The Lion, the Witch, and the War Machine and Dissertations

November 29th marks the births of C.S. Lewis and Don Cheadle. Pop quiz: which of the cultural icons proffered each of the follow pieces of advice for dissertation students?…

Every time I’ve learned something, I’ve realized there are a hundred more things I don’t know about the thing I just learned.
— Mystery Mentor #1

When I was in graduate school one of the professors I TA’d for told me the the job of an undergraduate education is to bring students to the point where they think they know everything. But, the job of a graduate education is to help them realize that they know nothing!

There is a possibly infinite pool of knowledge out there to be pumped, filtered, and consumed. Don’t take upon yourself to learn everything that can be learned about your topic within your dissertation. You’ll never finish!

Instead, create strong boundaries. Define the edges of your study. Then, if you’re like most students, bring those boundaries in by half or more!

Once you have the project defined, you’ll be in the best position to get your dissertation done!

We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
— Mystery Mentor #2

It’s never easy to hear, but some times you’re simply on the wrong track! I had student come to me a little over a year ago with an approved proposal. She was ready to collect her data, but she just had one problem: The organization that promised to let her use its data reneged, and she had no other source of data.

I advised her at the time to set a hard deadline in the near term for finding another source of data. After that time, she should commit to simply starting over with a plan that included a data source that couldn’t be swiped away at the last minute.

Ultimately, she was unwilling to commit to that course of action. She actively searched an for alternative source of data for nearly a year before finding something. The good news is that she was able to complete her project and graduate.

However, if she had simply made the decision to choose a more predictable path, she would have graduated sooner and with much less stress and frustration.

I would rarely advise someone with an approved proposal to start over, but an approved topic? An approved prospectus? You should absolutely be making sure that your research plan is bulletproof at this point. If not, then you need to fix it or start over. And, there’s no better time than today!

We are what we believe we are.
— Mystery Mentor #3

Negative self-talk is almost unbelievably destructive. But, positive self-talk can be every bit as uplifting and constructive!

Pablo Picasso once said, “My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.”

Be sure that the voices inside and outside your head bring inspiration rather than doubt.

I want to be a part of great things.
— Mystery Mentor #4

Who doesn’t? But, those great opportunities tend to come to doctors more so than doctoral students. For now, don’t worry about making your dissertation a great thing, just get it done!

I was about to write that in the future I would chose my words more carefully but I’m sure I won’t.
— Mystery Mentor #5

Well, you’d better. The dissertation is a transformational experience. And, you’ll have to transform in order to graduate.

I ask my students to save every draft as a separate document. Every few months I ask them to look back at the work they were proud of just a few months ago. Work they defended when a committee member dared to suggest revisions.

And, without exception Today Student cannot understand what Three-Months-Ago Student was thinking! How could that work be considered good? What I have now is so much better!

If you’re not seeing this growth in your own work every couple or few months, then you’re not making real progress and you’re not getting closer to graduating.

Experience: That most brutal of teachers.
— Mystery Mentor #6

Trying something new — anything new — can be a stressful, frustrating experience. If often takes an adult two, three, or more times to be able to perform a new skill in a satisfactory manner.

So, you’ve got a choice. You can try to push through the dissertation journey on your own, likely taking years no longer than necessary. You could take on all of the stress, frustration, and uncertainty by yourself, without any support. And, you may graduate…eventually. After all, about half of all doctoral students do graduate. And, perhaps those odds are good enough for you.

Or, you can find find someone to help guide the way. If you’d like to see whether we could possibly work together, and you want to bump yourself right up to the front of the line, click here to schedule a quick, 15-minute chat to discuss your top dissertation problem with me, personally. If it looks like I may be able to help you will schedule additional time to talk in more detail and go from there.

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...

Let's Talk About Your Dissertation
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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