Dear Dissertation Professor,

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

Let’s talk for a minute about the excuses, excuses you get from professors DURING THE TERM FOR WHICH YOU PAID TUITION. 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 about them over and over again for 15 years. 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.

You want to persist every 12 to 48 hours, depending on when you made first contact as follows:

  1. Send your email, and expect a reply in a timely fashion: 24 to 48 hours.
  2. Surreptitiously resend the email and drop a text to check for email. Wait 24 hours.
  3. Make a phone call, and leave a voice mail if necessary. Wait 24 hours, repeat text.
  4. Wait 12 hours, call, and keep doing the same thing in 12-hour intervals.

They will get back to you when they realize that their cruise or other trip or wild goose chase is going to have to be interrupted by their job.

Final thought: 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, dissertant, don’t know things (see previous blog).

Dear Dissertant,

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. (My advice: Never be your professor’s first dissertation.)

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,” 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., uses less humiliating communication) with students who spend less time on the process of completing and defending their dissertations.

I share this information in order to debunk the myth that dissertants know very little and faculty know more. For new dissertation advisors, dissertants know only one round of experience less than the newbie, and most professors don’t know the rules of APA any more than dissertants and may deride you or your editor as poor writers. Know that professors hire editors too, especially when submitting to those top tier journals! They also tend to use Grammarly and Reciteworks tools as shields to look like they know more about writing than you do. But here’s the rub: APA isn’t 100% accurately embedded in those tools, so you the dissertant must always have your APA book at your fingertips.

Professors speak in a special “I’m in the doctor club” code. I was told years and years ago by a mentor and professor that the one thing faculty never want students, let alone dissertants, 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 and they are allowed) 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 short, don’t believe everything your professor says–look up evidence! Don’t even play the trust but verify game. Just be skeptical and remain persistent!

Dear Dissertant,

Do you really want to finish? Here are the first three or so things I can think of that you ought to be doing and are not.

  1. Having trouble getting replies from your chair/mentor/advisor? Send your email, and expect a reply in a timely fashion: 24 to 48 hours. Then surreptitiously resend the email and drop a text to check for email. Wait 24 hours. Then make a phone call, and leave a voice mail if necessary. Wait 24 hours, repeat text. Wait 12 hours, call, and keep doing the same thing in 12-hour intervals. They will get back to you when they realize that their cruise or other trip is going to have to be interrupted by their job.
  2. Don’t expect a professional, respectful RELATIONSHIP with your chair/mentor/advisor/etc. Sorry. They want to be sure you know they are in control of your fate. I recommend you playing by the rules of parliament and be NICE (noble, intellectual, compassionate, empathic). Show some respect, but ASSERT yourself–never don’t make contact, never shrink away, always persist. Note the important aspect of this process. They were hazed by their chairs and cannot help themselves 90% of the time, so they say things like “you finish when I tell you you are done and not one semester less.”
  3. If you attend a for-profit or online school, your chair is working on a contract, basically like a part-time adjunct. The school will have a full-time professor who will overthrow all control over your chair and your work because the full-timer outranks the chair on every dissertation. Consequently, you can add 1 year to your sentence of dissertation hell. And know that you the student will be blamed for the usurper by telling you things like, “but I thought you hired an editor” (really!?! that’s a cop-out). That behavior of delegating responsibility to the powerless is part of the power trip of the hazing ritual in this relationship and in this dissertation process.
  4. Don’t believe the professor cares, until the professor has approved your final draft of your all done dissertation and calls you doctor in return. Meanwhile, you do your best to be NICE while you PERSIST, always every 12-48 hours.


Dr. C, on behalf of 144 done doctors and counting.