Traditional vs. Unconventional

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:

  • Dr. Russell Strickland discusses both the traditional and unconventional reasons for pursuing a doctoral degree
  • The various unique ways people have used their doctoral degrees
  • The different approaches, challenges, and goals for unconventional students versus traditional students
  • Dr. Strickland’s tips and tricks for students that are balancing their dissertations with other priorities and responsibilities

In this episode…

Why do you want to earn your doctoral degree? While many doctoral students are pursuing a path to academia, there are still others that want to use their degree to elevate their existing careers or even switch career paths entirely.

While there is no right path for pursuing a doctoral degree, the reasoning behind your decision will have an impact on the process. Everything from your approach to your dissertation, to your methods for completing the work, to your goals for graduation will depend on what you plan to use your degree for in the long run.

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Russell Strickland of Dissertation Done talks with Dr. Jeremy Weisz of Rise25 Media about the differences between the traditional and unconventional paths for pursuing a doctoral degree. Dr. Strickland discusses the various advantages of obtaining a doctoral degree, why time management is key for unconventional students, and the importance of finding the right mentor to guide you through 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 earned 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  0:29

Hi, this is Dr. Russell Strickland here host of An Unconventional Life, where I feature stories from the unconventional 1% of those folks who not only earned their doctoral degree but went on to use it in crazy, exciting and unconventional ways. Today, I got Dr. Jeremy Weisz with me. And he’s done literally thousands of interviews of successful entrepreneurs, investors, CEOs, and we’re flipping the script a little bit and he’s interviewing me today. So I want to welcome you. Dr. Weisz Thank you so much for being here,

Jeremy Weisz  0:59

Dr. Strickland, it’s always a pleasure. I’m excited to dive in today’s episode we were talking before we hit record and you know, the thought of traditional versus unconventional what that means what that looks like. Before we do I just want to tell people that episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done which is I tell people combination between rocket scientists, me’s management consultants, LLC, a great combination to me. And it came from Dr. Strickland, the pain point you had when you dealt with studying Astronomy and Astrophysics at your as your Chicago and you’ve mentored thousands of people, students over the past 20 years, helping them working with students from in business nurses, education, psychology, anyone who studies people in a data driven way. And so people call you because bottom line, they’re frustrated. And there is a better way when you have someone come in and help in any industry. So check out and if you are frustrated with the process, which I’m sure 99% of people. There is some frustration point they should call you. I’m sure traditional versus unconventional. So talk to me about those two terms and what they

Dr. Russell Strickland  2:06

actually ties into exactly what you were just just mentioning. So the traditional doctoral student is the kid who goes from grade school to high school to college to graduate school wants to be a research professors going after his PhD or Ed or whatever it might be directly, plans on spending the rest of his life. Researching wants to be a professor, that’s the track that he’s following that track into academia is what most people consider to be the path for PhD but it’s not the only one. You see, most of the students that I work with aren’t 27 year old kids who are in grad school, but rather, they might be in their 30s 40s 50s or 60s in that but the oldest student I worked with was in her early 80s. Wow. And they, they they’ve been through they’ve had some life experience. They’ve had some career experience professional exposure. And they’re wanting to elevate their careers to the next level, or maybe switch tracks a little bit. And so these students, I call them the unconventional doctoral students. And that’s where we got the name unconventional life for our podcast here, because they’re pursuing their doctoral degree in an unconventional way. And then they’re using it in an unconventional way. So that’s the difference. And it’s not just skin deep, because it really goes into how you’re going to approach your dissertation, how you’re going to go through the process and what that process means to you when you’re all done.

Jeremy Weisz  3:35

Talking about some of the unconventional paths that people have taken him because I would think, you know, I was having conversation with someone the other day, and they were like something Oh, that you know, something normal. Mike wants to be normal. Like, you know, I love the name unconventional, right? So what are some unconventional paths that you

Dr. Russell Strickland  3:58

will Yeah, you’re you’re Right, folks. Here’s the thing, something that we talked about when I was an undergrad in psychology is everyone wants to be normal, but no one wants to be average. Technically, those are the same. So unconventional things Gosh, we’ve had with some of my students run their own businesses. And by being experts, you know, their businesses are driven by the fact that they are expert in what they do. And having a doctoral degree, having a first name of Doctor really helps to set the bar immediately for prospective clients or customers that this is the person that I’m dealing with Dr. So and so that really raises the bar for them. Other students listen, I mentioned that some of our students are, you know, 70s and even even the 80s number one lady that was in her 80s she was doing this just to because she wanted to as a hobby. That’s unconventional right there. But yeah, but for a lot of our students who are kind of approaching the end of their career, they want to give back in terms of being able to teach when they retire, because there are a lot of opportunities to do that. And for folks who have spent, you know, a career in business or a career in, you know, assisting people, helping people serving people, to be able to teach others how to do that and give to the next generation, well, most often it requires a doctoral degree or if it doesn’t require it, you probably need one to really compete to be able to get those those jobs in those positions at a university level.

Jeremy Weisz  5:36

There was some other reasons I know we talked in the past about someone’s towards end their career and people get pay grades raises with different degrees. Right.

