Dissertation Completion Strategies
If you are or were at some point in a doctoral program then you have probably heard the following before: The best dissertation is a done dissertation. But how to get it done?
I am at the annual meetings of the National Communication Association where I have been asked to present on a panel about “Strategies for Successful Dissertation Completion”. It is hard to say whether I have any more expertise in this area than anyone else with a PhD, but I did sit down to come up with a list that I thought may be worth sharing here. I want to acknowledge the contributions of my grad school friend Erica Field who kindly entertained this question over dinner last night and offered several helpful additions to the list. Since we had spent countless dinners during grad school discussing our dissertations her contributions to all this have been more significant than simply talking about it over one meal.
I welcome additions to the list. I plan to share this with students in the future so the more helpful pointers the better.
It is probably fair to note that I did not follow all of these points, but if I had to do it all over again, I likely would. The list is presented in no particular order.
Also, several of the items are likely helpful for people who are at more advanced stages of their academic careers so you may get something out of this even if you already have a PhD.
Strategies for successful dissertation completion
1. Start early in your grad school years. Do not wait for a grand idea to strike. Sometimes very solid dissertation ideas come from relatively small ideas you have early on. Start exploring those.
2. Keep track of everything you do by filing material (whether digitally or not) and by keeping a diary of progress in your research.
3. Related to #3, but worth a point on its own: back up everything!
4. Identify your thesis committee early. Set up meetings with them on a regular basis. Profs are busy, you have to be forceful about this. Do not be shy. They are (or are supposed to be) there to help you get through the program.
5. Get feedback on your work regularly. You do not want to write five chapters only to be told that your basic premise is completely faulty and you have to start over.
6. Do not be discouraged if you find another project that * sounds * like yours, chances are good that it is not. Often enough you will encounter projects that make you think your work has already been done. Before you get completely stressed out about this, check the details of the other project. In all likelihood it is different from yours in significant ways.
7. Keep a notebook of all of your ideas even if they seem tangential to the project. You never know when they will be helpful later whether for this project or another one.
8. Do not be scared of contacting researchers elsewhere who may have relevant material/ideas for you.
9. Go to conferences. These are helpful for several reasons. (In fact, a whole other list could be written about them.) Directly related to dissertation completion is that they offer serious motivation to get parts of your dissertation done since you have deadlines to meet for presentations. Also, getting feedback about your project should be helpful as is meeting others in the field of your work so you can learn about more research that is relevant to your project.
10. Form a group with other students to motivate progress. Get together every couple of weeks either to share drafts or in the least to discuss what progress you had made since the last meeting. This kind of accountability can help motivate you to get work done.
11. If you need resources, look for and write grants to get funding. These are probably available both at the level of your university and outside. Ask others about the sources of their funding to find out about opportunities.
12. If you need a lot of resources then join a big project that is related to your interests as a research assistant. (This project does not have to be at your own university.) If you do good work and show dedication to the project then you may be able to carve out a piece for your own dissertation data collection/analysis.
Related to all this, it may be a good time to revisit Kieran’s list of Indispensable Applications.
I will take this opportunity to point to a document that does not focuse on dissertation completion per se, but has lots of helpful general advice for PhDs: Phil Agre’s Networking on the Network.
Of course, there are countless books available on this topic as well for those looking for more.
What It Takes to Finish The Dissertation in a Year or Less
(Over 1000 ABD’s have used this system to become PhD’s.)
Moving from ABD to PhD is not an easy task for everyone. It is all too common that graduate students complete all their coursework and other requirements and then get stuck when it comes to attempting to finish the dissertation in a year or less. There can be many reasons for this dissertation derailment; including change in life circumstances, working full-time, or managing a persistent illness.
The other element that nobody really talks about is the fact that, for many ABD’s, the PhD dissertation represents the first and most major departure from a structured program of study. If you are anything like I was in graduate school, I found a lot of satisfaction in crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s- making sure I had all my required classes, and practica, and supervision. To achieve this, all I needed to be was organized and able to follow directions.
Yet, when it came to write my final paper, the process was so much different. I suddenly had to figure out what my project would be, design it, develop it, and implement it- while I was working full-time at my clinical internship. I will say, without exaggeration, that year was one of the most strenuous of my life. Not just because I was working hard- I’ve always worked hard, maybe like you- but more because there was so much uncertainty and second-guessing about my project.
It was exhausting.
What I Learned From Trying to Finish The Dissertation
What I learned in my own dissertation process, though, was to become the foundation of the Get it Done! Dissertation Completion method, the one that I have used, successfully, for the past sixteen years to help more than 1000 ABD’s become PhD’s. And most of them achieved this in a year or less- even those students who had been ABD for 10 or more years, and were in danger of losing their program placement.
Can you imagine working so hard, getting so close, and then being stuck for 10 years or more? (This might even be what you’re living through right now.) It may seem impossible to ever finish the dissertation, but I assure you, it’s not.
Whether you’re in danger of losing your program placement, or if you’re just a little bit stuck, I’m glad you’ve made it here. My site has more than 300 article on completing the dissertation, and I have written several books on this topic as well. You can finish the dissertation, and probably in less time than you think.
If you’re looking for direct expert help, I offer some dissertation coaching services, too. These services have been so valuable to my clients who have used them to successfully finish.
Again, I’m glad you’re here and I hope you will be able to finish the dissertation- to move from ABD to PhD as quickly and happily as possible.