Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dissertation Advice For Those Just Starting Out

Someone--a shill, you're thinking, but no! a real reader--asked what advice I have for someone just starting out on the potantially long, hard road of dissertation.

So I have some, though I can't promise it's good. Caveat emptor.

1. Read Bertram Karon's inspiring article entitled Becoming a First-Rate Professional Psychologist Despite Graduate Education. (Psycarticles link; you may have to find it elsewhere if you can't get into Psycarticles.) Note the information on page 213 regarding choosing a research topic that you like. Also, while there is obviously a great deal of information specific to graduate psychology, there is a lot of useful information regarding graduate school generally.

2. For more and ongoing inspiration, read the classic Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. Keep it with your data sheet collection, your laptop, or wherever your "currently using this stuff" pile is so that when you're feeling unmotivated and your mind is wandering, you can pick it up and leaf randomly through it (that's how I used it, anyway.)

3. Man. Choose your dissertation chair, advisor, etc. ever so carefully. Do they have the same values about work style that you do? Will they nudge you, but without lecturing you or condescending? Will they inspire you? Do they have kids, so they know what the heck that's about, if you have kids?

4. Choose a topic you like. I know, some people think that you will then beat it to death and dislike it by the time you are done, but that may be the sign of a bad dissertation experience that would have made a topic of lukewarm interest completely unbearable anyway. Take the idealist's route and ask a question you really want to know the answer to. Also, I hope that you at least like stats and figuring things out with them, even if you aren't a professional statistician.

5. Be prepared to sacrifice free time for a long time if you have to. Meaning a couple of years perhaps. Your partner really has to get this, too, because it's also his or her free time. (If you have kids, then be prepared to simply never have any free time between child care and dissertation.)

People always emphasize self-care, taking time out, etc. etc. Well, theoretically that's true and as a therapist I should also emphasize that myself. BUT. Self-care has degrees. Recognize that sometimes self-care means that you got to shower that day, eat nutritious food, and take several breaks to nurse and care for a baby. It doesn't always have to mean that you get to take the day off and go to the beach. Some days it might, but remember that every friend you have will want to be the one person you take that much deserved study break with, and then you will be socially booked every weekend and unable to work.

It probably depends what life stage you're at, too. For my life stage, not a lot of beach, but I did get the diss done in...what, I guess three years? Wow, I guess I was writing the proposal in December of 2004. (I did that in three weeks, includes lit review and all, pats former self on back.) But during that three years I also took time off to have a baby, in addition to the usual grad school activities.

6. Choose an easy way to do your study. Choose the easiest way possible, in fact. The best dissertation is a done dissertation. When you have those letters after your name, you can do more and better studies in exactly the painstaking way you were thinking of. They are not for now.

1 comment:

BabyBlueprint said...

Thanks! I picked up Fifteen Minutes a Day a couple of weeks ago and haven't cracked it open yet... perhaps that's the task for the weekend!