Welcome to all our new subscribers!
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Jerry D. Bryan, who just earned his Ph.D. in management and organizational leadership at the ripe young age of 60. Though his age does make his situation a bit unusual, the issues and challenges he faced during the almost six years he spent pursuing his degree are pretty typical of all graduate students.
I wanted to share our conversation, because I felt that many of you could benefit from Dr. Bryan’s personal journey, and what he learned along the way. I’ve added my own helpful advice in italics, as well!!!
Read and learn …
TA-DA!: Did you pursue the degree face-to-face or online?
Dr. Bryan: I did five classes in residence and the rest were online.
Editor’s Note: These days you can accomplish a lot of things online! A good place to start when it comes to pursuing a graduate degree is TA-DA! On-Line. TA-DA! will walk you step-by-step through everything you need to do to finish your thesis or dissertation. It can provide you with tips and guidelines to make your journey easier, show you how to organize and plan your time and actions, ensure that you make continuous progress.
TA-DA!: Would you recommend pursuing a PhD to others?
Dr. Bryan: Yes, but I would recommend it to someone who has a passion or a calling for their topic, especially if they know ahead of time what they think they need to get out of it (i.e., a greater application of knowledge).
Editor’s Note: Dr. Bryan is right; the graduate students who are most successful are those who know exactly what they want to study and why when they enroll in a degree program. Every graduate program asks that you write a statement of purpose, which requires you to have some idea of why you are entering a graduate program, what you hope to study, and with whom on the faculty you hope to work. Clearly, you may change your mind over the course of your studies, but if you are going to change your focus or area of study, it’s better to do so quickly at the beginning of the academic year, rather than the end.
TA-DA!: What do you wish that you had known earlier?
Dr. Bryan: (Laughter) It’s more about what I didn’t know. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be. I didn’t know it was going to take this much time.
Editor’s Note: It’s important to be realistic about how long it will take you to finish your degree. Most students aren’t able to dedicate themselves 24/7 to their studies; don’t underestimate the amount of time you will need to fulfill work responsibilities as well as familial and social obligations. When thinking about starting or finishing a degree — Are there annual events that will detract from your study time, such as an anniversary, family reunion or birthday? Don’t ignore these type of events; plan around them!
Dr. Bryan (continuing): I also didn’t know how ill prepared I was for that type of writing! It took me longer than the university’s requisite amount of time to do my assignments. They said it should take 20 hours a week, but I averaged more like 30 and sometimes even 40. It took a long time for me to understand that style of writing and get my writing skills up yo the level that they needed to be. If I were to (encourage someone to pursue their doctorate), I would recommend that they improve their writing skills first. I had an employee who was good at that sort of thing, and he basically decided to tutor me. Some of the resident instructors were good at providing writing assistance and I also developed my own support networks. My 12-year-old daughter had English homework that I could help her with; I had to help her with the grammar rules for her homework so I was able to learn them again for myself.
Editor’s Note: We believe that editors are an extremely helpful resource for students, particularly those who are still fine-tuning their writing skills. One of the most common roadblocks to students finishing their thesis or dissertation is the frustration and humiliation they experience from the writing and review process. We feel that worrying about writing skills is a waste of time. Your paper should be judged on the substance and merit of its content, not on how many misplaced commas or misspelled words it contains. A good editor will make sure that’s where the focus remains. Editors won’t “write” your paper; they will simply ensure that your ideas are grammatically clear and correct. That’s why even some faculty members use editors when they write scholarly articles!
Of course, as Dr. Bryan suggests, you don’t necessarily require an expert to edit your thesis or dissertation. If you have a friend who is well read or good at grammar, or a family member who is an English teacher, this is the job for them! Give them a hard copy of your document — even if it’s only two or three chapters at a time – and ask them to mark all punctuation, grammatical and spelling errors. Ask them, as well, to check whether you have varied your transitional words throughout the document, and whether there is too much repetition of any particular words (e.g., do you overuse the word “specifically”?). With long documents, it’s always a good idea to have more than one pair of eyes serve as editor, so call on all of those liberal arts allies to help review your work!
