

img_6570Although this next book isn’t in the picture, I started reading it today and I’m already quite a few pages in!

I picked it up at one of the bookstores in the airport and decided that if I’m going to read about reducing sugar and I want to make certain health-related changes, then a book about habit seems to fit right in. Right? I can see myself finishing this book soon because it’s quite interesting. I’m thinking I may do a post about it once I’m finished and have absorbed all the good information.

I look forward to reading, taking lots of naps, and enjoying family time during this break. I also look forward to starting the new year off feeling refreshed and refocused!

For my student readers, what are your plans for the holiday?

“There is virtue in work and there is virtue in rest. Use both and overlook neither.”
― Alan Cohen


Year 3

It’s late on Sunday night and I am wide awake. Where does this sudden burst of energy come from on a Sunday? Where was this energy earlier today? Or even earlier this weekend? Oh well…

I was thinking a lot about my third year in the doctoral program, and I can’t believe I’m that much closer to finishing! I still remember packing and making arrangements to move, and before I know it, I will be doing that again. Year 3 has definitely had its challenges and its rewards, and I’m only one semester in! This semester, I’m doing data collection for my dissertation study and I am enjoying every bit of it (weird, I know…don’t judge me. Ok fine, you can judge me :D). This semester, I’ve learned a lot more about myself (isn’t that an awesome thing? To learn more about yourself? Yes it is!). I’ve had to make tough decisions and redefine boundaries, and it’s all part of the growing process.

As I wrap up this semester, I know that I am definitely growing on a personal and professional level. I have so many things going on right now and I am very excited to see what the new year holds for me. I am reminded of how important it is to have faith: in myself and in the process. I’m also very grateful for the few people who are close to me who encourage, support and motivate me. I know I’ve made it this far because of them.

This week, I have several projects that I will be working on. I hope some of this Sunday-night-energy follows me into the week! Despite all that I have going on, I want to stay committed to my wellness. That means working out, eating well, drinking lots of water and meditating. One of the ways I am engaging in self-care is by reading a non-academic book. This week, I started reading Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong. I plan to read this slowly and absorb all that she has to say…

I wish you all a successful and happy week!

“In the midst of a busy life don’t forget to live.”
― Marty Rubin

Study Tips: Comprehensive Exam

I know that every comprehensive examination at the doctoral level is different, so this blog post is from the perspective of my personal experience. Take what you need from it (tips that will be helpful for you) and feel free to leave the rest right here on my blog 🙂

I recently wrote a little about my experience with our doctoral comprehensive exam. Although my method of studying was not the same as some of my cohort members, I found quite a few things helpful as I prepared for this big exam. I want to share some of those tips with you, just in case you are preparing for a comprehensive exam or another big exam.

  • Trust yourself: It’s really easy to get distracted by negative thinking. Remember that you have made it this far! Trust yourself and your abilities.
  • Have a plan: I began with making an outline for each weekend. In this outline, I identified the topics I wanted to cover and any practice questions I wanted to review. I tried to stick to my schedule because putting things off meant that the next weekend had more topics to cover.
  • Set boundaries: You can decide what these boundaries will be. For me, I set a boundary with myself where social media was concerned. I deactivated my social media sites and honestly, after a while, I realized I didn’t care for it much which was good. I also set a boundary in terms of my wellness. I made time to exercise, drink water, and get enough rest. I tried to take the best care of myself in the months leading up to my exam (although it’s crazy that I was sick the actual day of the exam!). I also set boundaries around my studying time, meaning that I tried not to break my schedule for random things because consistency is very important to me.
  • Reach out to others: I had family members and friends that I reached out to when I felt discouraged or anxious. I knew that I was not taking this journey alone because I had others supporting me. If you don’t think that you have family or friends you can reach out to, maybe consider asking a professor or a classmate if they would help support you during your exam preparation.
  • Ground yourself: Whatever works for you here, do it. Whether it is yoga, church, prayer, mindfulness, meditation, walking, the gym, eating chocolate. Just do it! Life is about balance, so as much as you are studying and preparing for your exam, you also need to live! This might be a good time to explore some things you enjoy

If you have an exam coming up soon, I wish you all the best!

