Supernovae, Bigger Bangs, and the Unconventional Journey to Becoming a Doctor

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.

Available_Black copy
Available_Black copy

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

  • Dr. Russell Strickland discusses the astronomy and astrophysics research he conducted as an undergraduate student
  • How the unexpected death of Dr. Strickland’s advisor caused him to reevaluate his academic path
  • What led Dr. Strickland to return to school and get his doctoral degree?
  • The biggest hurdles that students face during the dissertation phase
  • What types of doctoral students will benefit from the services that Dissertation Done provides?

In this episode…

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.

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Even with the most meticulous preparation, uncertainty is an inevitable part of existence. However, when you persevere through these unforeseen events, you are often led to greater opportunities than you could have ever imagined—both in academia and beyond.

Dr. Russell Strickland knows first hand how the course of life can unexpectedly change. After taking an unconventional path to earn his doctoral degree and facing his own struggles during the dissertation phase, Dr. Strickland realized there was a significant need for mentors that could guide students through the tricky process. This inspired him to start his company, Dissertation Done.

Join Dr. Russell Strickland, the CEO of Dissertation Done, in this episode of An Unconventional Life as he talks to Dr. Jeremy Weisz of Rise25 Media about his unconventional journey toward earning his doctoral degree. Dr. Strickland discusses how a notable advisor impacted his academic path, the reasons why he went back to school to pursue his doctoral degree, and his own experience with the dissertation process. Stay tuned.

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 one percenters 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

This is Dr. Russell Strickland here host of An Unconventional Life Podcast, where I feature the stories of the unconventional 1% not only earned their doctoral degrees, but went on to leverage them in strange, exciting, cool and unconventional ways throughout their lives in their careers. Today, I’ve got Dr. Jeremy Weisz within he’s conducted interviews with literally thousands of successful entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs. And we flip the script a little bit today and he’s going to be interviewing me So Dr. Weisz, thank you so much for being here.

Jeremy Weisz  0:58

Dr. Strickland I Thanks for having me. I’m really excited about this particular episode. We were talking beforehand. And this has been a crazy journey, a crazy ride and you have some really interesting stories. We’re gonna dive into those. And before we do the episodes brought to you by dissertation done. And I always tell people when I describe you, Dr. Strickland, it’s like picture rocket scientists meets management consultant. Because, listen, you’ve lived there, you breed this and you started it because the huge pain you had with dealing after studying Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago, and you’ve mentored thousands of students over the past 20 years. So if people have questions, and people always do, and they call you because they’re frustrated with the process, they can go to and check out more. You help everyone from business to nurses to education to psychology, anyone who studies people in a data driven way. So Dissertation Done, check it out. I really want to talk about your path, your journey, because you’ve read this winding path. Maybe Talk about you know, why you know leading up to your resume Chicago? What did you want to be when you grew up?

Dr. Russell Strickland  2:09

So honestly, I mean, gosh, there I’ve always taken challenges as as they’ve come up I’ve taken challenges as a as a challenge basically as a as a dare. And so when someone said, Oh, this is tough for that stuff, I’ll go give it a shot. And so that’s kind of how I fell into my path and college is I ended up double majoring in physics and math. And, and it was a glutton for punishment. Yeah. It See, the thing is, it turns out that there was a lot of overlap between those two degrees. So it was really like 1.3 or 1.4 degrees, not not too bad. But it still counts. I got two of them on the wall. So that’s cool. But anyway, um, and then from there, I began doing research as an undergraduate. I was actually lucky enough to find a mentor and someone to work With and I was really doing kind of graduate level research we published while as an undergrad. And that kind of set me on the path to studying astronomy and astrophysics. And I was lucky enough to follow my undergraduate mentor. He was an alumnus of the University of Chicago. And I was able to go there as well, which was amazing. I grew up in a fairly small area and moving to the big city. Chicago was a lot of fun. Where’d you grow up? I grew up in North Carolina. So I’m actually I live right now. My office is not 30, 40 miles from where I grew up. A little bit bigger suburb here. But yeah, that was one of those things where I, I grew up here, we moved to Chicago. At some point, when I met my wife, we decided that neither one of us really knew how to have a dog and raise kids and have a house in a city like Chicago. So we decided to, to do we were going to move to the suburbs. And then if we were going to move to the suburbs, instead of moving to the Chicago suburbs, we decided to move somewhere where we thought At least the real estate would be a little cheaper. All those? Yes. All those Yankees have come down in the meantime and really driven up real estate prices around.

