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Sep 02

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Research Tips: What Worked for Me

In preparing to defend my dissertation in July, I collected several notes in case others asked me what went well, or what advice I might have for others. I thought I’d share them here in case they are useful to others.

  1. Read a dissertation in your intended field as soon as you can. A month before I started the Leadership PhD I found one of the key dissertations that I quoted throughout my study. It was very helpful to see how the dissertation was put together, to get a map for what was ahead.
  2. Create a research journal. My research journal at first contained my search methods for finding articles and dissertations on my topics. During my statistics classes I recorded questions and thoughts about my own research ideas. During the writing stage, I recorded notes, questions, learning from talking with my committee members, and lists of things to fix in my dissertation. It ended up about 30 pages long, full of notes & ideas.
  3. Email Summaries. Another useful practice was my email summaries. Soon after I talked to a committee member, usually within an hour, I wrote a list of things I learned and things to change. This helped me rephrase my learning, “catch it out of the air” and nail it down to words that I could re-read later. Some of the statistical procedures and knowledge I would have immediately forgotten if I hadn’t written it down. My committee members also found this habit very helpful as they also had a record of my understanding of what was said. They corrected me as needed.
  4. Adapt to your advisor. I thought at first that I wanted to work via email because I want to be able to read things over & over. Yet one committee member wanted to work via phone. I found that adapting to this method was wise because of the give & take that occurred in real time.
  5. Ask questions. If you don’t understand something, don’t just say “uh, huh.” Ask! Clarify. Check for understanding. It’s your own learning! Take control of it!
  6. Take the initiative. After getting feedback on one set of multiple regression analysis, I did all the rest of them. I didn’t wait to be told to do the next analysis. Playing with my data helped me know it better, even when I had to redo analyzes.
  7. Know your data well enough to find errors. Several times I found odd results that didn’t look right. Upon further examination they weren’t right! Understanding your data and the analysis makes it much easier to reflect on the results and implications.
  8. Psych yourself up to spend time on formatting. The formatting will take longer than you expect and can get annoying. Just psych yourself up to know it’s going to be a pain and slog through it! It’s part of the process and makes for a clean nice looking document when you’re done.

What tips do you have for doctoral students writing a dissertation? Feel free to comment and share!

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