Lightning Strikes Twice

Dr. Russell Strickland is the Founder and CEO of Dissertation Done, a company that helps doctoral students create actionable plans in order to complete their dissertations in a timely and effective manner.

Before becoming a renowned teacher, coach, and mentor, Dr. Strickland received his master’s degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics from the University of Chicago and his doctoral in Organization and Management from Capella University. Over the past 20 years, he has mentored thousands of students, and his process has been proven to vastly reduce times to graduation and significantly improve graduation rates.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • What holds people back from getting their doctoral degrees?
  • The importance of finding a mentor who has also been through the process of earning a doctoral degree
  • Dr. Russell Strickland breaks down the skill sets necessary to complete your dissertation
  • Common roadblocks that students face while working on their dissertations
  • Dr. Strickland’s advice for navigating your committee
  • The incredible story of one of Dr. Strickland’s students who persevered through terrible loss in order to finish her dissertation

In this episode…

Earning a doctoral degree is no easy feat, and it’s common for students to run into issues while working on their dissertations. Luckily, you don’t have to tackle this process alone.

When you work with a mentor who has already achieved their doctoral degree, you are better suited to create a plan of action that will help you reach your goals and graduate sooner. That’s why Dr. Russell Strickland founded Dissertation Done, a company that relies on mentorship to help doctoral students finish their dissertations quickly and effectively.

In this episode of An Unconventional Life Podcast, Dr. Russell Strickland, the founder and CEO of Dissertation Done, is interviewed by Dr. Jeremy Weisz of Rise25 Media about how to complete your dissertation when faced with challenging obstacles. Stay tuned as Dr. Strickland shares his insights on working with your committee, dealing with the unknown, and reframing the way you think about doubt and failure.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done!
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.

Intro 0:03

Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy 1% out there, who ends their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique and unconventional ways. Here’s your host astrophysicist and teacher, author, dissertation coach and more. Dr. Russell Strickland.

Dr. Russell Strickland 0:28

Hi, this is Dr. Russell Strickland here host of An Unconventional Life Podcast, where I feature stories of the unconventional 1% who earned their doctoral degrees and then you use them in these crazy and unconventional ways where we cover the winding journey in their life in their career. Today, I’ve got Dr. Jeremy Weisz, who’s done literally thousands of interviews from successful entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs. And we flip the script a little bit here. He’s going to be introducing me today. So I’ll turn it over Dr. Weisz I gentlemen

Jeremy Weisz 1:00

Dr. Strickland I totally appreciate it and I’m really excited to chat about this is it gonna be an amazing episode because talk about crazy twists and turns like this story has every bit of that, unfortunately for the person. So before we dive into that this episode is brought to you by dissertation done. You know, Dr. Strickland when I described dissertation notice, here’s what I say, okay? It’s a combination of rocket scientists meets management consultant, like, Well, where’s the rocket scientist and come in? Well, Dr. Russell Strickland has started dissertation on after the huge pain points he dealt with, after studying Astronomy and Astrophysics at University of Chicago. He’s mentored thousands of students over the past 20 years, and just probably helped relieve some of their pain points because it can be a painful process. So he works with students, business, nurses, education, psychology, anyone who studies people in a data driven way. You know who you are. It can be frustrating process everyone, I believe I mean everyone needs a coach in any aspect of their life. This is definitely one of those wilderness points so people can go to check it out. you know they have a phone number right on the page, call them email them. he’s open to answering any questions you have. So without further ado, Dr. Strickland, there was a you know, I’m no one has even spoil a punchline, you don’t have listened to the story, but this person came to you. And they experienced a lot of ups and downs. First of all, what was the situation? This person, this lady who came to you?

