To Finish Your Dissertation…

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

I received this message 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,” and I have seen several dissertants undergo the fallout of a professor sending this same message. The professor purposefully overwhelms the dissertant with this message, whose underlying tone is either “go away” or “I don’t know what is going on.” In the “don’t know” case, remember, the professor doesn’t want to be caught not knowing, so take the statement as a challenge to justify why you know what you know with evidence.

In the case of the “go away” message, don’t go away. Persist. Your professor knows full well that you lack his or her seasoned prowess for research report writing. You want to receive guidance and wisdom so you need to seek it out with external resources like books, articles, and valid websites.

Recently, I had a dissertant 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, five-chapter dissertation and had the audacity to say that making the adjustments was a 20-minute task. The dissertant came to me for help based on recognizing how the adjustments were going to affect all five chapters. 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, not even for me!

Here’s what is important to recognize when a professor pulls the “it’ll only take 20 minutes” crap, I am a seasoned veteran of research writing. In the case of my example, 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, and those shifts led to hours of rewrites. 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–at my final defense. 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 during my defense. 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!

Now, my advice is the find the middle ground or to use the evidence supporting your previous set up to reduce the impact of the 20 fictional minutes floating around in your faculty’s head. In my case, I found the middle ground, I did perform some additional statistics because the requested modeling was not feasible, literally. Nonetheless, I spent 3 days working on the adjustments that affected four of the five chapters. I went to the professor’s office and showed him my additional 48 hours of new content and multi-chaptered edits. We agreed that my adjustments were an appropriate compromise, and he passed me at that time, and that happened because I brought evidence, and I showed that I learned a new statistical technique and could talk cogently about it in the 3 days following my final defense meeting.

If this case happens to you, you can persist by staying on top of the crisis hourly–don’t wait it out because it will get worse. Professors notoriously forget what is going on with your study, and if you take a hiatus, then you allow them to forget enough to come up with a new “20-minute” problem you have to address. If you remain active with the problem solving and keep an open mind about how to work around the new mental grenade that went off in your head, then this too shall pass.

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