To Finish Your Dissertation…

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

How would you recommend organizing work during a Ph.D. thesis writing period?
I am not sure what you mean by “writing period.” When starting out with new students who are confused by their professors’ preferences for bogging them down in the literature review phase, I follow a different organizational structure. I tell my students that we will write their purpose, research questions, then we will back track to what the problem they are interested in solving is. After those important pieces, we work on their methods. The literature is the last piece of the puzzle and still bogs them down, but by then, they have their study designed and they can see the end of the proposal as the light at the end of the tunnel.
What should students know before they start working on their dissertation?
They need to know that they will be hazed by their professors, and by that, I mean, their professors will ask like the fraternity brothers and sisters hazing the pledges who want into the “club,” that is, into the brotherhood of scholars. Professors are not paid to mentor or guide them; very, very few professors, within the chance of error at 5%, actually perform as such. It is nowadays a myth that professors provide mentorship to their dissertation students. If the student is at an online university and at some brick and mortar universities of which I am aware, I make sure they understand that their “chair” is merely a facilitator between the powers above the chair and the student, because the de-professionalization of the professoriate is complete—administrators do not trust their faculty to even try anymore; therefore, faculty do not try.
Can you recommend some tools or apps that can be valuable for the students (writing, organizing time or workload, for taking notes’ etc.)?
I do recommend using apps for analysis, such as Dedoose or NVivo for qualitative work and SPSS and G*Power for quantitative work. I also recommend using as the best app for recording thoughts and interviews or focus group meetings. I have some students for whom using Rev as a tool for a talk to text is worth every penny. The app is better than Google talk to text, which I have been playing with myself because the transcriptions come with come editing which saves the student time and enables the student to type into the document any thoughts that fill in blanks.
Which tips do you usually share with your students that all doctoral candidates should know?
“If it isn’t on the page, it doesn’t exist.” That is my quote because professors do not think beyond what they see on the page and some professors don’t even have short term memory for the text from one page to the next, let alone one paragraph to the next; worse, some professors don’t even read, even if they claim to “read” the document. All they do is scan or skim, so we make these ridiculous 3 sentence paragraphs with repetition. “Being told to delete is always better than being told add content.” Hence, we build in enough redundancy to hold up a 110-story building—if you will allow for mixing metaphors.
Are there dissertation writing tips are usually overlooked? Which?
pleased facial expression while wearing a monocle and holding with a cup of tea, indubitably
Some of the tips I give to my clients are disregarded and overlooked, and I have to start over when they come back the next week, or worse the next month, or worst a year or two later, without making any progress. When I get a new client, I generally have to get them to understand: Never start over! Always use what you have!
How to stay away from procrastination while writing a thesis?
Have an accountability partner, like another dissertation student, but I have seen this work against students who don’t also work with me, so sometimes, I make sure my students meet each other because that friend who didn’t hire me is dragging down my client’s progress. With the accountability partner follow this rule: “Treat what we do together like a class; treat our deadlines like I am a professor and you are in my class. If you miss the deadline, turn it in late, but turn it in!” As they say in the sales world, and I paraphrase in academic language here: We are the people with whom we associate.
Finish the sentence: “The best dissertation is ….”
“Done and Defended” is my often said quote. A lot of people say “done.” Done is written, and that’s good. But I argue that it has to be defended to be the best!
What practices lead students to “fail” their dissertation?
Well, I don’t know what you mean by “fail.” I will tackle this fail idea in two ways: (a) student fails by avoidance; (b) student fails due to politics between professors, or according to the dissertation chairs and committees, or the QRM/AQR/URR/GSR/AQM review level that outranks committee level.

Avoidance: The student chooses to avoid the process out of fear, usually. When those life events happen, they become excuses for avoiding professors and processes.

