Dear Dissertation Professor,

"The dissertation is the monument to the moment when the committee gave up" ~ Dr. D. Barry Lumsden

Dear Dissertation Advisor,

Even though you hold your dissertant’s future in your hands, how you treat or lead your dissertant impacts your institution’s prestige, sustainability, and ability to raise funds. Here’s why:

  • Doctoral alumni do not give money to their alma maters when they have experienced disrespect and abuse under the direction of their dissertation chairs.
  • Doctoral alumni do not give money when actors who can be department chairs, supposed research quality reviewers (a.k.a., URR, AQR, QRM, etc.), APA style or university formatting reviewers, and deans have superseding decision making power about the dissertant’s work that denigrates the role of dissertation chair and leads to them experiencing humiliating treatment, also known as academic hazing.
  • Dissertants who have experienced mental, emotional, and financial abuse by their alma maters do not recommend their programs to their peers. (And this statement applies to graduates of Ivy League programs because I have heard them talk.)

If you want your students to complete their dissertations, do not require that they suffer (either as you did or as you think they should) when you went through the hazing process that is supposedly called doctoral-level anticipatory socialization.

  • Let’s define anticipatory socialization in the case of the dissertation: It happens when the dissertation professor teaches the dissertant what to expect as normal behavior in the academy’s community of scholars. The dissertant learns the social norms of the faculty who already have the degree he or she seeks to earn. The dissertant successfully joins this community upon acceptance by the faculty of the full dissertation.
  • Now, let that definition sink in for a moment…
  • When you work on a research project with a colleague, do you behave passive-aggressively or choose not to provide direct answers to direct questions as part of setting up your research design or conducting your data analysis? (If you are passive-aggressive or cagey with your research teammates, then I guess you can stop reading right now–you really are engaging dissertants according to your, albeit dysfunctional, norms.)
  • If you do use direct language with your peers and do not with your students, why? What positive purpose does your engagement in behaviors that suggest you may have cognitive dissonance due to using diametrically opposed tactics serve?
  • I frequently observe professors and those otherwise named institutional actors treating students as if having little faith, great disdain, and much disrespect toward dissertants throughout the entirety of the dissertation process, until the moment when the student has passed the final defense or milestone as dictated by institutional rules.
    • Right after the final defense, the faculty and actors engage in personality changes and suddenly treat the newly minted doctor with respect and speak about the institution as if the former dissertant was privy to the nuanced gossip and information all through the dissertation process, confusing the new doctor, quite frankly.
  • Showing a lack of faith to a dissertant throughout the phases of writing a dissertation seems unhealthy. Quite frankly, I deal with students who experience cognitive and affective unwellness as a result of faculty’s and institutional actors’ behaviors. Sometimes, they become physically ill due to the anxiety, fear, humiliation, and depression they experience while being hazed.

Appropriately managed anticipatory socialization leads to prestige. What is your behavior toward your dissertants leading toward for your institution and for sustaining your program?

Functional anticipatory socialization suggests the dissertant learns how to be a member of the academy by being mentored throughout their courses and dissertations. In fact, dissertants hire me because I mentor them while their professors are not paid to mentor or choose not to mentor them. Dissertants award me prestige by sending their peers to me, keeping me in business. How often do students recommend you to their peers as being a good professor who mentors dissertants aptly?

  • Chew on that question: How often do students recommend you to their peers as being a good professor who mentors dissertants aptly? 
  • If you don’t have an answer or one that indicates a number range of zero to rarely, then rethink your approach to your dissertants.
  • If you have an answer that approximates often to every semester, then help your colleagues rethink their approaches to their dissertants! Please! You are one of the 3% of professors I have encountered who are what I call “the dissertant’s dream”! You are the one who would put me out of business if all professors operated like you–suggesting you do acknowledge the challenges of the dissertation process, you do have faith in and praise your dissertants, you provide constructive feedback, rather than mere “corrections” related to editorial issues when dissertants need developmental content and design guidance. You are a professor worthy of the prestige.