TA-DA!: You said you have two businesses, as well as children, and household responsibilities. Can you share with me some of your time management techniques?
Dr. Bryan: The first two years I slept four to five hours (a night) until the coursework was done. It took a year to recover from that. Next, I did the little things that TADA recommended you to follow. I mainly followed the principles set forth in the monthly newsletter each month. The main one was to do something every day, no matter how small it was, to feel some sense of progress. I want to say your newsletter was like an anchor in a storm every month something different. I liked reading the testimonials and reading what others had done …And I did what I had to do: finish!
Editor’s Note: Two of the most helpful resources by far for graduate students are TA-DA! Online and the TA-DA! CD. These tools are designed to guide you step-by-step through the entire process of finishing your thesis or dissertation, and to help keep you motivated along the way. The tips and guidelines included will make the process much, much easier … including the writing phase. TA-DA! also provides tools to help you overcome procrastination, frustration and any other obstacles you may face. Most importantly, TA-DA! will show you how to organize and plan your time and actions so that you complete at least one task every day … and that’s what it will take to make sure you finally get finished. Our motto is “A Good Dissertation is a Done Dissertation.” Remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done!
TA-DA!: Did your advisor help you with the process?
Dr. Bryan: Yes, when I found the right one. I had to replace three of the original members of my committee by the end. My first mentor was not helpful. When I turned something in, he would simply say he didn’t like it and to do something different. He wouldn’t say what was wrong with it, or how I could make it better.
Editor’s Note: Choosing a good advisor is critical to your success in graduate school, so it’s important to choose carefully. Many graduate students make the mistake of selecting an advisor or principal investigator solely on the basis of race, gender and/or a comfortable personal and working relationship. While these are certainly key elements in selecting an advisor, there are also many other factors to consider. While it is relatively rare to encounter a truly “bad” mentor, there are a wide variety of mentoring styles and environments; some may suit you better than others. TA-DA! provides tips on how to select a good advisor and what to expect once you select one.
TA-DA!: How did you go about finding a new advisor?
Dr. Bryan: I went back to an instructor that I had like and admired and asked him to be my advisor. He was more laid back. He was in his 80’s and had been doing this for quite some time. He was helpful in giving me guidelines to walk me through simpler goals at first. After completing the tasks, my confidence would build and he would move on to more complicated tasks.
Editor’s Note: One of the most important elements of finding the optimal advisor for you is choosing someone whose interests and working style blend and balance effectively with you. Get a feel for the interests and style of a potential mentor by inquiring among other graduate students, particularly current and former students of professors. If the option is available to you, complete a rotation in his or her lab; this will familiarize you with his/her work style and personality, as well as the areas in which he/she shows a keen interest.
In addition, we recommend finding a “coach” in addition to an advisor. There is a considerable difference between these two roles. An advisor is, first and foremost, an academician with considerable responsibilities that do not involve you. A thesis or dissertation coach, on the other hand, is paid to focus on you and help you finish your degree by listening to all of your concerns … academic or other.
Coaches focus on a holistic –- not strictly an academic approach to finishing your degree. In person or on the phone, they can discuss your project on an individual basis in absolute confidence, and also serve as a sounding board for stress relief. They can offer both academic and emotional support to help you complete important tasks, as well as provide the tools you need to achieve your goals, which enable you to accomplish more with less effort. Coaches can help you get organized, and regularly track your progress to ensure that you stay on top of tasks. Their goal is to work in every possible way to encourage you to write your thesis/dissertation, finish it, and get it published.
TA-DA!: How did you keep yourself motivated?
Dr. Bryan: Sometimes I didn’t want to go on, but that’s what I mean about having a passion. I have always known what my topic was going to be … but I had to convince my committee. I had already had personal experiences that had confirmed I could improve organizations’ productivity and make an impact on businesses. It took me 5-3/4 years to own my own project to the point where I was calling the shots. Once I got to that point, I was able to wrap it up with complete confidence. If I had to do it over again, I wish I had gotten to that point sooner. At that point, I was able to defend my ideas rather than please everyone else.
