You have finished your coursework and are ready to begin your dissertation! You have waited a long time for this moment, the point at which you can now use the skills that you have learned and pursue your own contributing work. It is an exciting time in your doctoral education and one that will have many surprises.
How the Dissertation Process Is Different
What makes the dissertation process different from your doctoral coursework? What can you expect when successfully completing that last course and beginning to fulfill your goal of planning, conducting, analyzing, and reporting your first work as an independent scholar? Simply put, your world is about to turn!
I recall many things about my doctoral program; it was a great experience and one that challenged me in every way. Previous students-now scholars told me that it would change my life. It did. At first, I didn't really understand what they were saying but as I moved through the process, those words began to have meaning. Unfortunately, I cannot recall a single comment that prepared me for the differences I discovered when entering the dissertation process.
Some Major Changes
The motivations to seek a doctoral degree vary with individuals. Some pursue a doctoral degree for economic reasons. “I can’t get that promotion unless I have a doctoral degree!” “A doctoral degree means a big pay raise!” Others do it because of family or friends expectations. “My brother/sister got his/her doctoral degree.” Some want to make a difference in the world and realize that the doctoral degree will give them more credibility. Whatever the reason, different people experience the dissertation process differently but there are some commonalities that all will experience.
From this point forward, you will no longer have the association with other students as you did in your coursework. You are venturing into a world where your specific research will be the focus of every day. If you are doing things right, your dissertation will occupy all of your time and energy as you use all that you have learned to create a new piece of research and thus, add to the existing body of knowledge. You must make many sacrifices to get this done and must have the commitment and determination to stay focused. The ranks of ABD
abound with those who did not or would not make those sacrifices.
No One Will Tell You What To Do
Other than a guiding document that describes the chapters of a dissertation, no one is going to tell you what to do, what to write, what the subject/topic is supposed to be, or how much you must write. By spending many hours of reading and research, you must piece together your understanding of a topic, find that specific research problem, and support your premises with current scholarly works. After reading thousands of pages of scholarly works, you present your proposal for research to your committee and hope that they accept it. That rarely happens on the first try so prepare yourself for lots of additional research and revisions. Completing a dissertation is not a one-shot deal; it is a scholarly work and as such will go through the gauntlet of multiple reviews and revisions. How smoothly that process goes will depend to a large extent on you. You must be the first and toughest critic of your work.
No preplanned assignments or timeline
Preplanned assignments are a thing of the past and you are now in the position of deciding everything that must be done, when you will do it, and how much you must do. You determine the quality of your work and the extent to which you must go to strongly and clearly support your ideas. You decide how you will investigate and collect supporting data, what data must be collected,and how it will be analyzed. No one will tell you what the data means; whether quantitative or qualitative, you must use your skills and available tools to find the meaning in what you have collected.
There are so many things to do in a dissertation! When and how they get done will depend upon your planning. What do you do in the course of a week? What do you do while awaiting feedback from your committee? This is another area where many students fail and become just another ABD.
You must maintain communication
Your Chair and committee are very busy with their own teaching and research. If you expect them to communicate with you, you must provide a reasonable time and work around their schedules. You must carefully plan your meetings as they may be brief. Avoid impromptu calls and surprise office visits. Most likely, you will be interrupting their schedule. This does not mean that they don’t care about your work; they are most likely just as busy as you are and will be more than happy to talk or meet with you IF YOU arrange the call or meeting well in advance.
Likewise, check your email regularly as it may be the only effective communication that you have. You can use email to communicate with your committee and others and it is also a means for them to communicate with you. Additionally, important information from the University is usually sent via email and may require a short term response so checking your email regularly and frequently is critical to your success.
...check your email regularly as it may be the only effective communication that you have...
For You, Time is Money…Literally
You must also plan your draft submissions, realizing that you will not get immediate feedback. It might be a week or two before you get a response so you must plan your activities while awaiting feedback rather than sit and wait for feedback. Remember that time literally is money to you as you pay tuition and fees; wasting time is wasting money. Have a list of things that you must do to complete the dissertation and schedule your time in detail. If you fail to plan in detail, you most likely will fail in your attempt to complete your dissertation. Check out post about planning. You must remember that this is not a "get an assignment, complete an assignment" process; you must take charge and have a disciplined approach to completing this monumental task. Why do you think that only 3% of the population has successfully completed a doctoral degree?
Put As Many Tools As Possible in Your Toolbox
Short of writing your dissertation for you, there are apps for almost every task. In addition, you have at your fingertips, the Internet with all of its resources. While you must check the sources for information, there is an abundance of quality sites to provide you with information about anything. For example, there is absolutely no excuse to submit a paper to your committee that has APA style errors. Some programs require you to buy the latest paper copy of the APA manual but there are quality web sites to provide the same information. If you don’t know how to cite multiple sources in a paper, search for it! Not sure why your word processor underlined something as a potential grammar error? Research it!
I will guarantee that your Chair and committee members expect you to do the highest quality work and that includes correct grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. That’s what real scholars do.
There are many things to remember in the dissertation process. Why not use a task manager app to help you? Just enter the task, the category, and the due date then go on to other things. Get a calendar app that works on your computer and your smart devices! (Just search for “best calendar apps”)Don’t clutter your mind with things that need to be done when you can have reminders instead. You will be more productive and you will sleep better.
Here is one other example. The last thing that I want to hear—or should ever hear—from students is that they lost their latest revision because their computer crashed! Really! No one—no one— should ever undertake a dissertation without having reliable and constant file backup established. There are many options and most are free with options to purchase additional storage space as needed. Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive are three examples.
So Who Is in Charge?
In the dissertation process, the answer had better be YOU! There is a saying in sales:
If It Is to Be, It’s Up to Me.
Make that your mantra and stick to it. That is the main ingredient in being successful in completing your dissertation.