Dear dissertation advisers: Focus on the practical dimensions of the research project

Generally speaking, this may be the least common of the “bad feedback” issues that I see, but it can be crushingly bad feedback. Many, many professors try to force their students to look at the practical dimensions of the project and try to get the students to do less. Almost every professor I ever worked with told me some variation of “do less,” and many students with whom I’ve worked have also been told to try to do less, so I know it’s no rare idea, but some students could really benefit from this advice.

I have two main suggestions here: 1. Get the students to reduce the scope of their project if possible and reasonable, and 2. Explicitly focus on the practical dimensions as a reason to make the project smaller in order to reduce the emotional impact of being told to do less. 

Dear dissertation advisers: Make sure student has defined the research purpose and question

Defining a good research question is crucial to developing a successful research project, and it is no easy task. For some, defining a good question comes easily, but for many, especially doctoral candidates who may have never developed their own research project before, it is a great hurdle. And, as I suggested in the previous post, if the research purpose and question aren’t defined, then there’s no point in your looking at other stuff: if your student hasn’t defined the research purpose clearly, they’ll have trouble making progress.

A good definition of research question or purpose is not only crucial, it’s usually really easy for a reader to find in skimming through a paper. Most drafts have several sentences that say things like “the purpose of this research is…” and “the research question is…”. These sentences need to be clear, and they need to agree with each other (multiple conflicting statements of purpose can often be found in early drafts of research).

19 Reasons to start a journal

A journal is a time-honored writer’s tool to record and develop ideas, work out projects and plots, and save meaningful aphorisms and perfect overheard phrases. We can use a journal for these, other issues, and any aspect of our writing. Whether you’ve kept a journal for decades, or have never started one, consider these tips not only to help you write more but also to make your writing more effective.

Dear dissertation advisers: I have some advice for you

Dear dissertation advisors, as a dissertation coach, I don’t actually want you to do your jobs better, because that might cut into my business. But if you’re interested in saving yourself effort and hassles in working with your thesis and dissertation candidates, I have a few pieces of advice for you.

As a dissertation coach, most people who contact me are struggling with their work, and often those struggles are exacerbated by poor feedback or support from professors. This biases my view of the general quality of research feedback, but the general patterns of what makes good vs. bad feedback are still useful to keep in mind. Good feedback helps the student effectively, reducing demands on the teacher; bad feedback will hinder progress, and may ultimately increase teacher workload. It’s good when students finish their projects, for both student and professor!

Time and friendship and writing

As I’ve chosen to reduce socializing in favor of more writing time, I’ve chosen to keep up or reconnect with a very few friends and realize an essential characteristic of friendship: time doesn’t matter. However long the moments, weeks, or years between contacts, real friendship knows no steel-banded boundaries of time, distance, erratic mobile phone connections, or sporadic emails.

I recall a friend of twenty years ago who lived nearby and still cherish our many calls and visits. When we both moved, our interests diverged, and contact ended.

A delicate balance: Humility and self-respect

Whether you are a doctoral student wrestling the drafts of your dissertation or an academic author wrestling with the drafts of your book, you have encountered, or will, the often-intimidating presence and feedback of your chair or editor. As with any interpersonal relationship, it’s advisable to steer between abject obeisance and independent arrogance. Neither will get you what you want—approval of your dissertation or publication of your book.

In my academic editing and coaching profession, I suggest to clients that an optimum way to establish and maintain a good working relationship is a combination of humility and self-respect. Whatever your past accomplishments, humility before the perceived power of the chair or editor is required.