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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!