To Finish Your Dissertation…

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

I constantly hear from dissertants how their professors have had personality changes at the beginning stages of writing their dissertation proposals. In fact, some professors abdicate their helpfulness verbally, even though the declaration seems counterproductive, counter-intuitive, and logically fallacious. At least the professor is being honest.

Dissertants 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.” The reality of 90% or more of cases, the professor is not and likely unwilling to spend added time with the dissertant.

The myth is that the dissertation is a solo, independent project by which the dissertant shows the culmination of all coursework in a final comprehensive, generative task. The dissertation includes evaluating literature, synthesizing literature, creating a process for collecting data to address an identified problem, and creating or adding knowledge for the body of work. The dissertation represents the creation of knowledge as the highest form of cognitive ability in the learning taxonomy, which is used throughout education to develop curricula, produce rubrics, and determine student achievement.

The reality is that the dissertation is a team effort, whether or not that team involves the professors assigned to the dissertant. The team can include the dissertant’s significant other and family. The team can include the editors, coaches, and statisticians hired by the dissertant. The team can include friends and pastors. It is very rare that the dissertant works literally alone, as if stranded on a deserted island.

It is all too common that the professor tells the dissertant to operate as a solo artist and not to bother the professor unless a full draft of the proposal or final product is being sent. In fact, it is common that the professor who said the student’s work was good before the dissertation process changes position to argue the dissertant’s writing does not meet standards of academic rigor during the dissertation process. The good doctor version of the professor turns into a version of Mr. Hyde during the dissertation.

If you have the experience of the turn from Jeckyll to Hyde by your dissertation chair, please note the following: You are being hazed. You are not crazy. This behavior is nothing you can control, your choice for success is to persist, to put on your sharkskin coat and cover your head with its hoody, and to keep bothering your professor.

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