This blog post comes from a question asked on Twitter. The question was simply, how do you motivate your PhD students to write when they don’t want to.
This was our answer:
This is a fairly open-ended question because we don’t know the finer details, nor if it pertains to a particular situation.
However, from a zoomed-out view, let’s consider, why do we get motivated?
We get motivated when 1. We have a goal and 2. When we believe we can achieve it. If we don’t have a goal, then there is nothing to get motivated about. If we don’t believe we can achieve it, then we already feel defeated and won’t try.
Assuming that your student doesn’t need rest then the lack of motivation is either because they’ve changed their goal or because they don’t believe they can achieve their goal any more.
You can ask them if their goal has changed – maybe they no longer want to do research, or whatever the goal was when they started. In that case, you need to discuss why they’ve changed their goal. Sometimes, it’s a good reason (such as research not being what they thought it was going to be).
If their goal is still the same (for example, completing their PhD), then it becomes a matter of belief. Perhaps, they don’t believe that they’re making any progress, so they won’t finish their PhD. In that case, you need to help break down their work into very small tasks and each task is an accomplishment.
The more you struggle with a goal, the smaller the steps need to be so that you can see yourself progressing and achieving. That will help build momentum.
In terms of writing a paper, if your student doesn’t believe they can, then you can break down the goal into just writing the first paragraph that day. If that is still too hard, then make it just the first sentence that day. If they still find that too hard, then make a time to write the first sentence together. Then do the next sentence the next day, then the next day. Then next day, let them write the next sentence and bring it to you – help them understand that they can do it, and you can achieve that through taking baby steps.
At the moment, the momentum has come to a complete stop. The point of breaking the tasks down is to get that ball rolling again through helping your student see that they are achieving. Once that ball has started again, they will keep building on it.
If it ever comes to a halt again, you can just adopt the same strategy to get it rolling again.
Again, if there are finer details, then you are welcome to email us about them, and we can help.
If you want to improve your supervision skills, then take our training: here. It’s called, “Becoming A Better PhD Supervisor – PhD Voice Training”. It addresses issues such as these and more! It makes supervising easier and more efficient.
We also have free resources for supervisors to use to develop their supervising relationship with their students. You can find them here for free.