Jeremy Weisz  4:09

What will you do research on at the time?

Dr. Russell Strickland  4:12

Well, so couple things. As an undergraduate, I was studying something called radiative shocks. So when a star blows up certain stars, when they’re big enough, at the end of their life, they actually lose all of their heat generating at the at the inside of the star, it collapses on itself, and then it kind of bounces and it blows up. It’s called a supernova. And we studied how those shock waves go out into, into the, into space. Basically, they form really nice, cool looking patterns and there’s a an instability that acts a lot like a spring that we discovered and worked on. So that’s what I was doing as an undergrad. And that’s what

Jeremy Weisz  4:52

happens to your students. heads when they try and get through this process. It just explodes resonate said, we should call this the supernova podcast or something.

Dr. Russell Strickland  5:05

But, but but from there, I went on from studying exploding stars to the exploding universe. So if one wasn’t bad enough, I went into working on cosmology, which is kind of the study of the Big Bang, and how the universe as a whole evolves. And we were working on that time, what we call the dark matter problem, which is still unresolved. We’ve learned a lot of things since I was a graduate student, but we haven’t figured that one out yet. So maybe at some point, I’ll be able to retract that statement and say, this is kind of the answer. But but that’s what I was working on in my advisor, there was a really, really great guy super larger than life guy named Dr. David Schramm. And, and so that’s who I was working with for a number of years there at University of Chicago.

Jeremy Weisz  5:46

So you, you know, I know we talked about the unconventional life and unconventional path. Initially, you took the conventional path.

Dr. Russell Strickland  5:54

So we’ve been talking about Yeah, that’s the traditional high school, college, graduate school. Yep.

Jeremy Weisz  6:00

So at what point do things shift for you?

Dr. Russell Strickland  6:05

Well, so I mentioned my advisor who I was working with and in academia really you’re you, you killing your advisor to kind of help you with the next step in your careers very difficult to go from being a graduate student to a postdoc to the faculty member. And about a year or two before I should have been wrapped up, my advisor Dr. Schramm died unexpectedly in a plane crash. He was heading home and Aspen, just before the Christmas holidays. So at that point, that was a close mentor someone I had a personal relationship with, but also the person who was going to help me kind of with the next step in my career, and I just kind of reevaluated things. I burned out a little bit to be quite honest. But I reevaluated things a little bit. I said, I’m tired at this age of being like a poor, starving graduate student. There banks downtown that like guys that know how to deal with numbers, so I decided to get a job doing kind of computer work. And, and that’s what I did for a few years. But I eventually kind of felt that call of you know, I left something unfinished. This notion of being a doctor of kind of finishing that path academic path that I’d started was important to me. It was kind of how I identify myself. And so kind of like the Godfather from the Godfather Part Three, when I thought I was out, they kind of pulled me back in I felt it was time to go back to school. And this time I took a the unconventional path.

Jeremy Weisz  7:31

I want to just freeze at that moment for a second. First of all, I’m sorry to hear that it’s just a tragic event. Do you remember? How did you hear about it? And what were your thoughts? Because that’s like, someone you probably spent a lot of time with.

Dr. Russell Strickland  7:47

Yeah. I’m trying to remember exactly when it happened. I don’t remember if I heard just after the first of the year because it was very close to the Christmas break. I don’t know if that happened. Just before. We had left campus, but it was it was big news and it was just there were no words. I mean, it was stupefying. And you know, this is somebody who really really was larger than life. I could spend a lot of time sharing his story. So I can tell one just real quick, I don’t remember all the details, but he was mountain climbing like literally with the pic and all this kind of stuff with a Collie. And and so they were the way they were doing this. They were tethered together. And Dr. Schramm had the lead he was up higher. And and so the guy below him was tethered to him so that if he slipped he would be able to, to Dr. Schramm would catch him and he would be able to regain his composure. Well it turned out, Dr. Schramm slipped, and he started to fall and he’s going down and the rope is loose. And the guy knows Oh my God, I’m getting ready to do the talk. This row and he’s digging in as artists. He kept trying to make sure that he’s gonna be there. there when that rope catches, and it catches and he looked down, he’s like, Oh my god, are you alright? And meanwhile, David, Dr. Schramm is laughing maniacally at the bottom of this rope and he’s like, you should have seen your face. And that’s the guy he was. He was literally facing like, imminent death. At that point. There was a certain probability of that happening even though they all knew the safety procedures and everything. This was dangerous stuff. Yeah. And and that was his thought. Man. Oh, man, that guy is really wigging out. I go flying by it.

