I hear it on every call. My client tells me that they were doing well in their doctoral classes, and then they got to the dissertation phase and time seemed to stop. Gone are the weekly due dates, the feedback on individual assignments, and the pace of an 8- or 10-week course. They are frustrated by the lack of specific direction, the feedback that they don’t quite understand, and why their writing is now scrutinized to a level they have not experienced before.
If they got this far in their program, why are they foundering now?
There are a variety of reasons why the dissertation experience may feel different from doctoral programmatic courses — the primary one being that you are now expected to be self-directed to a greater extent, and magically able to discern what your university and your program is expecting from you in each section of the dissertation template they provide.
As a dissertation chair, I understand this thinking…somewhat. Universities expect that growth comes from struggle and sacrifice, and those who persevere are the ones who are willing to read all the instructions the school provides, read all chapters in the methodology texts, learn the proper formatting requirements to ensure that citations and references and tables and figures are all designed correctly, and have an editor at the ready to review their work before they submit it to their committee. Expectations are high; communication about those expectations less so.
Writing a Dissertation Is Hard, Because Life Gets in the Way
As a dissertation coach, I know the reality: doctoral students are working full time, taking care of their children and their aging parents, working extra shifts to afford school, and have little time to learn the nuances of how to construct an excellent problem statement section that aligns with their purpose statement section that aligns with their research questions and that aligns with their methodology.
And yet…those are some of the most crucial steps that a dissertation writer must take to have an effective start. Explaining that alignment strategy rarely comes from the dissertation chair in a cohesive way; it usually arrives as a rejection email stating that the committee has not approved the proposal because the study is misaligned. The doctoral student is left to figure out what that means. However, if the writer just had someone explain this alignment to them at the start, they would not have wasted time and energy organizing their study incorrectly.
Your Dissertation Chair Is Probably Not a Dissertation Coach
Add to that frustration the turnaround time that often accompanies the rejections of their drafts. Dissertation chairs may have two weeks to return feedback, during which time the student is either waiting for advice on next steps or taking those next steps without the benefit of the corrective feedback from the committee on the first draft. With the lengthy times between feedback from their chair or committee, the student is adding to their tuition costs, feeling increasingly frustrated, and wondering if the degree is worth it or even attainable. They’ve come so far, only to arrive at defeat. The challenge stems from the fact that most dissertation chairs do not see themselves as a dissertation coach.
For each of these students, I wish I could turn back time and counsel them to hire a dissertation coach at the start. We are not duplicating the role of your chair or your committee. We are there to provide a rapid turnaround time on reviews of your work, reducing a two-week waiting period to three days. We coach you on all of those methodology terms you missed while taking quantitative and qualitative analysis. We help you understand the typical structure for each section of the dissertation, and shortcut your learning curve on how to analyze your data. We teach you how to align your study, and how to choose the best theoretical framework to support it.
We are able to do these things because we work for you, not the university. We are not stuck in faculty meetings, or writing progress reports for university deans, or left balancing the egos on your committee. We are there for you, as much as you need us.
I’ve coached dissertation students for 8 years. I’ve worked with students who hired me on day 1, and I’ve worked with students who hired me after they conducted their data collection but didn’t know what to do next. Those who hired me on day 1 have always finished with the fewest roadblocks, and always in less time than their cohort. But those students who found Dissertation Success somewhere along the way also found great benefit in the coaching service. They tell us things like, “I wish I had found you years ago.” They experience the relief of having someone on their side, working for them, guiding them through what they need to do, and cheering them on with each milestone achieved.
As I always tell my clients, writing a dissertation is hard work. If it were easy, everyone would have a doctorate. But writing a dissertation is also not rocket science. You can, with guidance, craft a manageable writing experience that will yield an award of “Dr.” before your name. Hiring a dissertation coach can help make that writing experience less painful, less time consuming, and ultimately more effective.
This article was contributed by Dr. Tara, one of our longest serving expert dissertation coaches.
Are you frustrated in your dissertation writing process? Schedule a free strategy call with one of our coaches today. There is no obligation. You will walk away encouraged – knowing that there is someone that has already dealt with the psychological and emotional challenges of writing a dissertation.