Dr. Russell Strickland 2:32

Well, it wasn’t it was not an unusual situation. Honestly, it was a very typical situation. It started out as just any other student reaching out to me, Hey, I’m having some trouble with my dissertation. I can’t get this piece or that piece working. The typical story is I’ve been working my dissertation for a year or two or sometimes more, and I haven’t gotten anywhere yet. From a time spent standpoint. I’m up here and from a milestone standpoint, I’m way down here and And that was that was her situation as well, I think she’d been working on for several months. I don’t know that she was a year or more into it yet. But she was actually her job involves her commuting back and forth across state lines, it was an hour or more commute. But it was literally across state lines that she’d have to go everyday to go to a job. And then she had to work her dissertation into this as a long thing, an adult she was married. You know, her kids were grown, but she had all of those responsibilities. So it was a question of trying to figure out how do I get this thing done when I don’t really know what I’m doing? And face it. If you’ve never done a dissertation before, you don’t know what you’re doing, and that’s okay. What you need is to figure out what to do, I don’t know what I’m doing yet is what I like to tell students don’t just say, I don’t know what I’m doing that’s hopeless. I don’t want a refund is a there’s some hope there. There’s some optimism there. And that’s a good definition of a student by the way. If you look it up in the dictionary, a person who doesn’t know what they’re doing yet. So that’s kind of where where she was and

Unknown Speaker 4:01

Why did she want to get as

Dr. Russell Strickland 4:02

she was just kind of stuck and wanting to move forward?

Jeremy Weisz 4:04

Why did she want to get it in the first place? Or why does it Why don’t

Dr. Russell Strickland 4:08

you want to get it, she was commuting across state lines for job every day. She wanted something, she wanted to have more opportunities so that she would be able to kind of call her shot, decide where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do and she felt like at that point in her career, she’d like to be able to be closer to home not have to commute so much to be able to decide when and where she wanted to work. And, and having that degree makes you a lot more competitive. Obviously.

Jeremy Weisz 4:35

You know, Dr. Strickland, what holds people back you mentioned there’s a lot of stuff like holding veil back is it just the not knowing how to do it? Are there other things?

Dr. Russell Strickland 4:44

It is it is literally it’s just that not knowing how to do it. That’s what holds people back. People will say that it’s a lot of other things that hold them back. Okay. People will say I don’t have time people will say, you know, my my committee is giving me problems and that that’s really good. concern and there are ways of dealing with that. People will say all sorts of things, but it comes down to you just don’t know what you’re doing. If you sit down at the computer and you try to work on this thing every single day, and you don’t get anywhere, well, pretty soon our our psyche, our brain likes to protect ourselves. We don’t like to keep hitting our head against a wall literal or figurative. And so at some point, you start coming up with these defense mechanisms. I don’t have time to be doing this, I can’t I need to do this. Instead, I need to do something else. And you spend less and less time on it because, quote, you don’t have time. It’s not true. Time is a priority. Everybody’s got the same 24 hours in a day I finished my dissertation. A lot of other folks that finish theirs, you can finish yours. But when you don’t know what you’re doing, like I said, then you’re not making progress when you’re not making progress. It’s frustrating. And when you’re frustrated all the time, you tend to stop doing the things that frustrate you. It’s just human nature. And so that’s where the excuses and defense mechanisms come in.

Jeremy Weisz 5:53

So when someone comes to you, they’re often frustrated. They just want to get at it quicker. What are some of the First Things you tell them or do with them? Well,

Dr. Russell Strickland 6:04

I was just listening, kind of the words coming out of my mouth and saying, Wow, that sounds awfully down on people. And and I want to be clear on the fact that it’s not not knowing what you’re doing yet is fine. I tell. I told my kids as they were growing up, listen, there’s really, in most cases, there’s no such things as accidents. Either you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing, or you’re trying to do something that’s kind of outside of your capabilities. If you’re trying to do something outside of your capabilities, that’s fine, you can fail and try again. That’s how really successful people become really successful. They fail a lot. I mean, look up Michael Jordan or any CEO. They talk about how often they fail. It’s a badge of honor, it’s not a source of shame. The optimistic standpoint here though, is that if you don’t know what you’re doing, there are people out there that do know how to get through this process who have been through this process before, with only about 1% of the population earns a research based doctoral degree. There’s a very real chance that any room that you walk into unless it’s at a university doesn’t have another person who’s gone through the dissertation process in it. And so it’s not surprising that you have a hard time with this and you struggle, what you have to do is you have to find people who’ve been through this process before, and who’ve thought enough about the process to be able to help you create a process. And just because someone’s been through it doesn’t mean they can figure out the process. They may have gotten lucky. They may have just been good at winging it, but then to be able to teach someone else takes another level of talent. So

Jeremy Weisz 7:33

so that’s the first advice I’ve ever gotten in my life. Dr. Strickland when someone said to me, Listen, when you’re trying to do something, find someone who has done it or is doing it because what happens is it shortcuts the time, the energy and the money that you would spend doing something even though Oh, it may cost them or may take a little more time in the beginning, but ultimately, it saves a ton of time and money. Whatever it is, right? It could be dissertation it could be health. Like you mentioned, Michael Jordan, you know, shortcutting to the top of anything is from a mentor will help you walk through it.

