How to Repair a Dysfunctional Relationship with Your Dissertation Chair


Posted December 23, 2016

The dissertation process can be extremely long, stressful, and frustrating – not only for you but for your dissertation chair as well. As such, it is not uncommon for these feelings to bleed over into the relationship with your dissertation chair. It is possible that you have been unlucky and gotten a dissertation chair who, for seemingly no reason, is giving you a hard time. However, this disconnect is often caused by the friction that naturally occurs during the drafting, revising, and approval process.

Once a relationship is tainted, it may seem easiest to give up (NO! Not an option; you have worked too hard and invested too much) or to petition for a new dissertation chair. We strongly advise against petitioning for a new dissertation chair because, believe it or not, that can actually make things much harder. There is no guarantee that the next chair is going to be any easier to get along with or will be on board with your topic and approach. It is best to find a way to work with who you have.

The most effective approach to rectifying any relationship is to be sure that you are communicating effectively. Email dialogue can be easily misconstrued. With that in mind, try your best to be as diplomatic as possible. Remember: this person has a hand in deciding if you graduate or not. They stand as the reigning expert, and you have to convince them that you are working as hard as possible to become an expert too. When they give vague feedback, or you feel stuck, ask them for their input and their guidance. This is part of their job, and likely, the part that they enjoy the most. If they do not respond well to a plethora of questions, come up with a couple of options that you are considering for your revision and ask them which they think is best (they really like this approach; it shows that you put effort in on the front end).

Also, do not send emails when you are frustrated. Take a walk, sleep on it, call and vent to your mom about it, but do not send them an anger-induced-caffeine-fueled-rage email. It will not make author crystalthings better; it will only make them worse.

Bottom line: be polite – even if it pains you to do so. Play to their ego if you have to, but be sincere about it. You want their help, their insight, their expertise – and to graduate.

Want more tips from our dissertation experts? Fill out the form to the right to request our 7 Secrets to Completing Your Dissertation in One Year download.


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