I asked a random group of people I know pretty well (that’s random as in casual not random as in statistically random!) the question: If you had your dissertation to do over again what would you do differently?
Responses ranged from their relationship with their chair to organization of the process to nuances in the lit review. In fact, the only thing the responses and respondents had in common is that, to a person, they wouldn’t do it again!
Working with a dissertation chair
Your dissertation chair becomes one of the most important people in your life. People talked about the importance of matching your chair to the methodology, your personality, your topic.
“I would have been more deliberate about choosing a chair for my dissertation. I would have conducted interviews and had a better understanding of how we would connect. I would also have connected with a dissertation coach right away, to help guide my emotions as I had so many other things to do.”
“I would have touched base more frequently with my chair.”
“I would have worked better with my chair. I ended up cutting about 75 pages of what I thought was scintillating content—and could have avoided all of that if I had just checked in with my chair sooner.”
“Choose a realistic, no-nonsense chair.”
The dissertation process
More than anything else, people who have written a dissertation say they would change things about the process itself.
“I would do a better job on organizing the data from all the articles and readings into a more coherent format.”
“I did a lot of highlighting and flagging on the reading, but felt like I had to go through this a second time to pull together the converging and/or diverging data points. Doing so would have shortened the process. While I was happy with the outcome, for others, it might make a difference on the final product.”
“I would have done it sooner (I was fried from the coursework though so maybe I should have taken off three months and then buckled down). Other advice? Keep it simple (don’t save the world!). Expect that everything will take longer than it should or than you expect. Use an editor earlier.”
“I would make sure I had a realistic time frame. There are many things in the dissertation process that are out of your control and I wasn’t prepared for them (IRB review, changes in the dissertation committee, the workload of the dissertation chair…”
“I would write outside of my home more often…Scheduled dedicated time for writing and stuck to it!”
New doctors talked about all the people involved in the dissertation process—work colleagues, cohort members, spouses (this was a big one), children, parents, and more.
“There’s really nothing I would do differently, however I would
encourage folks to find a research librarian and make him/her their new best friend. This was such a help in my research that I acknowledged 2 librarians by name in my dedication. In fact, I also provided both a signed (by me and all the committee members), bound version of the final product. These two individuals were invaluable – they did alot of the so-called ‘heavy lifting’ at the front end.”
“I would have created a project plan, leveraged my spouse better in the endeavor, selected an advisor better, and used a support network.”
“My mother babysat one day a week for my twins so I could have uninterrupted time to write—and think. I’d still be working on it now without her.”
Topic and methodology
Everyone talks about the importance of having passion for your topic; one person mentioned the importance of having passion for your methodology.
“Our doctoral instructors said from day one that we had to pick a dissertation topic that we were passionate about. That is certainly true. We lived and dreamed this topic for months….in some cases, years. What they did not warn us about is that you should also pick a research methodology that you are passionate about because you will also dream (or have nightmares) about this for months or years. The dissertation process requires you become an expert in your topical area and an expert in a particular research methodology.”
Anything that’s referred to as a terminal degree ends up being personal.
“I wouldn’t beat myself up so much when I didn’t make the progress I expected to make or if I didn’t understand something I knew everyone else was understanding. My chair said that some things just had to percolate; I was thinking more Keurig coffee maker than old fashioned drip grind!”
“Half way through I realized if I took a walk every day, sometimes twice a day, it helped me get back on track and stay sane.”
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