Dr. Russell Strickland 8:06

Right? And there are things you’re gonna be good at and things that you’re going to be not so good at. finishing a dissertation requires a variety of skill sets, and you have to pull them all together. I mean, I’m talking about research, time management, project management, you know, research planning, political skill sets and dealing with your committee. The list just goes on and on and on. And then that that’s just about a dissertation in general, then there’s the skills you have to develop, to get your specific project done and to learn the things you need to learn about your specific project. So it’s a lot and for anybody to think I just have all of that right from the beginning. I mean, it’s silly. You need you’re going to need to grow. You don’t have a doctoral degree right now, not because they didn’t give you they didn’t approve your dissertation. But because you haven’t gone through that transformation and become a doctor yet. And that transformation like I said, involve pulling in a lot of skill sets. And a lot of those skill sets, you can either get someone to help help you mentor you along the way, or literally rent or borrow skill sets that you might only need for a finite period of time so that you can achieve your goals.

Jeremy Weisz 9:15

You mentioned committee on what are some common obstacles, like sometimes people come to you and they don’t even realize what they’re going to be experiencing. They’re just experiencing the frustration at that point, but they don’t realize there’s maybe 34567 things that are going to be a roadblock for them. What are some other obstacles or roadblocks people hit against?

Dr. Russell Strickland 9:33

Well, so we talked about committee is, you know, even when you’re working remotely as so many students do these days, the committee is kind of a face that you can, you know, throw your problems at, it’s because of him, and we all like to be able to blame and point fingers. And so there are a lot of things that committees do that can frustrate people, some of them are just par for the course. They want you to grow. They want you to get better, they need you to clear the bar. so to speak, that the university sets, and some of them are the committee just really not doing their job and not giving you the feedback they should or taking too long to give you feedback,

Jeremy Weisz 10:09

just because they’re too busy or why isn’t

Dr. Russell Strickland 10:12

it? Yeah, because they’re busy because you’re not the highest, you know, your doctoral degree is more important to you than anybody else in the world, including people on your committee. Now they have, they’re paid for they have certain responsibilities and certain commitments to you. But still, you get you know, you get potluck. When you when you get a committee, a lot of times you don’t get to pick and choose exactly who you want. And most students even if they do get to pick and choose exactly who they want, they don’t know exactly how to do that. So it’s tough. Yeah, but beyond that. There’s just this idea of, you know, kind of levels of understanding that you have to, to undergo, the first thing you have to understand is your dissertation isn’t your dissertation. It’s really your committee’s dissertation. Okay, think about it like a suit of clothes. Those that you’re tailoring for the committee, the designer label might have your name on it when it’s all said and done. But if it doesn’t fit your committee, it’s never going to get worn worn out anywhere. No one’s ever going to take it out. And so you’ve got to make sure that the committee’s happy with it when they’re happy with it, then you’re done. So that’s one of the big obstacles. So many people who have doctoral degrees they are who were in doctoral degree programs get there there. There are a few obstacles they face, but one of them is that they’re a perfectionist. And so they want to do their best at everything that they can do. And I’m telling you, the bar for the dissertation is already high enough. You need to do what’s required for you to graduate and not worry about doing the best you could possibly do. That’s one of the big ones is perfectionism.