“To be better equipped for the tests that the year will bring — read a textbook. To prepare for the tests that life will bring — read a book.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Life After Comps

At the beginning of this year, I had a plan for preparing for my doctoral comprehensive exam: I was going to study on weekends (mostly by myself but also with a couple of friends), avoid Facebook (because it was more of a distraction than anything else), and most important: not get overwhelmed and stressed out. I stayed very focused and was able to follow my plan. Did I get tired, frustrated, a little overwhelmed, and anxious: absolutely! Did I allow those feelings to distract me: absolutely not!

Before the actual exam, we had a knowledge base preparation class between the spring and summer semester. We met on weekends and reviewed relevant topics and details with the professor. In addition, we had practice questions and had the opportunity to pair up during that preparation class to help each other out. I took the first part of the comprehensive exam on campus with all of my cohort members: we had 4 questions to answer, 2 hours allotted per question with a 1-hour break. We slammed it out one Saturday in the computer lab! It was intense and I was terribly sick, probably with bronchitis, but all I know is that I don’t remember much of what actually took place that day. The other part of the exam was a take-home exam. We had 2 weeks to answer 4 questions. I know…..I know… sounds so easy right? Just 8 questions to answer and half of them were take home! Wrong! You are so wrong if  you think that.

These questions were complicated and in order to pass you had to demonstrate that you were knowledgeable in the 8 core areas of CACREP and that you knew how to apply your knowledge to situations relevant to counselor education. Also, you need to pass 5 out of the 8 questions. In that case, the questions you didn’t pass, they are considered as deficiencies and you work with your dissertation chair to figure out how you will re-take the questions you failed. If you were deficient in more than 3 questions, you cannot pass the comprehensive exam. Remember, these questions are not like a short answer type thing, more like journal-article-type writing. The pressure was really on for the take home exams because we had more time and access to resources, so they expected high-quality work! After a few anxiety provoking weeks we received our results and I passed my comprehensive exam with no deficiencies! I am officially a Ph.D. Candidate! Yay me!!!!

After comps…comes the dissertation. Luckily for me, I have a super-fantastic dissertation chair/mentor! He helped me to prepare my prospectus and get all university-related documents ready and submitted so as soon as I got my comps results I could do my prospectus defense. Mission accomplished!

This semester, I am taking two classes and conducting my dissertation study (I’ll have a post about it soon). Because I am who I am, that’s not enough for me ha! So I am also working on editing a manuscript, co-authoring a book chapter, attending conferences (and presenting), and also job search! Yikes! Lots more to come on those fun activities!

I expect to have a fun, productive, and engaging 3rd year in this Ph.D. program!

“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”
― Herman Melville

Maintaining Balance in a Busy World

2016-05-25 21.32.50-2There’s no question about it: graduate school is demanding! Sometimes 24 hours doesn’t seem like enough time to work and get rest, and yet we push through our days and nights trying to accomplish all that we can. I talk a lot about balance and self-care because it is such an important topic. It’s a constant work in progress and we all have various ways to care for ourselves, which is awesome.

I use to think that it was okay to be constantly busy because that meant I was productive and achieving a lot. While part of that may be true – doing a lot was productive and I accomplished several goals, the other part of it was not true. I did not have to be constantly busy. I could balance out my responsibilities and self care and still be very successful, productive, and achieve a lot. Imagine that! I’ve been hearing those around me talk about being anxious to graduate so they can “start living.” My question is why do we have to wait until then? Why can’t we start living now?

I don’t always do a good job of maintaining balance, but I always make an effort. I feel much better when I have something else to look forward to besides journal articles and textbooks and teaching-assistant duties. I think of my self care practices as a form of reward for my hard work, and by having these mini rewards, I stay balanced.

If you aren’t sure how you can maintain balance during grad school, here are a few suggestions that I have based on what I practice. Take what works for you and leave the rest. And, as always, please share any of your tips here too!

