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

Jeremy Weisz  13:45

What was the process for you this time around?

Dr. Russell Strickland  13:49

I didn’t hear the question.

Jeremy Weisz  13:50

Well, how was the process for you? Yeah, going through it because like, did you decide you had you want a mentor because now you know, people are annoyed or fresh. In banging their head against the wall they call you. Right, right. So what did you do?

Dr. Russell Strickland  14:05

Um, oh, okay, so I see. Well, I guess let me answer the question. I thought you were asking what was the process overall? Now, I’ll tell you the classwork I felt was fairly easy, fairly straightforward. It was just what I’ve been used to. And that’s the same experience, many of our students report. When I did get to the dissertation, I had already been using some of the tricks that I have started teaching my students now to kind of line up my dissertation and be ready for it a little bit when I was going in. So I was very, I’ve always been a self starter, and I was very much organized towards that. That doesn’t mean it was easy. I had problems and one of the things that I talk with my students now about the first step, the thing that’s most important, the foundation, I didn’t realize that yet at that point, and I kind of skipped over that. And I was lucky enough that one of the dean at one of the schools I was teaching with at the time, a guy named Dr. Gary Sutter, he was gracious enough to help me he helped me recruit students from within that university to participate in my dissertation. And that was kind of a problem that I didn’t realize I was going to have. And that’s where I ended up getting stuck on my dissertation was, how do I actually get the data. And I wasn’t prepared for that, as I as I should have been in the way that we prepare students now. And having that help. It really did get me over over the hump. That’s the reason why I think everybody needs help in this process from somewhere. And the person I would point to would be Dr. Sutter, my committee was helpful, but in terms of going above and beyond this is just a work colleague that was able to help me get over that hurdle that I needed to to be able to crest in order to graduate.

Jeremy Weisz  15:44

So they kind of helped you they stay filled that role in some form or fashion.

Dr. Russell Strickland  15:50

Yeah, I mean, I mean, the thing I was stuck on, he was able to tell me Well, here’s I have resources, I can help you. I can put these resources at yours. It was really something that I should have been prepared for and planning for. But I had never been there before. I didn’t know. And that’s the same story we get from our students all the time now. And I, I tell them, you know, it’s okay. It’s kind of it is where you are in life right now is that you haven’t done this before. And so having someone who can help you to navigate those hurdles is invaluable and it’s almost necessary.

Jeremy Weisz  16:26

What were the challenges for you because like you said, the untraditional route, the unconventional route is you have a wife, you have a family you have a mortgage you have. How was that as far as your time goes? Because I’m sure you get this question a lot, which is it’s a lot of time

Dr. Russell Strickland  16:42

how’d you How’d you do that in the dissertation phase, if you if you’re working efficiently and you kind of know what you’re doing. We tell our students to that we’d like them to invest 10 to 15 hours a week into the process. I might have spent just a little bit more time than that. But I was very careful in the way that I crafted my workspace. Well, after I got laid off, one of the things I decided was, I never going to have anybody in control of all of my money again, because I went from doing pretty well to not getting anything. And that was that was scary. And so I started when I started teaching, I was teaching for multiple schools at the same time, and I teach a couple classes here, couple classes there, if all of a sudden one school kind of went away in terms of offering courses that didn’t then make everything go away. But because of this, I was able to segment my time against the various schools that was working with my own school for my degree, as well as the schools that were paying me to teach. And so I did put, you know, probably 15 to 20 hours a week into my dissertation, I would think, but now that we’ve gotten a little bit better with the planning, we tell our students 10 to 15 hours to get it done.

Jeremy Weisz  17:47

So you finish your degree, congratulations. What do you do next?

Dr. Russell Strickland  17:53

Oh gosh, what are we so what do I do next? Um, at that point, I’ve been working as a You know, teaching, I got to get teaching doctoral students. And I noticed that the students were definitely having trouble in the dissertation phase. There were students who I was not their chair, but I was on their committee. And I would see, it would take a long time for them to do anything. And so eventually I went to one of the in person events, they have most of these schools where you’re working remotely, they want to bring everybody together a few times at the end of the doctoral process during the dissertation process. they’ll teach you about the process to help you meet faculty to get some face time with folks. And they call these residences or colloquia and I attended one of these as a faculty member. And during my office hours, people were coming up to me and I was hearing the same story over and over again, about the problems they were having the difficulties, and at that meeting, I decided as I was giving them all my advice as to how I think they should move forward and all this. I started thinking God I wonder if someone else out there is looking for help. And they’re not at this colloquium. And they’re just going to Google to try to see how to answer this question. And so I hung the shingle out, you know, on Google basically to say, if you’re looking for help with your dissertation, let’s talk and I got people to start talking with me. And, and I was able to start helping them. And it wasn’t very long before. Instead of teaching at various universities, it was I was doing all of my work through Dissertation Done, and I’ve been so you know, blessed kind of to have this work to be able to help. Interesting people work on interesting things for a living is really, really cool.