I was fortunate to have a dissertation chair who was capable both of hazing and mentoring students–he even spoke about it overtly. I smartly chose to follow along with his mentoring inclinations with the first class I took from him. When I didn’t follow his tried-and-true game plan for completing my dissertation because of a family issue that bogged me down for 4 months, he did haze me. However, I stood up for myself and respectively told him what had gone down; I advocated for myself. We agreed to the new plan, which I followed and about 9 months later, I defended my dissertation.

I have indeed given money to my alma mater. I do recommend my doctoral program to people. I continue to know faculty who teach in my program. I rarely encounter a dissertant from my alma mater who needs me for more than a final prepublication edit after the final defense. If I do take on a client who attends my alma mater, the client usually has a “how life got in my way” story and just needs a little extra accountability. Frankly, I think my alma mater’s higher education program should be held in high regard with great prestige. These professors socialize dissertants into doctors and publish with those new doctors any time they want! Their students do like me and give to the institution–hell, one of my classmates came back about 7 years after he graduated to run the university’s foundation and alumni association as a VP! That’s prestige!

Dear Dissertation Advisor,

I constantly hear from students how their professors have had personality changes at the beginning stages of writing their dissertation proposals. In fact, some professors abdicate their helpfulness to students verbally–which seems counterproductive, counter-intuitive, and logically fallacious. Students believe in the myth that was told to them during the recruitment process: “Your dissertation chair is here to guide you through the process and ensure you graduate <insert the norm at your school: on time, in a timely manner, etc.> with a quality study that you can use for publications after graduation.”

You and I know what students are told during the recruitment process, even if you are faculty of a highly competitive program that only accepts 10% of applicants. We know this getting done in a timely manner, like 3 years for an EdD, is total bullshit. However, there is no need to make what they are told out to be completely mythological! You have the power–to change for the better–dissertation culture, so do not choose to remain dysfunctional, 9.5 dissertations out of 10. (Note: My confidence level of that probability is 95%.)

I implore you–under threat of putting my business in peril if you listen and follow through–to tell your students helpful things such as:

  1. What we professors want you to use are the findings of recent sources in your literature review. What did they do to get those findings? And don’t use someone else’s article introduction that contains a literature review to write your own–that’s just bad form.
  2. Let’s talk about reporting versus synthesizing versus evaluating literature for a dissertation. I like it when students _____________ as part of showing me they read every article ever over the topic.
  3. I prefer that you exhaust all literature on the topic over the last ____ years. I <do OR do not> need you to show me that you can be an expert on the topic dating back to <the steam engine’s invention, the wheel’s invention, or ________________>.
  4. For your statistics, there is an office on campus that has people who will <crunch your numbers OR tutor you while you crunch your numbers yourself> because us professors use these experts all the time, and all I need to do is sign a form that you can get from the department secretary.
  5. The type of information we like to collect and what we usually want in a literature review is in a document I put together attached to this email to you.
  6. For your source searching, go to the university library’s databases webpage; then choose academic search complete; then choose advanced search; then click on <Education Source, ERIC, professional development collection, psychological and social sciences collection, and __________>. Click ok. You will see in the advanced search the option for articles that are online only and for peer-reviewed only. Choose those options. Also, choose in the year boxes the most recent 60 <or other option preferred> months as your from and to dates. Remember, you need to use the keywords in the search. The more specific your keywords, the more likely you will be to receive pertinent material in the output.
  7. I admit that I learned APA style during the reign of its third edition and much as changed, but I want you to learn today’s APA style because that is what the graduate school expects in dissertations from our department. If I say “check APA” it is because I don’t know it and want to be sure you know it. It is not a bad thing for me to write this because I consider the statement shorthand, but I can see that maybe you will feel insecure. Feel free to send me a screenshot of the rule involved so we can learn together.
  8. When I review your writing, I need you to understand that no dissertation student is allowed to have his or her own intellectual or personal experience-based beliefs. All conclusions, findings, observations, results, opinions, beliefs, etc. must have a source cited so that I know you are not out there writing conspiracy theories and alternative facts derived from your own mind or lived experience. You may see a comment adjacent to a sentence that says “Says who?” I don’t want you to be offended, but I sure as hell want to see you add a citation!
  9. I may write a comment that says “Who cares?” or “Why should I care?” at some point in your dissertation. When I do that it means that you have yet to convince me you can save the world with your findings, and I want to know who you think about who is your audience who would care about your efforts. This comment is not meant to belittle you, but it is meant to help you understand that you must know your audience and be speaking to them (or more importantly, me) so that they “buy what you are selling.” The comment is about motivating you to be purposeful when you write.
  10. I sign off on this dissertation. Therefore, I require that elements of my style and my agenda are present in the document. This dissertation, while primarily about the work you put into it, is really about me and my reputation. Just ask me. Don’t be offended, but do realize that the more I put my voice into your dissertation, the more buy-in I have about what you are selling to your readers! That’s actually a good thing!

