Cramming vs. Planning: Accurately Assessing Your Dissertation Timeline
Cramming vs. Planning: Accurately Assessing Your Dissertation Timeline
“The Law of the Farm: Procrastinating and cramming doesn’t work on a farm…things must be done in season, according to natural cycles. Natural consequences follow violations, in spite of good intentions.“ -Stephen R. Covey
In farming, there are unique seasons to plant, nurture, and harvest crops. There is no quick fix in farming! Attempting to move faster than nature would allow, would only guarantee failure. For example, it would be ridiculous to presume that if the farmer forgot to plant or provide water to the crops that the farmer would have a harvest at all. This is what Stephen Covey calls “The Law of the Farm.” According to natural principles, a farmer must prepare the field, plant the right seeds, cultivate, weed and water if he or she expects to reap a harvest. On the other hand, too many of us are in the cramming mode when it comes to academics: reading the night before the exam, waiting to the last minute for to write a paper, and too often, planning for the immediate deadlines regardless of the long-term goal.
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As you move through the Ph.D. process past the comprehensive exams and into dissertation writing, it would be natural to apply the academic behaviors that brought you success in the past, to the dissertation process ahead. Unfortunately, dissertation writing is unique to any academic experience you may have encountered and many find that to become effective dissertation planners, they need to learn a new way of planning. The dissertation is a farming process: you must prepare, gather, plant, nurture and harvest when the time is right.
Plan the Seasons of Your Dissertation I like to use Covey’s “Law of the Farm” and describe the dissertation as seasonal, with each of the broad phases of the dissertation representing a unique season. As you move through the dissertation process, you will find that the way you think, feel and respond to your research will change from phase to phase.
Phase 1: Gathering- The beginning phase of your dissertation development includes finding a chairperson, agreeing on a topic, and writing the introduction and literature review. This is the time for you to gather all the information that will position you as the expert in your topic as well as all the tools that will help you to effectively conduct your research along the way. Sure, you can use information from your comprehensive exams to develop your literature review (and I often recommend doing this) but you should also take the time to research beyond this comfort zone and really learn as much about your topic as possible. Also, take the time here to understand what assistance resources are available for you as you develop your research. When can you hire a methodologist or statistician? Understanding what help is out there and when you can utilize them will only help you prepare for the seasons ahead.
* In past advice articles, we have recommended that students start the methodology section (phase 2) prior to completion of the literature review. This will allow you to start thinking of the practicality of your research and prevent you from researching and reporting irrelevant topics. You should start thinking about who your research participants will be, what survey instrument you will use and how you will administer this instrument. For example, if your dissertation topic was “leadership styles of United States presidents” you may have issues when your methodology calls for surveying past presidents and you do not have direct access to them. You do not need to put this into writing, just keep balance in your mind of the phases to come.
Phase 2: Writing the Recipe- The methodology phase of your dissertation is something we call “writing the recipe” or the cookbook for how to conduct your research. The methodology section includes the information on how you will carry out your study. This should be so detailed that, in theory, anyone can replicate your research by following your exact instructions. Thus, this section serves as the recipe for your research. The phase includes writing your methodology chapter, approval, pre-proposal defense, submitting to ARB/IRB and approval to begin collecting data for results.
Phase 3: Harvesting the Data- The results phase of your dissertation is somewhat of a “harvest” as you collect and report the data that has been planned in previous phases. The results chapter is a non-evaluative report of the data supported by tables, figures and charts. You will be focused on collecting and reporting reliable and valid results only, leave your thoughts and explanations for the next phase of the dissertation process.
Phase 4: Reflection- The discussion section, or chapter 5 of your dissertation, provides the opportunity to integrate the results of the study with existing theory and research. This allows you to reflect on all of your work conducted in previous phases.
Phase 5: Defense and Completion- The dissertation defense is your time to share your expertise with your committee. Many find this to be one of the most difficult processes in the dissertation process.
The Interactive Dissertation Timeline Statistics Solutions offers a free Interactive Dissertation Timeline to be used in planning the dissertation development process. Included in the timeline is a detailed description of each major stage of the dissertation development and suggestions on how to best complete them in a timely manner.
Warning: The “Three-time Rule” of Research As a general rule, expect research to take three-times as long as your original expectations. This three-times rule allows the “wiggle room” in your timeline that you will need to account for the unforeseen and uncontrollable. For example, you may hope to have feedback from your committee in one week but it actually takes three weeks, or IRB sends you revisions that take a month even though you submitted it as an “expedited” submission. If you planned for a longer time, you would not have the stress that comes along with worrying about keeping to a tight timetable. If your committee takes longer than originally expected- fine! You have accounted for three-times the amount. If they are complete in less- even better! You will feel a sense of satisfaction with being ahead of schedule rather than behind.
Harvest well! We wish you a thoughtful planning, planting, nurturing and harvesting season of you dissertation. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us!
Happy learning, The Statistics Solutions Team
Statistics Solutions offers the following services for assistance with dissertation development…
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