Editor’s Note: One of the most common mistakes grad students make is backing down from an advisor or committee when their research and convictions are telling them they shouldn’t. Always remember that you are more familiar with your work than your mentor is! As an independent thinker, you need to be prepared to defend your position and fight for your ideas. As such, your first and most critical advisor should be you … and only when you are completely comfortable with the strength and relevance of your work, you should you seek another point of view from your advisor. And, while it’s important to listen and absorb any constructive criticism offered, it’s equally important to have faith in yourself and your work. Remember, you must be responsible for your own research ideas and progress!
TA-DA!: What could you have done to speed up the process?
Dr. Bryan: I had a more difficult time with the process because my topic was complicated. It was outside the norm, and most of my instructors couldn’t figure out what I was trying to do. It took me a long time to come up with a proper design (and) to learn enough to better explain what I was trying to do. Eventually some of my instructors were able to catch on. I was able to get a subject matter expert who was outside the university to be on my committee as wll. He was interested because I was testing and promoting his theory (although he exited the committee a few months before the end of my dissertation).
Editor’s Note: To help you craft your argument in the best possible way, take the opportunity to present your research every chance you get. A wide range of potential forums exists, from informal on-campus “brown bag” seminars to poster sessions at national conferences. These provide a venue through which you can present your “work in progress” and garner feedback on that can help clarify your concepts and arguments. In addition, these types of settings allow you to “practice” your public speaking skills in a casual and friendly atmosphere, and can also help you prepare for other tasks that you will ultimately be required to complete, such as teaching a class, leading a conference and defending your thesis or dissertation.
Dr. Bryan’s inspirational story proves that it is never too late to start—or finish—anything. Heed the advice presented above, and you should find it easier to finish your own goals this year!!!
Email Question of the Month:
Hi Dr Carter,
I am in the midst of preparing a proposal that I need to present to a group of people for my study leave to be approved. I’ve been reading on strategic competence of ESL learners and my study is on the communication strategies (CSs) employed by hotel students in a univ. here in Malaysia. I’ve been advised to compare on the usage of CSs of first year students and final year students and see if there are any differences or similarities on their usage. These two groups will be the advanced or high intermediate level of English students and the difference between the two groups is the length of study at the university. It has been suggested that I find out too if other major subjects than the English that the final students learned contribute to their English proficiency or not. Sounds a little complicated, don’t you think so? I’m thinking of not to include this in my study but then what else could I be looking for then.
Please help me with the possible research questions.
Glad that I have you to pose my questions. I have a supervisor but he’s been busy. Maybe I got to read more of your archives to find out how to have a good rapport with the supervisor. I will.
Thank you for contacting me at TA-DA!Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished. I see that you are working on a communications’ study. You are probably right that you might have to read some more but you have to read with a purpose in mind. You need to look at other comparative studies to see what type of methodologies they have employed. Did they do a survey of advanced students and also first-year students and compared their answers? Did they conduct a focus group? Did they do participant observation?
Thus, my first suggestion is to read other comparative studies and look for a methodology that you could replicate in a reasonable amount of time while also keeping costs in mind. If they did a survey, was it a face to face survey? an Online survey? mail out mail back survey? how many students did they survey….all of these questions can be answered in the methology section of the journal article or book.
The second suggestion is to look at specifically what CS strategies they focused on? There might be many CS strategies but you need to select which ones you think are the most important? If you are selecting the strategies that others in the field have deemed important, you can do that but you will also have to say why someone else (another author) thought these were the most important strategies. In other words, you will have to narrow down the strategies that you will be focusing on. The strategies might also help you to decide on the type of methodology to be used.
These are my first two suggestions. I hope they move you forwad in some substantial way.
All the best,
Congrats to Kaye W who left the Dissertation House to defend her proposal and passed with flying colors.