My dear dissertation advisor, with the 10 advice suggestions I provide that you can memorize and use with your students, I am imploring you to recognize that those as the behaviors of a NICE and Noble, Intellectual, Constructive, and Empathic professor and dissertation advisor. Be NICE and help students become the baby doctors joining our special club of crazy.

With great hope,

Dr. C, the Irreverant Professor & Rogue Coach

 

Dear Dissertation Advisor,

When you tell your student at the midnight hour, the witching hour, the proverbial last minute about a fundamental shift in the design or draft that “it’ll only take 20 minutes,” you know for a fact that what you just said to your student was a lie. You purposefully overwhelmed your student. Even though you might only need “20 minutes” to change one spot that affects a draft in a profound way and then copy and paste the key phrase everywhere, you need to remember that you are thinking about a manuscript you would write for publication totalling only 20 to 30 double-spaced pages, not a student’s dissertation proposal or full 5+ chapter final dissertation draft. You know full well that your student lacks your seasoned prowess for research report writing and desires for you to offer guidance and wisdom. Educate your student, empathize with them, and be reasonable.

Recently, I had a student come to me with this exact problem: The professor wanted a fundamental shift in the design of the study that included a complete change in the hypotheses and presentation of the results in a 180 page, 5-chapter dissertation and had the audacity to tell the student that making the adjustments was a 20-minute task. The student came to me for help while recognizing how in-depth the adjustments were going to be. I took on the editorial part of the task, noting that copy and paste from the change was most of what was needed, and it was not a 20-minute job!

I am a seasoned veteran of research writing, and I needed 1.5 hours to complete the editorial elements of the task; the student had spent over an hour in my office just conceiving of how to make the cognitive shifts in thinking. I literally felt like I was having a traumatic flashback episode to my own dissertation defense when a professor on my committee decided that my complete study required a different statistical design. I had done one type of statistical model, but he decided that my combination of variables would have been better presented with a different statistical design at the proverbial witching hour. He had the audacity to say that I only needed “a couple of hours” to complete the statistical procedure’s tasks and revise the entire Chapters 4 and 5 of the dissertation. The gasps had by the peanut gallery at my defense were audible!

In the end, I did perform some additional statistics but I spent 3 days working on the adjustments. I went to the professor’s office and showed him my additional 48 hours of new content and multi-chaptered edits.

Hey dissertators, know the following: You are being hazed. You are not crazy.

Oh, and professors remember, it is better to be Noble, Intellectual, Constructive, and Empathic. Be NICE! Notice that your idea of 20 minutes of work is the dissertator’s 48 hours of hell on earth.

