Writing your thesis or dissertation is the ultimate test of your graduate school years. During this time, you need to stay focused and organized while avoiding burnout. After all, you do not want to become one of those students who lives perpetually as an “ABD” – All But Dissertation. These are students who completed all their required course work for their advanced degree but simply never got around to finishing their thesis or dissertation.
The following articles will help you get your thesis or dissertation written with a minimum of pain. They will help you choose the best doctoral committee for your thesis or dissertation. They also provide general strategies and tips for researching and writing your thesis or dissertation.
Choosing a Doctoral Committee
A doctoral (or dissertation) committee consists of four or five professors from your department who will help you select a dissertation topic and get your dissertation completed. Who should be on this committee? Your first step is to decide whether to ask your advisor to be on your committee. You don’t have to ask your advisor to serve on your committee. However, if you have worked well together through the years and you respect your advisor’s opinion, he or she can be a good addition to your committee.
Your advisor can also help you identify other professors who might be good candidates for your committee. You can also talk to other students and get their views about which faculty members will:
- Review your work in a timely manner.
- Provide constructive criticism.
- Show up for meetings.
As you put your committee together, try to choose professors who:
- Get along. Otherwise, they may be more interested in arguing with each other than in helping you work on your dissertation.
- You trust and make you feel comfortable.
- Are both good teachers and good researchers.
- Are interested in your research topic.
- Have varied interests and can thus provide different perspectives and backgrounds to their reviews of your work.
- Have high but reasonable expectations of you.
- Are not planning to leave the university for another job until you have your degree in hand (but because unexpected events can always occur, it is a good idea to have a backup person in mind, just in case).
You will typically have a semester or two of school behind you before you need to choose your committee. Use this time to get to know the professors and decide who would be good members of your committee.
You also need to consider who will be the head of your committee. This will be the primary person who will help you narrow down your research topic, critique your dissertation, and provide moral support. You may want to choose your committee leader first and ask him or her to help you select other members for your committee.
Strategies for Writing Your Thesis or Dissertation
Writing a thesis or dissertation is a daunting prospect. It is very easy to get bogged down or overwhelmed, to get distracted by life, or simply to give up. Follow these tips to help you stay motivated and get that last step on the road to an advanced degree completed.
Choose your advisor and committee members carefully
You need advisors and committee members who are accessible and responsive and who will give help, feedback, and motivation when you need it.
Choose your topic carefully
Choose a topic that you have an interest in and that you have the resources to complete. Your advisor should be able to help you evaluate topics.
Begin with some research
In order to prepare a dissertation or thesis proposal on your topic, you first need to know what has already been done on that same topic. Conduct a Review of Literature, identifying sources that you can later use in your paper.
Work on your thesis or dissertation every day
Plan to at least read one article or write one paragraph so that you will know you are moving forward.
Meet with your advisor and committee regularly
Set up a regular schedule for meeting with your advisor and committee and for reviewing your progress. To ensure good communication:
- Document every meeting, sending a summary of the discussion and comments to your advisor.
- If you must mail anything to your advisor, send it by certified mail so it can be tracked.
- Ask for written feedback on your paper.
- Communicate via e-mail and keep copies of all correspondence. If you have a phone or in-person conversation, follow up with an e-mail summary.
Ensure that you meet all deadlines for submitting drafts to your advisor and committee, and request that they are prompt about returning feedback to you.
Develop a support group
Get friends and family behind you during this stressful time of your life. Accept any help they offer and be sure to offer gratitude.