I don’t often write about my Doctoral Journey…But when I do… it’s no longer sprinkled with four letter words.

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I don’t often write about my Doctoral Journey…But when I do… it’s no longer sprinkled with four letter words. I may have just found my rhythm, for the moment.

The dissertation process is one that I have become increasingly familiar with in my years as a doctoral student ( I just reached 3 years, 10 months and 22 days). What once was a vague image has become clearer and more relatable. Through my previous coursework, I have learned just how important time management is for someone who is working full time, going to school full time, and trying to maintain a happy family at home. My time management schedule has become routine to me, and should offer some stability when proceeding through the dissertation sequence. I have learned valuable skills related to organization as well. However, I do notice that in my organization, I still have a bit of chaos. When I believe I have my research organized by themes, I discover a new connection or find that what was once thought to be connected may indeed not be.

Self Help
Two obstacles I must overcome through this arduous process is managing family time, and remaining organized through the accumulation of additional research. Since last spring, I have been reading a few books dedicated to doctoral student success in preparation for the dissertation phase. Three books I have found to be quite helpful are Dissertations and Theses from Start to Finish, Finish your Dissertation Once and For All, and The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.

With this assortment of books, I was able to see inside the time-frame and structure of a dissertation, common pain points for each section, coping techniques for one of the most stressful endeavors a person will go through, and practical personal and writing advice from those who have been through the process. Through these readings, I have found both support and motivation in what used to be one of the most daunting periods of my doctoral journey. I no longer feel as isolated as I once did. The authors of Finish your Dissertation Once and for All: How to overcome psychological barriers, get results, and move on with your life by Alison Miller and The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.: 200 secrets from 100 graduates by Dora Farkas ( @DoraFarkasPhD) made me feel as though I was working with my own dissertation coaches. Social media has also been instrumental to me as I gain momentum for the dissertation. I follow a few blogs written by students further ahead of me in the process, their experiences have helped me prepare and stay motivated. I also have joined a few online support groups and have made a few ‘friends’ on Twitter; I now know I am not alone in the journey.

The Unknown
One extraneous pain point I have not been able to address is dealing with my committee, as I have not been assigned one yet. This is an unknown hurdle that I look forward to checking off my list. I feel that if I can get the Concept Paper written and approved in the first dissertation sequence, the timeline I have established for myself will be attainable. I have worked hard to do as much research and writing before the dissertation phase specifically for that reason. I want to have as much feedback from course mentors as possible on as many section of the Concept Paper as possible. Acceptance of the CP on the first submission is a primary goal.

In preparation for this new phase of my journey, I have gathered some reading material to help guide, motivate, and prepare me in some areas I feel I can use some additional help. How to Prepare a Dissertation Proposal by David Krathwol and Nick Smith is a highly recommended book that should offer the guidance I need to ensure timely acceptance of my Concept Paper and Dissertation Proposal. I find I struggle a bit in my critical thinking and evaluations of research, so I have two books I hope will help me hone these skills: Critical Thinking About Research by Julian Meltzoff and The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams. I plan to read these three books before and during my Comprehensive Exam phase.

Learning is the process, not the product
Of course, all plans are subject to change; I know I need to be flexible and stay motivated regardless of outcomes. There will be times I may get discouraged with committee feedback, but all of their wisdom only makes my dissertation better. I also need to bear in mind that the dissertation is likely the worst research and writing I will ever do in my academic career, it will only get better after each ensuing writing project. With each course I have taken, I am one step closer to completion. Similarly, with each week of the dissertation process, I am closer to achieving the loftiest goal I have ever set for myself. Ultimately culminating with a Ph.D., an achievement I will be unreservedly proud of.

Next stop, Comprehensive exam and ‘dissertating’