Politics: Professors use the students as scapegoats or as tools for having petty arguments. When this happens, the students’ work becomes the fuel to the fodder. Unfortunately, the professors set the student up to feel like the failure in the mix by making the student’s work out to be inadequate, the result of their incompetence, and so on.  The student suffers until the professors give up on whatever they are fighting out.
Are there writing techniques you can suggest to Ph.D. students to make their life slightly easier?
I tell them “just write because I don’t care whether it is scholarly or crap, as long as we get the content on the page, we can make it look [academically] ‘pretty’ for the professors.”
Are there typical mistakes supervisors tend to make?
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This issue of mistakes is best discussed over coffee. It can be a long one, depending on the school (online, for-profit are the worsts offenders) and the department, the field of study, etc. There are a lot of variables that contribute to their mistakes. Typical is variable. The worse “mistakes” across all types of schools and programs include failure to know their department’s and school’s own processes and deadlines. Failure to adhere to formatting rules (when they do know them) as required by the graduate school dean or worse undergraduate-degree-holding-only gatekeeper. Demanding students write the document in their style only to have the student find out later that the professor screwed the student and says to follow the graduate school rules as the grad school gatekeepers rip the content presentation apart. At some schools, this happens at end of proposal and at end of defense.
Should academic writing be dry or can students work on developing their own style when it comes to thesis writing?
This is so tricky! I have seen the writing be consistently dry in the sciences. I have seen students of history and politics have greater flexibility in using color adjectives and descriptors as long as the writing is Grade 16 level. The issue in the social science and education fields, which suffer more than other fields from lack of self-efficacy among professors, is whether academic or scholarly writing can be creatively presented. By creative, I have seen students attempt to tell stories in qualitative research and be told not to, but I have seen students provide concise, dry qualitative research and be told to be creative in their story telling. The real answer I tell my students when they try to be good at writing and to use Shakespearean language is “it depends on your chair and your committee and what they want and will tolerate.” 
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Which advice do you wish you knew when you were writing your dissertation?
I was fortunate to have a chair who was nearing his retirement and who would tell anyone anything as long as they sat and listened to his diatribes. He was handing out advice left and right, and in a sense, he trained me to do my job of rogue dissertation advisor.  He didn’t haze me during the dissertation because I had him in several classes, in which he hazed us in class. He mentored me right before the time when schools stopped paying professors to do that job. (If you want to know when that happened, it was during the recession and began about 2006 when legislatures started cutting off public school funds and solidified by 2010.) Now, my minor professor, he was another story—I guess I wish I knew about his whole department’s behavior toward dissertation students in advance.
What’s the best way to recover energy and sanity after writing another chapter?
The best way to recover energy and sanity is to write the chapter to begin with! Actually, I just got off the phone with a student whom I told to do a stress reliever that works for her when she sends her draft to me later this afternoon. I said (quite literally), “I don’t know if you drink wine to unwind, if you eat ice cream, if you prefer to take a walk, if you can watch a Bad Boys movie and practice the ‘woo saw’ meditation trick [that netted a short chuckle from the student], but whatever you do when you press send on this thing today, reduce your stress and relieve your anxiety. That’s your next task.”
What’s the optimal amount of time to be spent on dissertation per day?
Ideally, a student spends a productive amount of time, which could be 15 minutes or 2 hours, depending on the student. Also, a student who has been working on studying the literature about their topic during their courses, needs less time to write a dissertation proposal than a student who hasn’t done that. I think the book that sells the idea of finishing a dissertation in 15 minutes a day, 7 days a week is onto something. However, I usually tell my clients that we need to treat each short goal as a class paper, and I ask them how they did those; then, I guide them to follow suit. If they crammed the writing into a weekend for a class project or paper, then that’s what we make sure they do.
What are the common unexpected problems that arise after you start writing?
These problems rarely are dissertation specific. Most of the problems are personal as in the mantra of “life happens.” My clients have suffered health setbacks; family circumstance changes including birth, death, and divorce; sandwich generation issues; and so on. Some clients have thought they would be done by a certain point, no matter what realistic advice I gave, and scheduled vacations like cruises and extended trips from which they could not mentally return for extended time periods, setting their timelines further behind. The other big problem is lack of confidence, lack of self-efficacy for the task. I spend a chunk of much time building up my students’ confidence.

One thought on “Questions I Answered for a Curious Guy in 2019–I found this stuff and thought I should share…

  1. drcs90something says:

    Awesome Cody!!

    On Wed, Jun 2, 2021, 4:41 PM To Finish Your Dissertation… wrote:

    > Dr. C posted: ” How would you recommend organizing work during a Ph.D. > thesis writing period?I am not sure what you mean by “writing period.” When > starting out with new students who are confused by their professors’ > preferences for bogging them down in the literature re” >


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