Quarters and Dissertations

September 30th is end of the third quarter. How many quarters have you spent on your dissertation? How much of your dissertation have you “banked?”

The dissertation is a unique endeavor compared to anything else you’ve ever undertaken in school. It’s kind of like you were forced into a helicopter, chopper out to sea, and dropped in in the middle of the night.

I mean, I’ve heard of sink or swim, but this is ridiculous!

You have no heading, no landmarks, no mileposts, just an endless sea of inky black.

You succeeded in your classes, in part because they were familiar. Since middle school, all of your coursework has been very similar: Read something. Learn something. Write about it. Take a few tests along the way.

Even at the doctoral level, your courses had much more in common with middle school than with your dissertation. The dissertation is a completely different animal. The comfortable familiarity you’ve come to expect from school is gone. And, the new reality is harsh.

But, why?

What is it about the dissertation that causes so many good students to fail when they’ve known only success before? — It’s the lack of structure!

There are no deadlines.

No homework.

No assignments.

No assessments.

It’s hard to know what to do, when, and how. And, it’s easy to fall behind without even realizing…because there’s no structure. Just inky black sea.

So, what do you do about it?

At a minimum, you should be checking your progress on a regular basis. Monthly is good, but you can wait a month to receive feedback from your committee once you get to that point.

So, I recommend that you assess your progress at least once per quarter. You should certainly be able to see significant, unmistakable progress on a quarterly basis.

As a rough guide, if you’re going to complete your dissertation in about a year,…

At the end of the first quarter you should have your proposal written. Chapters 1, 2, and 3. Done.

At the end of the second quarter you should have your proposal approved by your committee. You may or may not have defended. You may or may not have IRB approval. But, your proposal should be approved by each committee member. Done.

At the end of the third quarter you should have collected and analyzed your data. Preferably, you’ve also written Chapters 4 & 5. That means that you’ve now defended your proposal. Done. You’ve earned IRB approval. Done. You’ve collected your data. Done. You’ve analyzed your data. Done.

At the end of the fourth quarter you should have defended your dissertation. Chapters 4 & 5. Done. Dissertation approved by your committee. Done. Dissertation Defense. Done.

Now, not everyone will finish in this time frame. In fact, few will. But if you pursue aggressive goals, you are more likely to succeed, even if you slip a bit.

My students tend to complete their dissertations in 12 – 18 months. We always shoot for 12 months, and create milestones to mark the way.

You should be creating a structure like this for your own dissertation. For now, ask yourself…

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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