…is a deadline. Although this was said by the ever annoying but somehow alluring Stephen A. Smith of Fox Sports Radio, these words ring true. When beginning a dissertation deadlines, schedules, projected targets – whatever you want to call them – help provide structure to the process. Since this is a completely new experience for all of us, breaking each step into smaller segments helps clarify what this monster of a project is going to look like. This plan will also set realistic expectations and alleviate anxiety. Basically, if I need a list to navigate the grocery store then I certainly need a personalized plan to walk me through this project!
The key to putting together this plan is just that, personalization. You are the only one who knows what your life looks like - family responsibilities, career obligations, personal commitments, and anything else that requires your time needs to be accounted for. You also must understand your institution’s expectations and dissertation calendar. A good place to start is the dissertation guide. Secondly, talk to students about what steps they took. Ask if they had unrealistic expectations or obstacles that got in their way. To help you get started, inquire about the proposal and get an idea of how each piece fell into place. Third, talk with your advisor, potential chair, mentors or other faculty members to get another perspective. Fourth, and finally, get out of your own way. I certainly had to.
For example when I first started thinking about my topic, disaster mental health, I often doubted that I would be able to pull off a simulation. Some days I still question where I am going to find 60+ people who are willing to give their time and energy. Other days I wonder whether I will be able to convince critics of analogue research that my methods are sound. In reality, these questions are not about the participants or my design. They are about my ability to complete this project with academic rigor - doubts rather than obstacles. If I get out of my own way, trust the process, and systematically think through what needs to happen I am much better off.
In the end, plan in hand, you also must be flexible. