Dissertations are all about physics

Capacity refers to the relative amount of some quantity with respect to another quantity upon which it depends.

The dissertation process is invariably added to a life that is already filled to capacity. In a finite system (capacity), something has to give—actually it turns out a lot of things have to give. Friends in my cohort said they relied on takeout, rarely cleaned (but couldn’t afford cleaning help because they were paying for school), and like the line in the movie Office Space, did the “minimum” in most other areas. They/we asked spouses, friends, family to stick with us because we were sure there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Centrifugal force is the apparent force that draws a rotating body away from the center of rotation.

If we apply this to a dissertation we could see it as all the forces that draw you (the rotating body) away from working on your dissertation (the center of rotation). Doctoral candidates in my cohort were simultaneously dealing with aging parents, an adoption, the challenges of tweens and teens, becoming first-time grandparents, neglected spouses, and every family scenario in between. And that doesn’t begin to address the forces of work and friends and extended family and ….

Closed system is a physical system on which no outside influences act; closed so that nothing gets in or out of the system and nothing from outside can influence the system’s observable behavior or properties.

Okay, that’s heavy. But that’s what working on a dissertation feels like. It’s a physical system that nothing permeates. The dissertation process may have an ebb and flow but the writer (you) remain closed off from the world. Add to that the forced linear structure of the dissertation (proposal, review, IRB review, changes, approvals, rejections, writing, research, more changes…) and you feel like John Travolta in the one of his first movies, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Unlike the movie you don’t break free from the bubble until you’re done and your committee at your defense calls you “doctor.”

Energy is a property associated with a material body. When bodies interact, the energy of one may increase at the expense of the other, and this is sometimes called a transfer of energy.

Applying this to the dissertation process means that, in my opinion anyway, if you’re not careful the dissertation process can sap all your energy leaving you a husk of your former self. (Too much information?) What I found helpful (and others I talked to agreed) is to do the last thing you feel like doing—exercise daily. Not sure there is anything to the whole endorphin thing but oxygen helps—especially if you’re stuck or in a waiting or holding pattern.

Law of inertia says that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

One simple bit of advice can make the whole dissertation process easier. Do something every day; do not take even a single day off. Even if all you have is 15 minutes or 5 minutes, do something. It will help you stay in motion—and maintain speed and momentum. That’s it.

Kinetic energy is the energy a body has by virtue of its motion. The kinetic energy is the work done by an external force to bring the body from rest to a particular state of motion.

This could vary person to person. For me the kinetic energy was a combination of my chair and my own need to finish. I over-promised things to my chair that I then had to deliver. Others said the outside force was a spouse or a major life event. One woman said she was not losing another summer to her dissertation.

Reaction. Reaction forces are those equal and opposite forces of Newton’s Third Law.

Some places refer to this as absolute uncertainty and relative uncertainty. Gotta love that! The dissertation process can get so involved we don’t even know what we’re certain or uncertain about. And then scientists and physicists who haven’t already been complex enough say there are two kinds of uncertainties—indeterminate and determinate.

Variable. A symbol representative of a set of numbers, points, values, etc. In science, variables represent values of measurements of quantities.

My personal favorite. The variables involved in the dissertation process. Friends. Family. Work. I asked a friend of mine who was working on her dissertation a year before I started mine if she could have coffee sometime. She said not until she was done. She was sorry but it took 100% of her mental and physical and emotional energy to complete the dissertation. All she did was work and work on her dissertation. Then when I got knee deep into my dissertation I knew what she meant. It was all I could do to stay upright let alone take a break and have to try and get the energy back.

Dr. Kat

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 KathleenJCannon

If I had my dissertation to do over…

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.”

Dr. Kat

Fun, fast, experienced, reasonably priced dissertation editing, coaching, and therapy.
Contact drkatcannon@dissedit.com

©2016 KathleenJCannon