Dear Dissertation Professor,

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

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


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