Checklist To Start Your Dissertation Journey

Dr. Patti and I talk a lot about finishing your dissertation. Recently I found other blogs that gives advice from the other end: Things to know before you start your doctorate. I discovered some interesting and shared ideas to survive your dissertation journey.

For example, the Graduate School Advice Series had a list of 10 things to know. Publication in a peer-reviewed journal was first on the list. I agree that publication is important – it’s a great incentive to practice scholarly writing.

As you know, writing is at the heart of your dissertation and there is no way to get around it. Practice your writing skills whenever you can.

Motivation and a quick finish

Next on the list was motivation. Graduate school has a high burn out rate (50%) across the board. Of course motivation is a factor along with your relationships with committee members, mentors and advisors, your total support system.

But the true test comes after you finish classes, when you have to figure out and design your dissertation research. Your organizational skills, project and time management talents are critical at this point.

Another tip was to finish quickly. Right, good luck with that one – easier said than done. Life gets in then way when you have a job, family and school.

Move at your own pace, expect delays beyond your control. Focus on those baby steps to keep you moving forward.

Idea tweaking and smart tools

You should know up front that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Your goal is to add new information to the current knowledge base. That’s it.

As I’ve talked about in this blog, tweak an existing idea, find a new angle or point of view, or apply a different theory to a current idea.

Another tip for any student is to work smarter not harder. This means you should:

  • Read smarter: Skim journal articles, don’t read every word.
  • Write smarter: Be concise and clear. Get your message across using simple words.
  • Network smarter: Collaborate with others and give presentations on your research.

80/20 and raise the bar

Going into a doctoral program, learn to use time wisely and prioritize work. Do the important things first and apply Pareto’s Law Rule of 80/20 (invest 20% of your time on work that has an 80% return rate).

Projects might include presentations, writing articles to publish. Set your goals high and keep yourself motivated. Keep reaching and challenging yourself.

20/20 and Bossie

Hindsight is 20/20. Would I have started if I had all this advice?  I already had a goal to find a doctoral program that would fit into my life, not the other way around.

Life experience comes in handy when you jump into an abyss (dark alleys, dead ends, unknowns, uncertainties) like a doctoral program.

Sometimes my spouse calls me by my nickname since elementary school: Bossie.

Yes, I can be obstinate, strong-minded, resolute and stubborn. I also don’t judge anyone who decides to leave their program. It’s not easy to stay focused when you have a lousy support system.

Bossie helped me overcome my fears about not being smart enough, hard-working enough, or talented enough to get a doctorate.

Final word: Do it if you really want it. If not, be good to yourself.


Dr. Bessie

Creativity is intelligence having fun.
~~~Albert Einstein~~~

Author: Dr. Bessie DiDomenica

Food Policy Researcher • Resilient Agriculture Advocate • Public Speaker • Public Policy Wonk • Writer • Teacher • Social Entrepreneur • Associate Editor

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