Category Archives: Dissertations

Want to get your dissertation done faster?

If you’re reading this, then I’m guessing that the headline got your attention. I don’t know anyone who’s working on a dissertation who wouldn’t like to get it done faster. It’s an arduous undertaking.

Here’s the secret.

So, you might not like the answer. It’s simple. Work on your dissertation. Every. Day.

This is something I discovered personally through trial and error. I would block off chunks of time – a weekend, a couple of evenings, etc. But my progress seemed so very slow. After a few months of sluggish headway, I realized that I spent a good portion of my dedicated time revisiting and “catching up” on what I had completed during my last chunk of time.

I needed to find a flow to keep the momentum going.

That’s when I decided to try working on my dissertation every day. Knowing that on some days that might only be 15 minutes and on other days it could be six hours. While it took a great deal of discipline to create this habit, I also felt as if I had stumbled upon a goldmine.

What to do in 15 minutes?

If I only had 15 minutes what could I do? I could always spend 15 minutes searching for more sources on a specific topic. If I had folder full of articles and other resources, I could spend 15 minutes scanning one of the articles and highlighting potential quotes. I could take a few minutes to cleanup my growing reference list and make sure I was adhering to APA style (the style required by my program).

When I started to see my progress it fueled my fire! Even though it’s been a number of years, I can still remember traveling for work to San Jose, CA. What a wonderful city to visit. But I chose to spend the evening in my hotel room, glued to my laptop, researching and organizing sources. Even more amazing, I didn’t mind, because I could finally see real progress! I was addicted to the momentum my daily routine had created.

Now you could easily say, that worked for you, but I can’t imagine working on my dissertation every day. I too wondered if I was an outlier and had created my own crazy strategy. I’ve discovered just the opposite. As I read books, articles, and blog posts from other dissertation coaches, I read the very same advice. Work on your dissertation every day.

If I were to do this again (and no, I have no plans for a second dissertation), I would likely take it up a notch. I would not only work on it every day, I would also schedule time on my calendar and identify exactly what I want to accomplish during that time. I might write something like secure five sources supporting my overarching theory of adult education, or read three articles in my lifelong learning & leadership folder and highlight the potential quotes.

Get even faster!

Not only would this let me see my progress in more detail. It would significantly increase the likelihood that I would actually do it! Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson said, “When people engage in the right kind of planning, their success rates go up on average between 200 and 300 percent.” Putting very specific tasks that you can complete in that time frame on your calendar is part of that “right kind of planning.”

So, work on your dissertation. Every. Day. Put your specific tasks on your calendar. Watch your progress accelerate before your eyes. Get your dissertation done faster!

Best Dissertation Advice I Received

It’s been more than 17 years since I completed my doctorate and I still remember the dissertation advice that changed both my mindset and my topic.

I was one of those doctoral candidates who was going to change the world with my dissertation research. I was going to “prove” a better approach to leadership. I had this specific experimental research mapped out in my head as I traveled to attend my last intensive class before I could work exclusively on my dissertation.

It’s now been a number of years and I don’t even recall the professor’s name, but to this day I still remember exactly what he said about choosing a dissertation topic. He said, “Pick a topic that you know you can get done. Then, go change the world.” He described how many of the doctoral candidates he had worked with over the years were enthusiastic to change the world. However, they picked a topic and research methodology that was so laborious and would extend over such a long period of time, that they never finished. They became an ABD (all-but-dissertation).

Getting the air sucked out of my research idea…

As he spoke, I felt the air being sucked out of my grandiose research idea. I tried to convince myself that I was the exception. After all, I had a master’s degree that focused on research (marketing research) and I had conducted many research studies for universities. I could do this.

As I flew home following the intensive class, I had a come-to-Jesus-moment with myself. I thought long and hard about what he said, “Pick a topic that you know you can get done. Then go change the world.” I decided I should take his advice. On the plane home I began to think of an entirely new direction for my dissertation born out of an entirely new mindset – “get it done.”

Now, more than 17 years later, I am still incredibly grateful for that advice. It’s proved to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. Not only did I get my dissertation completed in a year’s time, my career since that time has evolved out of my dissertation! Something I had not expected when I chose the path of least resistance – pick something you know you can get done.

Criteria for Selecting a Topic

Carol Roberts and Laura Hyatt, authors of The Dissertation Journey (Third Edition, Corwin, 2019) provide several criteria for selecting a dissertation topic, here are a few:

  • It has to hold your interest for a long time
  • Must be manageable in size
  • It must be doable within your time frame and budget
  • It has to have obtainable data

Where to Find Topic Possibilities

With that in mind, here are a few questions I would suggest to help uncover topic possibilities.

  • Would taking a deep dive into something related to your current professional work hold your interest?
  • What have you read recently that got you energized or excited?
  • Download a few published dissertations in your field of study. Skip to the section, “Recommendations for Further Research.” Do any of the recommendations strike you as fascinating or intriguing?
  • Throughout your doctoral coursework, what papers did you write that seemed to come more easily because you were so engrossed in the topic? What else about that topic would you like to know?

Pick a topic that you know you can get done. Then, go change the world.”