Sincerely,

Dr. C, the Irreverant Professor & Rogue Coach

Dear Dissertation Advisor,

Let’s talk for a minute about the excuses, excuses you give to your students about why you cannot seem to make time for them. You give your dissertation students DURING THE TERM FOR WHICH YOU ARE PAID TO DO THE WORK so many excuses for why you don’t have time for them. Let’s start with the list and litany of these excuses that I have seen in the emails and other forms of communications that occur between you and your dissertation writers. I have broken them into the two categories of online versus brick & mortar doctoral professors:

Online Professors’ Excuses

  1. “I can’t get to your document till after my high school senior graduates, even though it is now May 2, because we have so much going on in the family. So, just wait until the first week of June then I will be able to spend time reviewing your draft.”
  2. “I have to attend the funeral of [insert random person who is not a direct relative] in [insert name of some X amount of hours away place] so I won’t be able to read your draft for at least a week, so you need to give me extra time.”
  3. “My grandkids are staying with me for a month.”
  4. “Thanksgiving is coming up in a week, so let’s make an appointment to talk afterward because I am too busy planning for my family to visit. I don’t have time to deal with you now.”
  5. “Until you send an APA compliant document, I don’t see any need to read your proposal because I am not an editor.”
  6. “Why do we need to talk? I insert comments in the document; you should use those comments to guide you. They are very clear.”
  7. “How did you ever get through classes, let alone comps? Your writing is not scholarly, and there is no way your proposal will pass with how it looks now. You should consider hiring an editor.” (also common from the Brick & Mortar professor)

Brick & Mortar Professors’ Excuses

  1. “I have classes whose students are a higher priority than you are.”
  2. “You don’t understand the pressure on me to get articles written and papers graded, so you just need to wait your turn.”
  3. “I teach three classes and have to grade 17 total papers plus give finals, so your draft will wait until after finals.” (This one was given to a student right after spring break during the term the professor originally had agreed to allow the student propose.)
  4. “Our department is being scrutinized for certification and accreditation so I don’t have time for you. The department chair told us to make the accreditation process our main priority after classes this term.”
  5. “I already have a student defending this semester, so I don’t have time to deal with you. You have to wait your turn.” (also common from the online professor)
  6. “I don’t get paid to read drafts. You need to write a final, complete draft of your proposal; then we can talk.”
  7. “I have office hours but those are for students in my classes; you aren’t in one of my classes. Email is fine. You don’t need to come to campus.”

These excuses for not attending to students are pretty typical. I have heard them over and over again for over 10 years now. They are examples of how sad it is that dissertation students pay good money for academic malpractice to be committed upon them every semester. Dissertation students who have careers off-campus or attend online programs rarely have dissertation professors who remain accessible to them by simply answering phone calls from their students, allowing students to take advantage of office hours, or using their free time to interact with or shoot a short email to their students.

I want to believe that full-time students who are graduate assistants or have other campus jobs on brick & mortar campuses are treated better, but in reality, I have observed full-time dissertation students dealing with their brick & mortar professors putting dissertation duties at the last place in their job priorities. Meanwhile, online programs’ professors of dissertation students convey a myriad of excuses that suggest they simply collect a paycheck and do not intend to do their dissertation advisor jobs. Granted, in these online programs, dissertation professors’ roles have been deprofessionalized by a hierarchy of approvals that render the concept of the dissertation committee worthless and ineffective. What is the point of a dissertation chair when a higher ranking department or school level academic rigor and research reviewer or methodology quality control reviewer can override all decisions and recommendations made by the supposedly professional professors who comprise the dissertation committee at the proposal step as well as at the final defense step? On top of that first step above the committee when the quality control reviewer approves the document, it is likely that some extra reviewer at the dean and or graduate school level will conduct a review requiring revisions that override the reviewer’s requirements for the proposal. No wonder online professors decide their families’ matters are more important than doing their jobs. They probably don’t need or want to deal with the headache of feeling devalued at work.

“What pray tell is the solution to neglect?” Good question–well it’s not with the professors because the culture of higher education isn’t pro-student.

I tell my dissertation clients “to take control over your academic fate.” I encourage them by suggesting strategies that work for pushing their professors toward interacting with them and for reminding their professors that dissertation students also pay tuition and expect to receive the attention for which they have paid. Dissertation students, sadly, tend to be afraid to engage in what one quality review level professor calls “pushback” due to fears about repercussions that could prevent them from moving forward when they “piss off” their dissertation chairs.

