Avoid Mistakes on Your Dissertation Journey

Recently, I heard from a friend working on his dissertation. Last I heard from him was several months ago. At that time he was excited because he submitted his prospectus. An approved prospectus means that you can officially start your dissertation.

A prospectus outlines:

  • Your research question
  • The purpose of your study
  • Why your study’s important (So what and who cares?)
  • Your methodology or research design
  • Sources for your data collection
  • The current literature on your topic

If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. Clearly you have to do a lot of upfront work before you even start writing your dissertation. But sometimes getting approved is not so easy…

As I said, it had been months since I heard from him. I was excited to learn where he was on his dissertation journey.

So where was he? In a word: nowhere. To my horror, my friend said he’s stuck in limbo land without an approved prospectus.

He can’t move forward on data collection. Going back means starting over with a new research project. Or worse, leaving the program. More wasted time and tuition costs.

His committee members were “overextended” and he could not get any useful feedback on what’s wrong with his prospectus.

I share this sad story because my friend was part of my initial support group for other doctoral students.

We were a group of six people studying business, public policy, psychology, public health, and technology. In the past two years, five of us graduated, including Dr. Patti and I. He was the only one left.

I encouraged him to find other students in need of support, reach out and find people who will help each other. It’s not an easy task but it’s critical to have a strong support network.

There are many unknowns that can block your dissertation progress. And common mistakes only cause further delays.

These tips might help you graduate sooner than later:

Create effective communication with your committee advisor. Dr. Patti and I know about this one – we earned our doctorates online. We set up weekly phone calls with our committee chairs to get feedback on our progress. Email updates were part of our plan.

* Our best tip: Overcome your fear of  mistakes, disagreements, or asking for help. You and your advisor should be a team – both of you on the same page and moving in the same direction.

Focus your dissertation around one research question (RQ). Your focus on a central theme will avoid exploring topics unrelated to your RQ. I found many interesting food policy topics but I had to stay focused. Avoid going off on a tangent – remember your RQ.

* Our best tip: Keep a list of interesting topics and articles you find in your literature review. Save them for future studies you can explore after you finish your dissertation. Use your RQ as a guide. Avoid endless roaming.

Learn to be self directed. Yes, autonomy is the name of the game. You have to do the hard work. Dr. Patti and I had to drill down into the literature to understand how to become researchers. It’s an evolving and exciting process.

* Our best tip: Don’t expect your advisor to hold your hand or tell you what to do. Their job is to guide you to the finish line. You will become the expert and own your topic. Ownership will start to grow on you – embrace the challenge!

We’re hoping for some good news from our friend before the holiday season – crossed fingers.

Source: These Common Mistakes Can Keep You Stuck in Graduate School for an Extra 12 Months


Dr. Patti and Dr. Bessie

I once asked a young dissertation writer whether her suddenly grayed hair was due to ill health or personal tragedy; she answered: “It was the footnotes”.
~~~Joanna Russ~~~




Author: Doctor Tales

Doctor Tales Blog

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