Dr. Russell Strickland  5:48

Well, so this was a unique, unique situation in terms of my students, but I know that it will apply to a lot of folks, this particular student workforce A state institution, a State University. And when you work for that particular state, they have a pension prep program and that pension program was driven by the payouts were driven by how much your what your salary was what you earned in your highest three consecutive earning years. For most people that’s at the end of their career. But for some people, you have your high your peak earning years or somewhere in the middle of your career, and it goes down later on. But for most people is that the end? Well, in her case, when she earned her doctoral degree that caused her to level up in terms of her salary, and as soon as you do that, now you’re talking about a different level of salary, a real bump, not just a, you know, cost of living increase but a real bump in her salary. She was about ready to retire when she got her doctoral degree. She worked for three years to get those three years in at that higher level, and then her her retirement had bumped up I don’t remember if it was 15 or 20% for the rest of her life. So just by continuing to do her job because she had that benefit of earning more money, as a person with a doctoral degree, she was able to reset her retirement for the rest of her life. And she retired immediately. And then she began doing other things, that she can be considered to be fun and interesting. So, lots of ways we can look at this unconventional thing in terms of when you finish school. Absolutely.

Jeremy Weisz  7:25

And Dr. Strickland, you know, one of the things that sticks out with the unconventional versus traditional like if your traditional path, which is you’re just going through and you start in college, and you you know, go on the life of that person is totally different, right? That hurt, the person may be married, have kids like talk about what that person’s life looks like, outside of their schoolwork? Yeah, so

Dr. Russell Strickland  7:47

our unconventional students are what I call real adults, not to insult anybody in their early to mid 20s. But psychologically speaking, you’re not an adult yet. And if you’re still going to school full time Time and living in, you know what amounts to a dorm or an apartment or something like that. You’re not really an adult. Yet an adult is someone that has, you know, rent or a mortgage and kids or a spouse or a lot of other priorities and responsibilities that they have to balance. When I was originally, you know, in graduate school, I actually was a traditional doctoral student. And at that time, I worked hard. I worked long hours, but that was all I had. It was like school and a few friends. And that was it. There were no other responsibilities, no balls that I really needed to juggle. I just put a lot of effort into my studies, our students that are our unconventional students. Again, that’s not the case. They may have kids, pets, mortgage, rent, job, family, marriage, all of that. And some of them are taking care of their parents at this point in their life. So all of those other priorities are important and they have to all be managed. While you’re earning your doctoral degree life doesn’t stop, just because you’re in school. So it’s it’s a, it’s quite a juggling act and a lot of respect for our students who get through that success. I

Jeremy Weisz  9:16

get overwhelmed just thinking about all that and going through it while you have all those factors involved, right? Absolutely. And would you say is there you help them manage that process? What are some of the tips and tricks that you bring to them? Well, you know that they have all these balls juggling

Dr. Russell Strickland  9:37

the so the first thing is, and this is the most important thing, by the way. So hopefully we didn’t bury the lede here when we’re talking about some other things, but the most important thing for you listen to concerning this idea of being a traditional student versus an unconventional student. If you are an unconventional student, you have to remember that your goal is to do something with your Career to earn your degree, and move on to serve those who are called to serve to level up your career switch tracks, whatever it was, that brought you into school in the first place. That’s your goal. That’s what you’re driving towards. If you are a traditional doctoral student, earning the degree is just considered to be one of those things, you’re going to do your net, that’s not in doubt for you. Instead, your goal is to create a dissertation that’s going to serve as the foundation for the research program that you’re going to pursue, quite possibly for the rest of your career. So for, for traditional students, your dissertation is very, very, very important. What you do your dissertation on how you do your dissertation, what your results are all very important. It’s the launchpad for your career. For our unconventional doctoral students, that’s absolutely not the case. Now, since most people give advice, as if they’re talking to traditional doctoral students, even when they’re not As an unconventional student, you have to be very, very careful about who you listen to. Because if they’re telling you to do a number of things, which we talked about before, about how you pick your project and and how much it needs to mean to you and how good a job you need to do on your dissertation, if that’s the focus, then they’re missing the point for you. The focus is graduating, getting out there so that you can serve other people so that you can do those career professional things that you are called to do. So your very, very first thing as an unconventional doctoral student, is to make sure that you’re focused on getting your dissertation done. We’ve talked about that before in the context of Dr. Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People we’ve talked about begin with the end in mind, you have to focus on the fact that you want to get done that creates a whole different set of priorities for you, in the dissertation itself, that that we carefully help students math out and and figure out how to negotiate This dissertation process in an unconventional way, rather than a traditional way. Now, Jeremy, I know that I kind of sidestepped your question a bit. So I do want to answer, what are some of those tips and tricks. One of the things we tell students to do is listen, you This doesn’t have to be your whole life. Okay, this isn’t a degree that you’re trying to earn. So what we want to do is budget 10 to 15 hours a week to your dissertation project. Now, that’s not nothing. Certainly, when you already have a busy life, that’s that’s certainly something time you have to carve out. But it’s not the 80 to 100 weeks that I invested in my dissertation process. When I was a traditional doctoral students, you can kind of see the difference when it is your whole life you really put your whole life into it. When it’s part of your priorities, then you just have to carve out some time. I suggest people do that kind of two to three hours a day, five to six days a week. For a lot of students if they can get up an hour early hour and a half early in the morning, that time becomes sacrosanct, and nobody’s gonna bother you if you get up at four or five o’clock in the morning to work on your dissertation. So a lot of students can get a lot done there. And if you cringe like I would, as a self, you know, self described Night Owl and getting up early like that, I’ll tell you just try it. It actually worked for me to be able to get a lot of projects done by doing that. But if you can set aside an hour, hour and a half in the morning, an hour and a half at night, that’s all the time you really need to be able to get your dissertation done, and to get it done a lot more quickly than a lot of your colleagues will.

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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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