Needles, Threads, and Dissertations

July 25th is National Thread the Needle Day. Let’s celebrate by talking about how you can thread the needle with your dissertation, and why you shouldn’t…

In football and basketball, threading the needle means successfully passing the ball between two closely spaced defenders. In billiards, it’s a shot between two of your opponents balls or one ball and a rail. In negotiations and politics, threading the needle involves crafting a compromise in the presence of virtually no middle ground. In sewing, threading the needle means…threading a needle!

The common thread here (sorry, couldn’t resist) is that threading the needle is difficult.

As a doctoral student working on your dissertation, you may be trying to thread the needle by convincing your chair to approve a topic he or she is resisting.

You may be trying to thread the needle by concocting an elaborate intervention-based research design.

You may be trying to thread the needle by hoping that your study participants will simply pop into existence at the appropriate time.

You may be trying to thread the needle by balancing your desire to solve a problem you’re passionate about against your desire to graduate!

In all these cases — and any others you can think of — don’t! Don’t try to thread the needle with your dissertation. You should be trying to find a wide path, the path of least resistance.

Balancing priorities is always hard. So, your Number One priority should be to graduate as soon as possible.

Your second priority should be to listen to your committee’s recommendations and follow them as closely as possible. Remember that you graduate when your committee approves your dissertation. And, they are far more likely to approve your work when it embodies all of their feedback. It’s not like they’re gonna shoot down their own ideas, right?

Your third priority should be to challenge your committee when their recommendations clearly run contrary to Priority Number One. If they want you to use a mixed-methods approach, try to talk them out of it. As I’ve said beforeagain and again, mixed methods clearly require more time and effort, in both the planning and execution phases, than either quantitative or qualitative methods alone. So, this is a perfect example of one of the few times I would encourage you to try to persuade your committee rather just going along.

So, be on the look out for all those needles on your dissertation journey. As a doctoral student, you are clearly very accomplished and likely even crave challenges. Just completing the dissertation is challenge enough. Don’t go around making things harder by threading every needle in sight!

If you need extra support and guidance to make it to graduation, I may be able to help. If you'd like to find out whether you qualify for the support we offer throughout the dissertation process, then...

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.

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