In fact, that pushback-hating professor definitely terrifies both the student’s professor (who says “just make Prof X happy”) and the student (who fears being failed out of the program). However, asking for rationale about a professor’s judgments and conditions for moving forward should be considered part of the process of encouraging critical thinking and not considered disrespectful. Professors who behave like mini-Machiavellis set the stage for dysfunction, academic malpractice, and legalized hazing. So, yes, students ought to be allowed to advocate and defend themselves without reprisal and to communicate regularly with professors who choose dialogue and progress with students over neglect.

When my clients’ professors behave in ways that indicate they prefer to neglect their obligations to their active dissertation writers, these clients follow the chain of academic command. They telephone the next level in the department, whether that is a program coordinator or the department chair, and obtain some form of advice or action to ensure the professor can make time for them. Sometimes, these clients go to their campuses and sit in program offices waiting for professors to walk in the door. And I know you are wondering about online programs: My clients have even flown or driven to the headquarters of the online program to ensure their dissertation process gains productivity and speed at the school and professor levels.

Now, I never recommend engaging in this strategy lightly–intestinal fortitude is necessary–because of the likelihood of receiving verbal abuse from righteously indignant pushback-hating professors. In fact, when students who come to me for advice to confront the neglect they have been experiencing, we begin by starting or making sure they have a “paper trail” of evidence (i.e., emails, notes from conversations, recorded conversations, Blackboard or Canvas posted announcements, etc.) that their professors have been putting off dealing with their dissertation needs.

The NICE professor doesn’t make excuses and put their students off. The NICE professor doesn’t go to Cabo or Puerto Vallarta during the term for which they are paid to advise students and ignore the students while also sending out pictures of their trips on their Facebook pages. Seriously! I am not making this up! The Noble, Intelligent, Constructive, Empathic professor fulfills his or her entire job responsibilities even with his or her dissertation students.

Just Do It, Doctors of Dissertation Students!

Sincerely,

Dr. C, the Irreverant Professor & Rogue Coach

Dear Dissertation Advisor,

How you talk to your student matters. What you say is important. Choose your words with care, constructiveness, compassion, and a little hint of civility.

Over the years, I have come to know the novice dissertation advisor as one who chooses to write “this is all wrong” rather than try to figure out what is “wrong” for themselves. The reality is that the novice advisor is capable of identifying wrong but lacks the needed training or experience to recognize what is wrong or why what they see is so wrong. Meanwhile, the senior, veteran advisor who enjoys “making them sweat” uses the “all wrong” as a way to get under their students’ skins and keep them from coming back to the professor for a while with their questions.

It is actually rare, sadly, that a professor says, “You made a good effort but your effort was filled with problems and holes that need to be cleared up or solved. I want to help you so I will lay the issues out and enable you to fix them…”  I refer to those professors as “the dream professor,” and when I have knowledge of such professors, I usually tell dissertation writers who have those dream professors advising them that they don’t need a coach unless they need a formatting editor at the end. The dream professor conducts less hazing (i.e., directs less humiliating communication), and their students’ spend less time on the process of completing and defending their dissertations.

I had an interesting case lately. The student’s five chapter, ready for defense document had been reviewed by the higher ranking overlord faculty above the committee level. This overlord faculty wrote the following on the first line of the abstract page: “Run your document through the premium version of Grammarly.com to catch the over 400 grammatical and punctuation errors before resubmitting.” The remainder of the comments the overlord faculty provided the student were not written in NICE terms; in short, the reviewer continued indicating that the student had not been diligent in editing the content.  However, the student had been dealing with Grammarly related issues for a year because both her chair and her editor had used it as a tool for ensuring quality!

Meanwhile, this same overlord faculty wrote to the dissertation advisor the following: I use the premium version of grammarly.com, and I too do not agree with some of the suggestions; however, 90% of them I do agree with. I know that the first thing the dean does when she reviews is to run it through grammarly.com and will return immediately if there are significant basic grammar errors. Why could not the overlord faculty have communicated similarly to the student? The answer: Because the student isn’t “in the club” yet. Therefore, the overlord faculty treated the student like an imbecile, that is, communicated in a manner meant to humiliate the student. Once I saw the distinction in the communication by this faculty toward the student versus the dissertation advisor, I gained explicit access to the nature of the humiliating messages sent to students versus the collegial communications sent to fellow faculty.

