Dear Dissertation Professor,

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

Dear Dissertation Advisor,

Even though you hold your dissertant’s future in your hands, how you treat or lead your dissertant impacts your institution’s prestige, sustainability, and ability to raise funds. Here’s why:

  • Doctoral alumni do not give money to their alma maters when they have experienced disrespect and abuse under the direction of their dissertation chairs.
  • Doctoral alumni do not give money when actors who can be department chairs, supposed research quality reviewers (a.k.a., URR, AQR, QRM, etc.), APA style or university formatting reviewers, and deans have superseding decision making power about the dissertant’s work that denigrates the role of dissertation chair and leads to them experiencing humiliating treatment, also known as academic hazing.
  • Dissertants who have experienced mental, emotional, and financial abuse by their alma maters do not recommend their programs to their peers. (And this statement applies to graduates of Ivy League programs because I have heard them talk.)

If you want your students to complete their dissertations, do not require that they suffer (either as you did or as you think they should) when you went through the hazing process that is supposedly called doctoral-level anticipatory socialization.

  • Let’s define anticipatory socialization in the case of the dissertation: It happens when the dissertation professor teaches the dissertant what to expect as normal behavior in the academy’s community of scholars. The dissertant learns the social norms of the faculty who already have the degree he or she seeks to earn. The dissertant successfully joins this community upon acceptance by the faculty of the full dissertation.
  • Now, let that definition sink in for a moment…
  • When you work on a research project with a colleague, do you behave passive-aggressively or choose not to provide direct answers to direct questions as part of setting up your research design or conducting your data analysis? (If you are passive-aggressive or cagey with your research teammates, then I guess you can stop reading right now–you really are engaging dissertants according to your, albeit dysfunctional, norms.)
  • If you do use direct language with your peers and do not with your students, why? What positive purpose does your engagement in behaviors that suggest you may have cognitive dissonance due to using diametrically opposed tactics serve?
  • I frequently observe professors and those otherwise named institutional actors treating students as if having little faith, great disdain, and much disrespect toward dissertants throughout the entirety of the dissertation process, until the moment when the student has passed the final defense or milestone as dictated by institutional rules.
    • Right after the final defense, the faculty and actors engage in personality changes and suddenly treat the newly minted doctor with respect and speak about the institution as if the former dissertant was privy to the nuanced gossip and information all through the dissertation process, confusing the new doctor, quite frankly.
  • Showing a lack of faith to a dissertant throughout the phases of writing a dissertation seems unhealthy. Quite frankly, I deal with students who experience cognitive and affective unwellness as a result of faculty’s and institutional actors’ behaviors. Sometimes, they become physically ill due to the anxiety, fear, humiliation, and depression they experience while being hazed.

Appropriately managed anticipatory socialization leads to prestige. What is your behavior toward your dissertants leading toward for your institution and for sustaining your program?

Functional anticipatory socialization suggests the dissertant learns how to be a member of the academy by being mentored throughout their courses and dissertations. In fact, dissertants hire me because I mentor them while their professors are not paid to mentor or choose not to mentor them. Dissertants award me prestige by sending their peers to me, keeping me in business. How often do students recommend you to their peers as being a good professor who mentors dissertants aptly?

  • Chew on that question: How often do students recommend you to their peers as being a good professor who mentors dissertants aptly? 
  • If you don’t have an answer or one that indicates a number range of zero to rarely, then rethink your approach to your dissertants.
  • If you have an answer that approximates often to every semester, then help your colleagues rethink their approaches to their dissertants! Please! You are one of the 3% of professors I have encountered who are what I call “the dissertant’s dream”! You are the one who would put me out of business if all professors operated like you–suggesting you do acknowledge the challenges of the dissertation process, you do have faith in and praise your dissertants, you provide constructive feedback, rather than mere “corrections” related to editorial issues when dissertants need developmental content and design guidance. You are a professor worthy of the prestige.

I was fortunate to have a dissertation chair who was capable both of hazing and mentoring students–he even spoke about it overtly. I smartly chose to follow along with his mentoring inclinations with the first class I took from him. When I didn’t follow his tried-and-true game plan for completing my dissertation because of a family issue that bogged me down for 4 months, he did haze me. However, I stood up for myself and respectively told him what had gone down; I advocated for myself. We agreed to the new plan, which I followed and about 9 months later, I defended my dissertation.

I have indeed given money to my alma mater. I do recommend my doctoral program to people. I continue to know faculty who teach in my program. I rarely encounter a dissertant from my alma mater who needs me for more than a final prepublication edit after the final defense. If I do take on a client who attends my alma mater, the client usually has a “how life got in my way” story and just needs a little extra accountability. Frankly, I think my alma mater’s higher education program should be held in high regard with great prestige. These professors socialize dissertants into doctors and publish with those new doctors any time they want! Their students do like me and give to the institution–hell, one of my classmates came back about 7 years after he graduated to run the university’s foundation and alumni association as a VP! That’s prestige!

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