Jeremy Weisz 11:43

What are some advice you have for navigating the committee? And I feel like I asked you this because I feel like I could use whatever you’re going to say to any relationship in general, probably. But yeah, what are some tips for navigating the committee

Dr. Russell Strickland 12:00

So, um, so I’m going to go into this in more detail in another episode but one of the the, one of the the,

Jeremy Weisz 12:10

I could tell this is like a big topic. You know, this is

Unknown Speaker 12:14

like the Yeah, well,

Dr. Russell Strickland 12:17

when my when my kids were in elementary school, they went to this leadership base magnet school, and they use Dr. Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as the cornerstone for their pedagogy. They talked in terms of the seven habits. If you haven’t read the book, at least go get the wiki article. So you can see the Seven Habits because it’s really worthwhile. Get the audible do something it’s Do yourself a favor. It’s a really, really good read. It’s a quick read. But this book came out in the late 80s or early 90s, I believe, and Franklin Covey Institute is still helping like big, huge fortune 500 companies with these principles. So in terms of dealing with your committee, one of the habits is seek first to understand and then to be understood. Find out what the committee wants from you and give it to them. Don’t worry about your wants in this dissertation process, unfortunately. It’s it’s about them, give them what they want. And in exchange, they’ll give you a degree and you don’t ever have to deal with them again.

Jeremy Weisz 13:20

Yeah, thank you. And I used to listen to the audio books in my car audio cassette tapes in my car. Dr. Strickland, I love them, because that’s how far back that book is. I want to talk about this this lady’s journey, you know, because the dissertation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. What were some of the things and she felt, you know, personally, that she hit up against? Yeah.

Dr. Russell Strickland 13:42

So here’s the thing. Any adults out there? I don’t care if you’re working on your dissertation or anything else. I challenge you to point back to any year calendar year in your adult life where things went exactly as you planned it. Right, just, I’ll never the better. They’re 100 bucks. Anybody Who can say yes, here it is 365 days it went exactly the way I scripted it. It doesn’t happen, okay, it doesn’t happen. Sometimes you change your mind, okay? Sometimes things that you weren’t anticipating happen. And that’s true, whether you’re working on your dissertation or not. So it’s going to be true. When you’re working on your dissertation, something’s going to happen, that you weren’t planning for. And 5% of the time, it’s, it’s going well, 50 to 80% of the time, those things are not going to be a huge big deal. 10 or 20% of the time, they’re going to be fairly significant. And, you know, two or 3% of the time they’re going to be really life changing. And that’s what happened in this lady’s case. We’re, you know, keeping the name out in this case for privacy. She did a great job. I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you that the give you the punchline to the story is that she graduated, so that’s all good. But But going into this, one of the things that we’ve had to face with many of our students is the six or death of a loved one. And she lost her husband very, very suddenly was not anticipated wasn’t something they could say, well, yeah, we could see this coming. It was very sudden. And you can imagine way crushing loss that is absolutely crushing loss, that you had this life partner for decades. It’s not there anymore. And she also has this goal of getting your dissertation done. And it’s a very, very tricky thing that we have to navigate in terms of, yes, we know that you need to take time to grieve. And yes, this is a process that you have to go through. But also, this degree is really important to you. And for some people, there’s a couple ways that folks will think about this. One is that for a lot of them, their loved one was their their cheerleader and their champion and go out there and get it and do it and get it done. And so they can take solace in the fact that I know he or she would want me to do this. We want me to finish it. They would they they’d come back from the grave And beat my you know, what if I quit, so they can honor the person by doing that by continuing to work on their on their project. The other thing that people can do, quite honestly, you might consider a little bit more selfish. I don’t, I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all. But it’s a, it’s a, it’s a place you can retreat to where as silly as it might sound, you have more control, because as much as people complain about not having control over their dissertation, at least it’s something that they’re, they’re somewhat familiar with by that point. So when something comes in out of left field, you can kind of retreat back to Well, I kind of know my dissertation, and I can work on that. And I can put time into that. And then I don’t have to deal with some of this other stuff. During that time. It’s a little bit of a solace time for me. We recommend students only invest like, you know, 10 to 15 hours a week in their dissertation project, because all of our students are really busy adults. So it’s not like you’re just taking this, you know, tremendous amount of time and retreating from the world and you’re in denial about your grief or anything like that, it just becomes an outlet where you can kind of put all that to the side for a little while and do it in a productive way. So you’re not out drinking or you know, binge watching Netflix or something like that it’s either detrimental or not good for you. This is something that actually will help you in the long run as well. So it’s a productive way to use that time and channel those energies.

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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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