Jeremy Weisz  9:36

Sounds like he had a really good unique humor. Yeah. Um, and that made you reevaluate everything at that point. Were you thinking? Wow, like life is short. Like what what are you thinking at that point when you get

Dr. Russell Strickland  9:51

it? I don’t know how much of it was that but it was kind of I was looking at it. Honestly, selfishly. What am I going to do I have to kind of start over again. When I already had kind of like the best mentor me, there are lots of great people there. No, no now, but that was kind of my thought is, I already had the best mentor. And now I gotta have to start over again. And so I just decided that maybe it was time to do something else for a while. And to actually make a little bit of money and act like an adult, basically, because I was probably in my mid 20s at that point, but I had been living at home or at school my entire life. So I figured it was time to kind of get a job and do some of those other things. And, and so I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back at some point. Or if that was a real turning point for me. I just knew that. At that point, it was the right time for me to try something else.

Jeremy Weisz  10:40

So you decided eventually to come back. Yeah. And what happened?

Dr. Russell Strickland  10:45

Well, so it wasn’t exactly coming back. But it was it was kind of like coming back, I guess. Um, so I have gotten a job. I’ve moved I had done a number of things. We ended up having a startup company that I was working For we ended up having layoffs, there were two rounds of layoffs one when the economy’s doing pretty good. And I was in the room where we were told, hey, there’s other guys are all getting laid off today. And then a little bit later on when the economy wasn’t so good, I was in the other room. So I almost think that I got unlucky by missing the first round of layoffs. But at that point, I had to kind of decide, okay, what do I want to do? The economy’s not so great. And to me, the fallback was, Kosh have always wanted to get my doctoral degree and finish up. I’ve been doing more and more business related things over the past few years. And so I thought, maybe let’s get some solid footing in that world and actually get a degree. And there was no point getting a master’s degree at that point. As far as I was concerned, I would just go go for my doctoral degree and I went for a PhD in organization and management at that point. But the only way I could do it was this unconventional approach that so many of our students use now, because I looked at some of the traditional universities at the time and they were all like, you got to be back here. all day, every day. 70, 80 hours. A week working and studying and all this kind of stuff. And I thought, well, that’s just not where my life is right now I have a wife, I’m, we’re trying to have kids. I mean, I have a mortgage. I can’t do that anymore. And so that’s the unconventional route I found Capella University, which is a great online institution. And they fit in with my schedule, being able to do things on my terms. While I was still working, I began teaching at that point, online and, and I was able to kind of still support my family or my growing family and, and still pursue my education. So it was it was really the only path for me at that point was that unconventional path.

Jeremy Weisz  12:46

So when you took the unconventional path, what were you thinking you were going to do with it?

Dr. Russell Strickland  12:53

Um, well, honestly, part of what I was thinking was on teaching undergraduates, they’re really boneheaded and they really feel entitled and they’re like, I got an A in one class way back when so I can go and get an A in your class, right? And I just didn’t. I didn’t go that way. You know, if you if you aren’t in a, you’re in a great congratulations. But otherwise, don’t tell me what you did in the past. Let’s see what you’re doing now. And I found that when I taught master’s degree students, that wasn’t as much of a problem. And I figured, well, when I actually start towards real students, maybe that’ll be even less of a problem. So I wanted to get my doctoral degree in part so that I could teach at the doctoral level so that I could work with folks on research projects, which is still something that’s that’s you know, kind of near and dear to my heart. And, and honestly, again, selfishly got paid more money. If you had your doctoral degree. That’s something that our students still benefit from to this day when they they earned their degree. They’re telling you about how much more money they’re making after they finish.

1 2 Next

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.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Leave a Reply: