Dissertations are both stressful and time-consuming. Additionally, colleges do not really help matters when it seems like your chair is giving you little assistance, but the school is more than happy to take your money. As such, here are some tips to make your time with the dissertation as smooth as possible.
Do Not Fight with Your Chair/Mentor: Chairs have a unique position in the dissertation process in that they are the gatekeepers to you getting your study completed and submitted to the college. As such, they are the ones between you and the letters PhD at the end of your name. Because of this position, do not fight with them. There are times when your chair will want you to make arbitrary changes, take forever to get back to you, provide minimal assistance, and nitpick away at your study. These things are infuriating, but remember, everyone goes through this. If you happen to have a chair who is suggesting you do things outside of what you or the college wants you to do, calmly explain to them that it will not work for your study or that the college does not recommend the suggested change. Sometimes you will have to follow through on the menial stuff, only to have URR question why it is there. Again, infuriating, but do not pick fights.
Do Not Plagiarize: Plagiarism is one of those things that will get you booted from a program quicker than almost anything else. To avoid this, be sure to cite all of your sources. If it is a direct quote, include page numbers in your citation. This also counts toward self-plagiarism, which occurs when you copy something you have already written earlier in your document. The difference between plagiarism and self-plagiarism is that colleges view plagiarism as the work of an individual who cannot be trusted with higher level work, while self-plagiarism is seen as the byproduct of an individual who is lazy. Neither are good, so avoid both. There are some exceptions to this, however, and that generally falls within your problem, purpose, and research questions. Most college guidelines prefer you use the same phrasing throughout the document to ensure clarity and alignment. Additionally, there are some phrases that may come up as plagiarized, but there are no other ways to phrase them. However, these are generally not considered tripping points within the dissertation process.
Do Your Research: Nothing sidelines a dissertation faster than someone who does not want to put the leg work in to determine if their study is even feasible in the first place. Before you embark on any portion of the study, be sure that it is viable. This means establishing a gap in the literature and ensuring that your study is truly unique (see one of our previous blogs on this topic). If you fail to do this, you are in for more problems later on when the document goes to URR. I personally have seen multiple instances where people did not want to put in the research, moved forward with the document, and then had to turn around and start all over again because URR said the study was not feasible. It may seem like a time-consuming chore at the beginning, but it is nothing compared to the amount of time you may potentially spend should you have to start all over.
In addition to establishing the gap in the research, become acquainted with the research in general. If you want to focus on teacher burnout in college but have no idea what specifically about burnout or know any of the literature on the topic, you need to ask yourself whether the topic is right for you. The entire foundation of your study is based on what others have already researched in your given field. All of the answers you may have can be found there.
In Part 2 of this blog series, we will discuss picking a topic, keeping a reference list, and ensuring your sources are up to date.
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