Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Writing A Dissertation

First, let me address the question on everyone’s mind:


True, I haven’t written on my blog in three months. Here’s why:

I’ve been busy working on my massive dissertation, the a cappella major, and I’m proud to say that the first draft is FINALLY submitted.

A few friends have mentioned to me that they were thinking about applying for a doctoral program. If you were thinking “maybe one day I’d like to get my doctorate,” please do the following:

1) Go to the nearest hardware store.
2) Buy a hammer.
3) Use said hammer on your face.

All kidding aside, as someone who is only months away from completion, let me give you some real advice about the doctoral program.

Disclaimer: Not all doctoral programs are the same. This advice may not apply to you.

1) Classifications

When you enter a doctoral program, certain terminology is used to describe your progress:

Doctoral Student- Until you physically enter the writing phase, you are classified as a doctoral student. During this phase, you take the necessary classes to complete the program. Some programs (like mine) require you to take a comprehensive exam when the necessary classes are finally completed.

Doctoral Candidate- Assuming you have to write a dissertation (some doctoral programs don’t have that stage), your first task will be to write a proposal that outlines the dissertation (more on this later). At this stage, you become a doctoral candidate.

ABD (All But Dissertation)- In the ABD stage, the only thing you have left to complete is the physical dissertation. You have completed the classes, passed the comprehensive exam, written your proposal, and now it’s time to write the behemoth that is the dissertation. The good news is, many full-time college jobs will hire people in the ABD stage, as the ABD stage implies your doctoral degree is close to completion.

2) Doctoral Proposal- The single most important document you will ever write.

The phrase that was worth repeating at Five Towns College was “The proposal is the hardest part.” Why is the proposal, a 20-30 page document, harder to write than the dissertation, a 150-300 page document?

The dissertation proposal is equivalent to a formal business contract. The members of your committee debate and sign it, and once completed, you are bound to its content. The proposal essentially tells the members of your committee what your dissertation is about, how the dissertation will be organized, and specifically what you will write about.

The proposal is the hardest part of the dissertation process, because once completed, all you have to do to pass the dissertation is follow the proposal. Think of the proposal like a big mind map or outline. All you have to do is follow it to the letter, and your dissertation is complete.

3) Strategies for success

I didn’t write my 844-page dissertation overnight (though if you knew how many sections were written “overnight,” you’d slap me). It took 3 years to complete the draft you saw above.

Writing a dissertation is sometimes known as “the loneliest activity in the world.” Once you begin your dissertation, there is no due date. There is no friendly reminder to keep working. There is no time table, and no one can help you. Your biggest challenge in writing isn’t the writing itself, but the self-motivation to keep working when there is no ticking clock. As someone who has never been good at self-motivation, here’s how I finished:

A) I employed the Pomodoro Technique time management method. (link: Work for 25 minutes, break for a few minutes. Though I didn’t follow the technique exactly, setting short bursts of “work time” helped me visualize the task as a series of much shorter goals. I focused on one lesson at a time, rather than “get as many pages done as possible.”

B) There were times I knew that work was not going to get done, even if I forced myself to try. When those times came, I put the computer down and picked it up the next day. Sometimes, you just can’t work.

C) I rarely, if ever, did work at home. Home is a terrible place to complete work. Your stuff is there. The kitchen is there. The bed is there. The television is there. Your wife is there.

The majority of my work was done at my desk at Five Towns, where there was no major distraction.

D) I said “NO” to a few opportunities. I’m typically a guy who says “YES” to everything, and then tries to figure out how to make it work. This year, I had to say “NO.” No, I will not arrange that song for you. No, I will not help you with your musical. No, I do not want to be part of your next project.

E) I knew that my biggest challenge in writing would be the lack of deadlines. I’m a guy who thrives under extreme pressure and makes it a top priority to never miss a deadline. To combat the fact that dissertations have no deadlines, I had to create them.

I told my advisor “I’ll have that chapter done for you by Monday.” Of course, I hadn’t even started that chapter yet, but once the words came out of my mouth, I knew that it had to be done, otherwise I would look like a liar, or incapable of completing tasks on a schedule.

You need to force yourself into a corner, and then get out of it.

Marc Silverberg
Follow The Quest For The A cappella Major:

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