Setting Yourself Up for Doctoral Success: part 5

Gina Holmes
4 min readFeb 11, 2022


In order to set yourself up for inevitable success you will want to set SMART goals for yourself. You’ve probably heard of SMART goals but do you know what the acronym SMART stands for?

Your goals should pass the SMART test. They should be:

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time Bound

Let’s talk about how each of these criteria can be applied to your doctorate.

Specific and Measurable

When you set a specific goal that’s measureable, you’ll know whether you reach it or not. A goal to finish the thesis is vague and non-specific. How do you measure whether it’s been reached? A goal to get your conclusion chapter written by x date is more measurable. You’ve either achieved that by the deadline or you didn’t.

It might feel scary to commit to dates and targets, but as long as they are realistic, it gives you a framework to work securely in. If you aren’t sure where you’re heading, a Clarity Session will give you space and guidance to understand what you’re trying to accomplish — find out more here.


Creating a goal that is impossible to reach is frustrating and demoralizing. You want to set yourself up for inevitable success, not inevitable failure. Choose a goal that is a stretch but achievable. For example, if you set a goal to write the next three chapters within three months when you’ve still got to collect your data, that goal may not be achievable at this time.

Setting a more realistic goal for now and working your way to those completed chapters bit by bit is more achievable. Remember, you are setting yourself up for inevitable success. Make sure that your goal is achievable!


You’ll want the goal that you’re setting to be relevant to your short term goals as well as your long term goals — your vision or mission for the big picture. Sometimes, a bright shiny object comes along that you think might be a great new goal to attain, so you set a goal around it and start working towards making that happen. And after spending a lot of time working towards this bright shiny object, you realize that it’s taking you further from your long-term mission. The fact is it was never relevant to what you’re ultimately trying to achieve.

Ask yourself if this goal will help move you closer to what you want to create more of in this world. A relevant goal will bring you closer and you will easily see how that’s possible. A goal that is not relevant will have you spinning your wheels and wasting time without moving closer to fulfilling your long distance dreams and mission.

Interesting side projects, collaborative papers and extra teaching: we’re lookin’ at you.

Time Bound

A goal without a deadline is not a goal — it’s a dream. You want to draw a line in the sand and give yourself a deadline by which to accomplish your goal. By having a date on the calendar when this goal will be reached, you now have declared it will actually happen — it’s no longer merely a dream.

By having a firm deadline, you now have a chunk of time to break down the action steps necessary to achieve your goal and fit these into your calendar between now and that end date. If you go through this last step and realize that the goal will not realistically be met by your deadline, you now have a choice; set a new deadline, delegate some of these action steps, or revise your goal.

Put Them All Together

SMART goals are specific and measurable. They are relevant to your overall big picture — both in the short term and long term. Lastly, setting a deadline for your SMART goal ensures that the goal is completed within a set time frame. You’re more likely to hit the bull’s eye for your goal when your goal setting is done with the SMART acronym (other goal-setting models are available, I just find this one has stood the test of time). The CoWork Sessions will support you to reach your goals with mentoring and company specifically for doctoral students. Join us!

If you feel that you need support or mentoring to really move your thesis forward, contact me to discuss how I can help. Together, we can Get It Done!



Gina Holmes

I support doctoral candidates to get their thesis written. No technical jargon, just lots of good techniques and ass-kicking with love. Let’s Get It Done!