Mary Poppins and Dissertations

August 29, 1964, Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins was released in New York City to unanimous critical praise. Here’s a few words of wisdom from the world’s best nanny to speed your dissertation along…

How would you like to have Mary Poppins hold your hand through the dissertation process?

She is a masterful editor, always knowing the right word to use to create the proper academic tone. Though some committee members have decried the use of “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” as being a bit too precocious.

She also understands the importance of burning the midnight oil to get your dissertation done. Once at her charges’ bedtime she sang a powerful anthem extolling them to “Stay Awake.” Sound advice from a productivity guru!

However, there is one piece of her advice to which I take exception. Although they remain unproven, rumors persist that her observation that “A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down” was a product-placement-style advertisement funded by the CGA (Cane Growers Association).

Unfortunately, the advice caught on among traditional dissertation advisers. They began instructing their protégés to “Choose a dissertation topic that you’re passionate about!” Their infallible logic being to quote the great Mary Poppins: “A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down.”

But, let’s look into this a bit further, shall we? As an adult, do you actually take your medicine with sugar…or from a spoon? I’m sure that you have accomplished a great many things in your career, and as a parent, and as a volunteer for an important cause, simply because they needed doing. Not because they were brightly colored or candy-coated. Right?

So, as an adult doctoral student, do you really need your dissertation topic to be something you’re passionate about? No. What you need is a dissertation plan that you can execute quickly and efficiently. A low-risk, feasible project that presents as few challenges and obstacles as possible.

The problem with passion projects is that students treat them more like hobbies than jobs. A hobby is something you enjoy doing. You might joke about “wasting time” in your garden or rebuilding a car engine or whatever. But, the fact of the matter is that, for you, this is the good stuff. This is what you do until you have to do something else. You spend as much time on your hobby as you can possibly get away with.

Does that sound like what you want for your dissertation? Hobbies never get “done,” you just keep doing them. Is that what you want for your dissertation?

If you actually want to graduate, then you don’t want to treat your dissertation as a hobby. Instead, you want to think of it as a job. You do what needs to be done because it needs doing. You get in, get out, and get on with something else. You know that going above and beyond the call of duty will just get your boss to raise the bar going forward.

You know what a spoonful of sugar really gets you? A sugar high, followed by a crash, and, eventually, diabetes! Maybe that’s why Mary Poppins had to urge her charges to “Stay Awake!”

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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