To Finish Your Dissertation…

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

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 how to tell you what the nature of the “wrong” is so that you can efficiently overcome it and make it “right.” The reality is that the novice advisor is capable of identifying wrong but lacks the needed training or experience to recognize what they see as an error or why what they see something you wrote as “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 one of the following: “You made a good effort but your effort was filled with problems and holes that need to be cleared up or solved and here they are….”; or “I want to help you so I will lay the issues as I seem them 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 but might want a formatting editor for the entire end product. 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. The dream professor happens less than 10% of the time.

I share this information in order to debunk the myth that dissertants know very little and faculty know more. For the new-to-dissertation advising, dissertants have only one round of experience less than the new advisor. Additionally, professors generally don’t know the rules of APA any more than you do, which is irritating, especially for editors, when these professors may deride you or your editor as poor writers to create the “illusion of them knowing.”

Know that professors do hire editors, especially when submitting to those top tier journals! Professors can be inclined to use Grammarly and Reciteworks tools as shields or throw those results like metaphorical rocks to look like they know more about writing research than you do. But here’s the rub: APA isn’t accurately embedded at a 100% rate within those tools. Consequently, you–the dissertant–must always have your current APA edition at your fingertips.

Keep this nugget in mind: Professors speak in a special “I’m in the doctor club” code. I was told years and years ago by a mentor, who had been one of my graduate professors, that the one thing faculty never want students, let alone dissertants, to see is them “not knowing.” They will go to great lengths and even tell lies to ensure they look knowledgeable, including 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 apply the APA 6th edition manual’s content on footnotes correctly. Sometimes, professors even say, “Well, if that is what APA says, it’s not what I want, so do it my way.” At least then, we know the professor got caught not knowing! That’s how you start the process of breaking down the gate to get into the club–show the professor you can use evidence to prove your point.

In short, don’t believe everything your professor says–look for evidence to support what they claim! Don’t play the “trust but verify” game. Play with postpositivistic skepticism and daily persistentce!

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