Dr. Patti and I have talked a lot about our dissertation journey. Some of you may be in middle of yours. Or maybe you haven’t started yet. The process starts on the first day of class, because the goal is to start and finish your dissertation. Not an easy task for sure. But it’s exciting and doable. So here’s a primer or a quick snapshot of what it looks like.
The Early Years
A dissertation is like writing a book based on the five chapters that make up your research. Your original work is designed to add new information to the existing knowledge base on your topic. Originality and new information is the focus.
New information does not mean to reinvent the wheel – it means that you tweak an existing idea, explore a current theory from a different perspective, or update an idea based on your research questions.
When you start your doctoral program (PhD, DBA) most of it won’t make sense. It may feel like a strange, hidden, mysterious ‟thing″ waiting for you. As you start your program, you can’t see it. But in the end, you will design and create your dissertation, write it, and own it.
As you take your core classes, also think about a stop date on your dissertation. Draft a outline to finish your program. Remind yourself that you have X years to finish your doctorate, and each year will cost you money. Have an end date in mind even during the early years of your program.
When I started my program I had a vague idea related to ‘sustainability’. This is a concept that means many things to different people.
Each class required a final project. I explored different sustainability topics including ecotourism, saving a national park, animal conservation, sustainable communities, or downsizing government.
I was searching for a topic to get excited about. Of course my topic would change over time, but I had to think about a dissertation topic early on.
The Six P’s Strategy
Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. It’s all about planning to make your life easier. For example, as you ramp up reading your journal articles, take enough notes as you read, and don’t read every word. Review the reference list for other interesting articles you want to read.
Another plan is learn to use resources available in your school. Resources include librarians, the writing center, the research center, academic advising, alumni, other students, and your mentor or adviser.
These people can help you succeed. Your job is to reach out and ask for help along the way. Let them be part of your success. Plan to work smarter, not harder.
I also planned to start a support group for other doctoral students. It was a long time coming, but it finally happened just as I needed the help. Dr. Patti joined and we’re been friends ever since.
Be Good to Yourself
Many times along the way, I had to remind myself to engage in the journey. Sometimes you are so involved in a process you can’t see the forest through the trees.
In time, I learned to let go of things beyond my control. For instance, be patient with yourself if don’t meet all your goals. Learn to adjust to the ups and downs of writing. It’s easy to find excuses not to write, especially when you have work, family, and life to deal with on top of school.
But I tried to plan to write each day. The dissertation process is cumbersome enough. Plan for down time, family time, and time to enjoy yourself.
Waiting is part of the game. Plan some time to review your work, find new articles, and work on other projects (publication, conferences to practice public speaking, networking).
Yes, reaching the finish line is a doable goal. Revisit your timetable to see where you are in the process. Work on your weaknesses and make them your strengths. As you prepare for your final defense, your research will be completed. At this point, you’ll feel like an expert on your topic.
I felt everything was downhill from there. I made the edits, sent my draft for the editorial review, and the last review from the university research reviewer. I waited for the final approval from the chief academic officer.
Believe me, it’s a wonderful feeling to get that final approval from the CAO!! It meant that I checked all the boxes and successfully completed my doctoral program! A lofty but very manageable goal.
Words are a lens to focus one’s mind.