Female Doctoral student studying

5 Myths Doctoral Students have Thought about Their Dissertation, but Later Regretted (by Learning the Hard Way)

By Dani Babb, PhD

Jumping into your doctoral dissertation may seem relatively straight forward. Your chair is ready, you have an idea what topic you want to write about, and you have all the templates your school has provided to you. You begin to think through the more specific components of your topic and what will be less stressful. You ask your Chair for advice and you hear things like "the methodology will be driven by the research question", and other things that seem to not specifically answer your question. You begin to trudge along, with many things you believe and hold as constants. Unfortunately, these five things are often learned the hard way and regretted by doctoral learners!

Myth 1: "I will have no problem finding participants for my study. I also have a lot of colleagues and friends who will reply!”

I can’t tell you how many of my mentees ran into the obstacle of not being able to secure enough participants for their data collection. In most cases, this was not a challenge they anticipated, even if they were warned about it during the proposal phase. Why the overconfidence? Well, I’ve found that it’s quite easy for potential respondents to agree to participate in the future. Sometimes this is called a convenience sample (who you know, not who is best to answer the study questions). However, when it comes time, realities arise. People have survey fatigue. Your study may not apply to all of your friends and colleagues, so they don't represent the population. Respondents become concerned about who will have the information, or their managers may not allow them to respond at all. There are many ways to mitigate this risk, including having a contingency plan in place. This is important to work through with a coach and to know what you will do if you do not hit that required sample size, whether quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods.

Myth 2: "I think a mixed methods study or qualitative study is the way to go because I don't like statistics.”

Many students have difficulty deciding between a quantitative or a qualitative approach. These students may erroneously believe that it comes down to personal choice. For example, if they are turned off by math or statistics, then this is a sufficient reason to avoid the quantitative approach. Alternatively, they may want to incorporate both approaches in order to cover all bases - the mixed methods approach. This is overkill and, often, is tantamount to combining two studies into one. Even more importantly, the research question must drive your methodology or you will be out of alignment in your study results. If you want to undertake earth-shattering research after graduation, that is entirely a possibility. However, until then, take the path of least resistance. In this case, it would be selecting either a qualitative or a quantitative methodology, and letting the topic dictate which to go with (not your personal preference). Our coaches can help you choose a methodology well aligned with your study.

Myth 3: "IRB won't have an issue with my study.”

It’s a toss-up whether the Institutional Review Board (IRB) or the IRS has caused more aggravation in my life as a doctoral mentor. I’m joking, of course, but this parallel should drive home the point that obtaining IRB approval should not be taken lightly. The basic role of the IRB is to ensure that research is conducted according to ethical standards and no harm is done to participants. As you might imagine, there is a lot of subjectivity that goes into the review. The reality is that only a small percentage of doctoral students pass the IRB phase after initial review. It's not uncommon to need two or three reviews - or more. If your University has a quick turn-around for these reviews, then it may not be that big of a deal. However, for many Universities, it can take up to one month to complete a single review. The last thing you want to do is to spend an entire term in the IRB phase. What a waste of time and money! We have IRB experts on our team to help you knock out IRB more quickly and pay less in tuition waiting for approvals. We can also help you decipher the change requests.

Myth 4: "I plan to be done in less than two years.”

Most students want to get in, and then quickly out of their doctoral program. Almost all these students have an unrealistic perception of what it takes, or even of what true doctoral research is. Many go into the process mistakenly believing that they will be writing a white paper or heavy research paper not unlike their most stressful courses, or that they will be able to incorporate their extensive professional experiences. This is precisely what a doctoral study is not. Having an aggressive yet realistic timeline is likely to keep you on track and not lead to any discouragement along the way. Our coaches work with you to come up with a deliverable-based schedule that works for you.

Myth 5: "I don't need extra help - I just need to follow the template."

As with most doctoral students, you likely don’t have unlimited resources. You also may be taking advantage of Federal student loans to help pay your tuition which will need to be paid back. The last thing you think you need is to spend out-of-pocket money on external support services. Most students don’t realize that this is actually money well-spent because, when it’s all said and done, it is likely to result in significant savings. Just do the math. If working with an experienced and competent external coach and/or editor can shave even a conservative six months from your doctoral journey, what is that worth to you? The chances are that whatever you pay would end up being much less than what you would have otherwise paid had you undertaken the journey on your own. We will work with you to cut down on time and save you tuition so you can get back to your other dreams and ambitions with your doctoral degree- done and complete!

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