Dear Dissertation Professor,

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

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!


Dr. C, the Irreverant Professor & Rogue Coach

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