I share this information in order to debunk the myth of students know little and faculty know more. Professor, you know the same good stuff as the students; most days, you don’t know the rules of APA any more than your students do. However, the editors you may regard as incompetent when you are deriding your students, do know more than you. The Grammarly type tools are shields so that you (according to you) look like you know more about writing than your student.

I was told years and years ago by a mentor and professor I had at Texas A&M that the one thing faculty never want their students to see is them “not knowing.” What I saw recently was faculty who didn’t know something using Grammarly as a shield to prevent a student from seeing the “not knowing” in action. Faculty would rather make up rules that are easily debunked, such as “no footnotes are allowed in APA” (yes, that happened 2 weeks ago) than look up footnotes in the manual’s index and see that a student did read the APA 6th edition manual correctly for the purpose of using footnotes.

In conclusion, Dear Dissertation Professor, talk to your student like you would a colleague; treat your student with respect to help them with anticipatory socialization; do not assume your faculty peers taught your student whatever you assume the student ought to know by the time you get the student assigned to you, because you know faculty use hazing games with their students as a dysfunctional form of self-protection. More students will finish dissertations when they are treated with respect and competence, NICEly. Be the dream professor all of the time.

Sincerely,

Dr. C, the Irreverant Professor & Rogue Coach

Epilogue: Students! When you have the sensation of feeling crazy or not sure about what is going on with how you are being treated or how you are receiving the messages sent to you by your professors and their overlords, do not assume you are likely in the wrong. Only the dissertation faculty earned that degree and joined the club, the community of scholars, the fraternity of intellectual fabulousness. You want into their fraternity; therefore, they are likely using smoke and mirrors on you to keep you feeling confused, unsure, filled with self-doubt, incompetent, etc. Take your emotions out of the equation when decoding their feedback, and free yourself from the sensation of academic hazing.

 

 

Dear Dissertation Advisor,

Do you really want your dissertation candidate to finish? I am writing this blog because I don’t think you do. If you want your student to finish, here are the first three or so things I can think of that you ought to be doing and are not.

  1. Check your email, read the emails your student sends to you, and reply to your student in a cogent and timely fashion. Waiting till your student has flooded all your in-, e-, text messaging, social media, and voicemail boxes in a state of panic to remember “oh, yeah, I think I saw a subject line that had my student’s name it” or “I guess I forgot to press send a week ago, whoops” and then surreptitiously send whatever you should have sent days earlier without acknowledging your student’s efforts is truly like “freezing” your student out or “throwing the cold shoulder.”
  2. Pick up the phone and be a human, have a professional, respectful RELATIONSHIP with your student who is also a professional in the real world, in all likelihood. Be NICE (noble, intellectual, compassionate, empathic). Show some respect. Accept who is suffering here–and I’ll share a little hint: It’s not you. You were hazed too, but you don’t have to do it just because you lived through it.
  3. Remember that you probably have a graduate school level person (above your head) who will shred your control over your student’s edits and who will outrank your leadership over any dissertation. When that happens, as it will inevitably happen from the for-profit to the prestigious Tier I institution, don’t blame the student who didn’t know what you didn’t tell him or her. Don’t say, “but I thought you hired an editor” (really!?! that’s a cop-out). Accept responsibility, support the student, defend the paper’s lack of “correct APA” this graduate school reviewer claims if you want your edits and writing preferences to stick! Otherwise, avoid treating the student as an incompetent. That behavior of delegating responsibility to the powerless is just mean because you are the broker of power in this relationship and in this dissertation process.
  4. When your institution sends you material to send to the student, forward it. Maybe, kindly, comment that you did or didn’t read anything the institution sent to you that you have the responsibility for sharing with your student. Your student believes you care about him or her and assumes the worst when you do not provide your thoughts, which brings me back to the following necessary behavior: Be NICE (noble, intellectual, compassionate, empathic).

Sincerely,

Dr. C, the Irreverant Professor & Rogue Coach