Jeremy Weisz  19:37

Yeah. So you you kind of transitioned, and you saw this huge need for people and huge frustration. What were some of the biggest frustrations what were they coming to you with specifically at the time and obviously, you’ve seen this over many years and thousands of students,

Dr. Russell Strickland  19:54

so it’s a little hard for them to articulate some time but quite honestly, the number one thing is I just don’t know what the hell I’m doing. And quite honestly, that’s perfectly fine. You’re a student you haven’t seen this stuff before, is the first time. And most universities don’t do a very good job of providing structure and really walking you through the process, even though they might tell you what they want you to do, ultimately, how to get it done and how to get from point A to point B and to figure out how many points that are from here to graduation. It’s not something universities are very good at. And so just simply not knowing what they’re doing is one. Some people point to writing issues that writing at this high level, even if even though they’ve written papers for all their doctoral classes, it’s another level up and they complain about that. Another one, the big one is just being out there on your own. Okay, so even if you think you know what you’re doing, how do you keep pace? You know, how do you know if you were a marathon runner? How do you know if you’re, if you’re running a good pace, if you don’t have like a watch or somebody else with you, you know, if you’re just out They’re on your own, it’s impossible to know whether you’re moving at the kind of pace that’s going to get you to graduation in a reasonable timeframe or not. So having that accountability, have someone tell them, tell them, this is what you need to get done this week, this is what you need to get done next week, week after week after week. So you’ve got those check ins, and you know, yeah, I’m on track or no, I’m falling behind, and they’re telling me I’m falling behind. So I can take action on that. Those are some of the things that come up over and over again. Now I could mention other things like data analysis and editing and, you know, how do I do any of a number of different things they have to do? I’m having trouble with my mentor, my chair. Lots and lots of other things come up. But But the basic ones are you need someone to help you figure out the path to figure out where you’re going and how to get there. So I’m going to pace you make sure that you’re getting there on a reasonable basis, and some accountability, someone to talk to each week to say whether you’re you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing or not,

Jeremy Weisz  21:54

isn’t the main things. Did you find Dr. Strickland at people certain times. Types of doctoral students were more attracted to you at first. Because I know you serve a lot of different types of doctoral students now from nurses to business to psychology, what were some of the initial students and then kind of what do they look like now?

Dr. Russell Strickland  22:18

So, I know where you’re going with this, but I think I have a little bit of a different answer to answer the question you just asked. I mean, we work with students primarily in education, business, nursing, and psychology. Those are the big four that we really work with. But we see a lot of other things kind of on the side things like ministry and criminal justice and public health and healthcare administration and things like that. The the common denominator is the way that our process works. You need to your part of your dissertation process has to be to go out and collect data, and that data should be focused on people. Okay, so if you’re going to go out and collect data by filling out beaker in a chemistry class or by, you know, oscillating some sort of circuit in electric electronics lab, we’re not the best fit for you. We’ve actually helped people in both of those fields to graduate. So it does work. But that’s not our, you know, middle of the road bread and butter. But why those folks came in and worked is the larger answer. Your question is, what we’re looking for is people who, who really who realize the goal is to finish to get to get to graduation as quickly as possible that their real calling in life is not to be a doctoral student, but to be a doctor and all the people that they can help once they get to that level, including themselves and their own family. And so that focus is the number one common denominator. Number two is to be coachable to look at this thing and realize with a little humility, hey, I don’t know how I’m doing and if I can get someone to help me through this, that’s me being smart, not needy, helpless, I’m going out and getting help on being resourceful and finding the help that I need to get me through. Just like You know, I got stuck on my dissertation and I was able to find a colleague who was able to help me through. So those are two of the big things is focusing on you got to get this thing done. And that’s got to be your number one priority. And then you got to be, you know, coachable. You got to be malleable enough and flexible enough to change tracks a little bit. If that’s what it takes to hit priority number one, it’s just to get it done graduate as quickly as possible.

Jeremy Weisz  24:24

Yeah. Dr. Strickland I know you answer a lot of, of the, you know, kind of painful questions and scenarios throughout the podcast. So I encourage people to go on, check out the episode other episodes, check out to learn more, and if they have questions, frustrations to email you What else should would be beneficial to end on any last thoughts about your journey, or just about the dissertation process?

Dr. Russell Strickland  24:54

Well, so I will tell you that if you asked me when I started as a traditional graduate student, what I would be doing, you know, at this point in my life, never would have said that I would be running my own company and helping folks with their dissertation projects. If you asked me, when I finished my own dissertation, what I would be doing with my life, I still probably didn’t have running my own company and, and, you know, doing this work this dissertation done work on my list, and certainly not hosting a podcast and writing books and all the other things I’ve done. If you have it in your identity, if it’s part of who you are to want to earn your doctoral degree, and if you’re working on if you’re in a doctoral degree program, maybe you’ve kind of finished the courses in working on your dissertation. You absolutely owe it to yourself to get it done and to finish. We can help you I’m sure there are other resources out there that can help you. You can do it on your own, but that’s tough. The bottom line is stick to it because life has so many opportunities out there and they multiply when you are at this level, when you are, when your first name is Doctor, then there are so many invitations available to you. person I spoke to a couple years ago, who was in the DC area, said that, you know, if, if you don’t have a seat at the table, then you’re on the menu. And your first name is Dr. You’ve always got a seat at the table. So that’s the thing is just persist. Keep at it. If you’d like my help and be happy to do it, I’d be thrilled to talk to you. But But keep at it, do it to yourself and all the gifts that you’re able to give to this world. You owe it to everybody else as well.

Jeremy Weisz  26:35

Thank you, Dr. Strickland, check out Awesome. Thanks for having me.

Dr. Russell Strickland  26:42

Thank you so much for being here, Dr. Weisz. I appreciate it.

Outro  26:51  This has been An Unconventional Life. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, Subscribe now to keep getting inspirational stories of unlimited lives as soon as they’re released. Until then go out and live your best unconventional life.

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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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