To Finish Your Dissertation…

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

Whoever possesses the dissertation draft controls the dissertation’s progress. Follow this rule always.

If the professor has the draft, your progress has come to the proverbial red light–they are on offense, and you are on the sidelines. You are well advised NOT to touch the version of the document you sent the professor, even if you think you can because you will track the changes. The version you sent to the professor is the MASTER DOCUMENT. If you do decide you just have to keep working, then open separate documents for the material you want to incorporate and use the copy and paste technique after the professor pitches the draft back to you. Think of what you do as journaling and reflecting and preparing but not working within the master document. It is possible that what you anticipate and what you need to do, after receipt of the draft with comments and questions, do not align. The professor’s comments dictate your next steps. Those steps are solely dependent on the draft pitched back to you.

Working within the document you sent the professor while it is in the professor’s or the entire committee’s possession can cause all manner of chaos when you get the draft with its professorially tracked changes and comments back. Professor feedback can come in a variety of ways on a single electronic document, whether by Google Docs or Word. The professor’s efforts can look like tracked changes, inserted comments, and a variety of random highlighted text or inserted text using multiple font colors. There are times when professors not only do these things but also print the document to hand write notes in margins. You end up receiving the electronic and scanned versions as attachments to an email containing a lengthy missive about your writing. For those of you at universities with detailed “rubric” checklists as part of their so-called standardization of the dissertation, you get additional comments in those documents that you need to configure into the draft alongside the issues the professors presented in the master draft. And those written-in-the-checklist comments can come across as esoteric because professors rarely tie what they write for a section of the checklist to a specific page number, so you have the task of playing detective when you are in possession of the master document. (The more annoying checklist scenario is when they simply highlight some checklist requirement without indicating if the highlight means you did it or did not do what it indicates as necessary, but there is a comment buried in a flurry of comments in the document itself that is supposed to tie the highlight to the text comment.)

These confluences of chaos alone can make it hard to track where any work you did as an effort to intercept their return draft pitches should apply. You find yourself doing a side-by-side comparison between the documents of what you did during their possession and what they did during their possession. This work of comparing between drafts can lead to hours of mental chaos. For example, consider when the document is in the possession of several professors at once and all copies end up being returned to you, so you muddle through the chaos they collectively recreated within the master draft, three to four or five times over, depending on committee size. You have to find a way to consolidate between all their collective comments, because they don’t respect the master document idea. (They regard that as your task.) That’s why you absolutely must respect the master document possession rule as the simile of the red light or of being sidelined on the field of play. If necessary, sit literally on your hands. Avoid any situation that could mentally be ascribed as several football players scrambling to possess a fumbled ball.

I have worked with hundreds of dissertants as an editor and a coach. Every year, I watch dissertants who would rather learn this lesson the hard way than learn it vicariously through the experiences of those who finished before them. These dissertants send the document to the professor who subsequently, indicates in advance some things that will need to be dealt with even as the professor maintains possession of the master copy and makes professorial comments and changes within it. The dissertant, in a frenzy to please the professor, thinks they will get ahead of the request by intercepting those anticipated issues and completes the anticipated tasks in the old master document version while the professor has what is now the master document. However, when they get the “marked up” master draft back from the professor, they are at a loss about what they did in the now-obsolete draft and what they need to fix in what they got back in the now-master draft and in which document do they need to make the fixes. This confusion is inevitable, even if the dissertant’s copy contained tracked changes. At this point dissertants lose from the master document obscure details that matter to professors in the effort to consolidate. Random things like page numbers or undisclosed tracked changes become obvious to professors who see those errors signs of incompetence or disrespect rather than as simple mistakes that can be corrected quickly. I know, it sounds ridiculous and unrealistic that what I am describing can be real, but every year for 15 years now, it has been a very real circumstance that slows down an already too slow process due to the mental anguish the dissertant ends up working to overcome.

Therefore, the bottom line is this: By respecting the master document rule and waiting patiently at the metaphorical red light or on the analogous sidelines of the doctoral field of draft possession, it is possible to avoid the multiple draft collision or interception to fumble problem.

One thought on “Respect the Possession of Draft Rules

  1. Peggy says:

    Good point!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: