By Dani Babb, PhD
“I want to go slow with my dissertation so I can waste time and money” – No one ever
In all of my years of teaching doctoral learners and guiding them through their dissertation process, I have literally never heard “I’d like this to take a while and max out my student loans.” (or anything remotely like this). Often times, the most eager learners ask me how they can get done with their dissertation in a year or less (extremely difficult if not impossible) or “what’s the fastest time I can be done in?” Of course the answer to this is always “it depends”.. but.. on what? The quick answers to that (to be expanded on in another blog) are things like: “how much time will you spend on your work”? “How supportive is your family”? “What other obligations or activities are you willing to give up”? “How well do you know how to conduct research”? “How good of a writer are you”? And many more…
For now though, I will focus on five things you can do before you begin your work (or while you are waiting for feedback from your committee or reviewers) to help save time and money – and get you through your dissertation faster.
Tip 1: Get your participants ready ahead of time
Whether you are conducting a quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods study, you will need participants. You may choose a convenience sample (and pay a company like SurveyMonkey to send your survey out) and therefore this may not apply to you. But if you are interviewing, conducting a sample perhaps for a DBA degree within your organization or some other study that requires you get the attention of participants to answer your survey or study questions, you may want to start connecting now. Although you are not allowed to begin data collection until after receiving IRB approval, this does not mean that you cannot commence preparatory steps so to hit the ground running immediately after receiving IRB approval. Remain in periodic contact with your participant group, or at least the leaders of the organization who will be making the participants available. Of all the usual sources of delay, difficulty in securing participants is at or near the top.
Tip 2: Identify an external mentor and editor to work with early in the process
Many of my students tell me when we begin working together that they are incredible, stellar writers and have mastered APA 7. Most of these students need editors at some point in their work. Some schools offer editing services which is terrific, but often these editors are spread thin and your committee may continually return your work for “grammar, APA and/or writing issues”. If you are really adamant about finishing quickly, you should not be relying solely on your committee members and the resources provided by the university, as these are insufficient for some students and can often have 2+ week waiting times in queues (think of the tuition you will be paying while you literally just wait). Consider an outside editor. We have hourly editors available for you! Most of the time, entire dissertations take us 10-15 hours to edit and could save you thousands or more in tuition. You also need a personal support group to work with, which may include an outside resource who has worked with hundreds (or more) students in their time as doctoral mentors and can help you avoid pitfalls. You may also need a statistical or qualitative methods consultant. (We have these experts too! I literally created these services because I see so many students need this added support.) Network with others in dissertation groups (yes we have a free support group as well!)
Tip 3: Become familiar with data analysis software
Whether you’re using a quantitative approach with the help of a software tool like Excel (coupled with the data analysis tool pack), SPSS, or a qualitative approach with NVivo or similar, you should not wait to learn the software until it’s time to actually use it. Hopefully you have taken a class (or three) in the topic, but if you haven’t, there are plenty of tutorials online or you can work with one of our qualitative or quantitative coaches to help you learn. Become familiar with tools early so you can go through the learning curve during a time in the process that is not critical. There are plenty of tutorials out there. Use bogus data to really understand how the program works in terms of helping you to analyze the data.
Tip 4: Keep the research scope tight
Read my article on 5 myths to know before you begin your dissertation process. I talk about scope of research in this article. As the old adage says, “the only good dissertation is a completed dissertation”. Logically, it’s much easier and quicker to complete a dissertation that has a small scope than it is to complete one that includes many diverse participants, locations, etc. Try to limit the scope of your dissertation as much as possible, while maintaining the integrity of your research. You can always expand on it later…after you graduate.
Tip 5: Limit push back on committee feedback
There are surely going to be many occasions when you will not agree with feedback you are provided by a committee member. You may be correct. However, even if you strongly believe you are in the right, it’s usually wiser (meaning you will get through faster) to accept the feedback and make the needed changes in order to appease the committee member – particularly if this individual is a reviewer for the school. By the time the reviewer receives the work, it could be 4 to 6 weeks of other approvals so each time you fight the almost-inevitable, you add another (likely) 4 to 6 weeks in your process. At the end of the day, you need each committee member’s approval in order to move forward. Of course, always ask for clarification if you are unsure about what is being asked of you or the committee member just truly is not understanding something, but avoid pushing back and creating a rift because, chances are, you will just end up wasting time and eventually you may have to concede anyway.