IMG_4413I find time to enjoy nature. When we are so busy, it’s difficult to appreciate the small things around us. I especially enjoy seeing the sunrise. There’s something very spiritual and peaceful about the sunrise and I try to enjoy it as often as I can.

2016-05-30 16.24.07

Explore other places. When the time permits, I enjoy taking a drive out to the beach. It’s fun, relaxing, and re-charging.

2016-05-30 15.45.122016-05-07 09.56.06

I usually go to a cafe to study, and other times, I go to a cafe just to enjoy some good tea and maybe color or read something for fun. I recently started reading fictional novels and can’t believe how great it is to escape into a story that has nothing to do with my career path or self-help. When I read The Other Typist, I couldn’t put the book down! It was also nice to look forward to reading this novel at the end of a busy day. Tonight, I will start The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker. I read good reviews about the book, so hopefully I won’t be disappointed.

I also enjoyed going to a painting class (see my picture at the beginning of the post!) It was a lot of fun and so relaxing! I plan to go to more of those painting classes as a way to break up my routine and incorporate my creative side into my life-balancing-act.

For this week, think about ways you can maintain a healthy balance in your busy schedule. Even if it means taking one hour of your day or one day (or even half day) from your week to do something fun, creative, or relaxing that will help you to keep up your well-being.

“Being truly happy in life involves you feeling more in control of the direction your life is going.”
― Deborah Day


Pop-up-Post: My Identity

I find myself with a very heavy heart since Sunday morning. Although I do not have any family or friends that suffered consequences of the mass shooting in Orlando, I grieve for those who lost their lives, for those who were injured, and for the family and friends of everyone affected. I find myself feeling extra grateful for our first responders and pray that they are always protected. I also find myself thinking more about my identity, as a professional counselor.

Although we constantly talk about professional identity in my classes, during the past few weeks we have been talking a lot about leadership and professional identity in relation to the recent passing of the Senate Bill 1556/House Bill 1840 in Tennessee. On Monday we talked a lot about the mass shooting in Orlando, FL on Sunday. It was an emotional class with great discussion and healthy debate. We also have an amazing professor who is passionate about current events and our professional responsibilities, and she is also respectful and graceful in the way she encourages discussion. I appreciate her so much.

I find myself thinking even more about my identity as a professional counselor and doctoral student preparing to become a counselor educator. We talk a lot about advocacy and the ways we can advocate for our profession and our clients and I admit that I may not advocate by going to the capital, but I definitely advocate for my profession and clients in more subtle ways. My advocacy is also shaped based on what is needed.

Tonight, as part of my continued desire to be an advocate, I attended a vigil in honor of the Orlando victims. I was not expecting the crowd that I saw. It took me 20 minutes to find a park if that puts anything into perspective. It was a humbling experience to attend the vigil, to listen to the stories of others and to be part of such an emotional event. I consider my attendance at the vigil to be advocacy as I was able to stand with others in support during  a traumatic time, and stand with them in support of their desire to continue living in unity.  Sometimes, the best way to support and empower others, is to show them that you believe in their dreams, goals, and wishes to rise above negativity and, I’m just going to say it: hate.

I thought about how blessed I was to be alive, to experience these moments. I thought about how important it was that as a professional counselor, I show up and support others in time of great need. After all, isn’t that what our profession is about? We are about empowering others to live holistic lives and achieve their full potential. We are about supporting others when they need it, without judgment and criticism. Tonight, I left the vigil with mixed feelings: overwhelmed with pride in everyone that showed up and proud of my ability to show up as a counselor and future counselor educator. I felt hurt and sad because of the reason we had the vigil, and I felt a sense of extra caution because I am aware that we have unhealthy people around us who may not have access to help, or refuse help.

I am proud to say that I am a professional counselor. I am a future counselor educator. I am an ally.

No one deserves to be harmed.

For those of you who are in the helping profession, I encourage you to think about your identity as a professional counselor.

What do you believe in?

Why did you choose this profession?

How are you helping to empower others?

In what ways are you advocating for your profession and clients?

How can you show your support to those in need, even in the smallest ways?