Statistical Consulting Blog

The Dependent vs. Independent Doctoral Candidate: Taking Control of Your Ph.D. Fate

Posted March 7, 2012

The doctoral process is an ordeal.  In order to be awarded a Ph.D. degree, you must dedicate yourself to years of classroom-style learning courses, rigorous testing, the scholarly research process, comprehensive exams and authoring a dissertation.  No small feat!

Many doctoral candidates are also successful, working professionals who are looking to further their career by obtaining a Ph.D. degree.  The road to Ph.D. may be one of the most difficult processes to understand for working professionals, as it requires such dissimilar qualities as is required in their professional lives.  Often, they find success in their careers by thinking independently: setting their own professional goals and seeing them through and finding unique ways to manage their time effectively.  Once thrown into a candidacy for Ph.D., they may find the process a culture shock.  In the Ph.D. process, you are at the mercy of the educational timeline (i.e., you must take this class as a prerequisite for your desired class, you must attend classes for two years prior to beginning your research) and eventually, an advisor and dissertation committee.  Your educational success relies on your ability to achieve goals that others are setting for you and timelines that are outside of your control.  You may feel as if you are forced to leave your independent thinking behind and enter into a dependent relationship within the educational system.

“If you want to stay a child, get a Ph.D.”
-Joseph Campbell

I have to start by saying, although I have been in that place, I respectfully disagree that the dissertation process must be demeaning.  Rather than feel like a child in the Ph.D. process, I believe that you can apply the independent thinking that has made you successful in your professional life, to the educational process.  In fact, it is in my 20 years of experience that I have found the most successful Ph.D. candidates (which I define as completing the Ph.D. in a stress-free, timely manner) to be those that did not let the process control them, and instead took control of their Ph.D. fate.

The Dependent vs. Independent Doctoral Candidate

When you enter into a doctoral candidacy, it will seem as if your advisor or committee require that you are ultimately dependent on them for success, especially in the dissertation’s development.  It may seem as if they are feeding the process to you as if you are a child (i.e., when writing your dissertation, first you complete chapter one, then chapter two, etc.).  It may seem as if you are stuck in this dependent state, relying on them to feed you your next assignment.

The dependent doctoral candidate is someone who accepts this short-term, deadline-driven thinking as the only way to Ph.D. completion.  They may rely on an advisor to give them a task and treat each task of the dissertation discreetly, looking only to pass the next milestone on the way to the finish line.  The problem is, the dissertation process is not analogous to a race!  Everyone will not eventually finish if they pass each individual milestone along the way, in fact, many will not finish at all regardless of how many “tasks” they have completed (Hence the ABD’s of the world).

The independent doctoral candidate is one that thinks about the Ph.D. and dissertation development process as a whole, taking himself out of the short-term, deadline-driven thinking and into the greater goal of dissertation completion.  They understand that no matter how great they formulate their research problem, if the project is not “doable” it will eventually fail.  A successful independent doctoral candidate is one that always fully understands and focuses on the end goal equals a dissertation completed and approved in a timely manner.

The Ph.D., and more specifically, the dissertation development process, is best attempted when you understand the ultimate end result and how each piece, or chapter, will play a role in the approval of the final result.  Many find that if they complete their introduction and literature review (chapters one and two) before formulating their methodology section (chapter three), they have set themselves back months of work when they need to re-write their first two chapters to align them with the third.  This is because they do not understand the dissertation well enough to know that the methodology section is the linchpin of the entire research project.

Your methodology section (chapter three) must include:

  1. Answerable research questions;
  2. Ways of measuring these constructs (i.e., an instrument);
  3. Access to data.

If you are missing just one component, you’re dead in the water.  You could have formulated the best research questions but if you don’t have ways of measuring them, they are unanswerable.  If you have ways to measure your research questions, but do not have access to existing data or a manner to collect that data, they will inevitably need to be rewritten.  Your methodology section is the most important part of your dissertation research and you should take yourself out of your educational timeline to make sure that you have your methods section in mind prior to completing any other chapter of your dissertation.

Formulating a strong methodology is the key stone that will shape your entire research project.

Once your methods section is clear, it can now guide you in the introduction and literature review, helping you to focus on the constructs formulated in the methodology.  A strong methodology section will also set the stage for your results chapter, and ultimately, your discussion chapter.

It is my advice that you take yourself out of the dependent state by resigning yourself to rely on advisors or committee members to control your dissertation fate and into an independent state of thinking (i.e., take control of your methodology so that you will be better prepared for every other milestone in the dissertation) before you spend any further amount of time or money in the educational process.

Take control of your Ph.D. fate; get yourself out of the dependent process and declare your independence!

Happy Learning!

Dr. James Lani and The Statistics Solutions Team

 

Statistics Solutions offers the following services for assistance with dissertation development…

Statistical Consulting

Data Analysis Plan

  • Edit your research questions and null/alternative hypotheses
  • Write your data analysis plan; specify specific statistics to address the research questions, the assumptions of the statistics, and justify why they are the appropriate statistics; provide references
  • Justify your sample size/power analysis, provide references
  • Explain your data analysis plan to you so you are comfortable and confident
  • Two hours of additional support with your statistician

Quantitative Results Section (Descriptive Statistics, Bivariate and Multivariate Analyses, Structural Equation Modeling, Path analysis, HLM, Cluster Analysis)

  • Clean and code dataset
  • Conduct descriptive statistics (i.e., mean, standard deviation, frequency and percent, as appropriate)
  • Conduct analyses to examine each of your research questions
  • Write-up results
  • Provide APA 6th edition tables and figures
  • Explain chapter 4 findings
  • Ongoing support for entire results chapter statistics

Qualitative Results Section

  • Thematize your transcripts
  • Gain consensus on the number and name of themes
  • Prepare document for two additional readers (for reliability)
  • Conduct inter-rater reliability for each theme
  • Write results chapter to present themes and supporting excerpts of those themes
  • Explain chapter 4 findings
  • Ongoing support for entire results chapter

Please call 877-437-8622 to request a quote based on the specifics of your research, or email Info@StatisticsSolutions.com.

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