The Dissertation Stage: Part I
I recently submitted in my revised dissertation proposal and received approval from my chair to forward the proposal on to the rest of the committee members!
So, I thought I would take a look back at the personal journey of the dissertation stage in my PhD program while I wait for their feedback and then can defend the proposal (sometime this fall) to move on to the next stage of carrying out additional research and completing the dissertation (and then defending the dissertation entirely).
Back in July 2015, I knew the methodology I wanted to do. The methodology spoke to me because getting IRB approval for what I had in mind would be extremely difficult. Moreover, I as a researcher knew that the questions I had in mind would be invasive to the people I would interview, so I opted for a methodology that focused away from human subjects. While choosing a methodology first is not a typical starting place for a dissertation, to me, this was the biggest obstacle I needed to tackle first, and I am glad I worked on this when I did.
By the time my comprehensive exams were completed in September, I had a solid foundation of the methodology and thus began the creation of the dissertation proposal. The timeline I had in mind was to have the proposal ready by December 2015. All I ended up with was a discussion paper that was about 10 pages, though it helped serve as a launching mechanism for the continued development of the proposal. I told myself that I must have the proposal ready by Residential Institute in February, and indeed I did. My chair was enthusiastic about my proposal, and offered more feedback. The feedback that I received took me on a journey to work on each comment that was brought up, and I thought I would have all of the edits fixed in a month or two. I was so wrong.
I recognized that as I addressed the comments, I felt there were certain pieces that were missing. I had at the time three main literature review topics and three theories. One of the biggest struggles was to come up with more theories to further enhance what my research objectives were about, and also to make sure that the theories were also focused on my specific program of conflict analysis and resolution.
Another struggle I faced was that there were moments I had to step away from the dissertation completely. There were days I just could not read another word or write another letter. Even though I retired from all of my jobs to work on my dissertation full-time, I became disappointed in myself that I just could not write and read every single day.
Sometimes there would be a week or two where I made tremendous strides, and other times, there would be a week or two where not much progress would happen. The good news is that by April, I had come to a happy conclusion of adding in two more literature review topics and two more theories. I was grateful for finding the theories, and they will add so much to the finished dissertation. Despite now having a solid outline of the additional material, I had to synthesize all four parts, which took two months.
I was close to having the proposal completed, but decided to wait until after a two week conflict program I was attending to see if any more new insights occurred. I am glad I decided to do that as it brought a new sense of looking at one of the theories I had not thought of before. By the time the dissertation proposal was finally done to my content, July had arrived.
During that time span, the amount of books and online articles I read were too numerous. The final count of references used in the proposal at the end were more than 225 references — I lost count around there. I had 58 pages of written material, and the rest were 22 reference pages, becoming a total of 80 pages.
In my PhD program, we are given 12 credits to work on the dissertation, and 1 more credit if needed. I have already completed 9 credits thus far, and will be enrolling for the final dissertation semester this fall. I hope that I will be able to defend the proposal early in the fall to carry out the additional research and complete the dissertation, hopefully by November sometime. I feel that the most difficult part is over in a way. Conceptualizing the dissertation, finding the books and articles, the literature topics and theories — these were not as easy as I originally had anticipated. You can’t rush this process, and I was a little anxious because I am one that always finishes assignments on time. The good news is that I am here at this moment, and that I made it this far. I wish I could have gotten to this stage sooner, though I feel that 1 extra dissertation credit (up to another 15 weeks) is always there if need be.
I do not know how I would be here if I was working full-time. I feel as though each person will have to make their own choices in what works best for them. For me, I was lucky to have a great family support and was able to isolate myself when needed, and also emerged to have a little bit of fun when I felt drained.
I hope to write another article on the dissertation stage as I continue along…