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Struggling with your dissertation?

Dissertations are difficult things. There are multiple reasons why most folks don’t have one. Here are some words of wisdom that I’ve heard from others and now pass along to my own doctoral students…


  1. Big ideas are good but you’re not going to save the world with your dissertation. Scale it down. Bite off something manageable and doable and save the rest of it for future work – by yourself or others.
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  3. Along those lines… the best dissertation is a done dissertation. Get it done. Put the ‘Dr.’ in front of your name. Celebrate yourself for completing a large, hopefully-worthwhile task. Move on with your life. Go do great things!
  4. n Fake diplomaphoto © 2007 dkl | more info(via: Wylio)

  5. The key to the successful completion of a dissertation is to treat it like a regular course that you might take. Block off the time that you’d ordinarily take to a) drive to and from class, b) be in the class, and c) read and/or do outside work for the class and then make that time REGULAR AND INVIOLATE (to yourself, your family, your friends, your employer) just as you would a traditional course. Pretend you have face-to-face accountability even though you don’t. Otherwise too many more-immediate and less-amorphous events pop up and you’ll never, ever finish. The percentage of students who are ABD is appalling…
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  7. Chunk it. The idea of writing a 150– to 250–page book is awfully intimidating. The idea of writing 2 pages is much more manageable. Set small, achievable goals for yourself (in the next hour I will write 2 paragraphs…; during this session I will find 5 new sources…).
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  9. A dissertation always takes longer than you think it will. Get used to that idea now.
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  11. Pick a topic that really interests YOU, not someone else (like your employer or your advisor), because no one’s with you at 1:00am on a Saturday night when you’re ready to tear your hair out. Pick something that hopefully will sustain you through the tough times.
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  13. And, finally… I always tell my advisees that at some point in the process they will hate me. It all will be good in the end, but there will be moments when they curse my name. I’m okay with that: my job is to get them successfully past the entire committee.
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What other words of wisdom do you have for educators working on their dissertations?


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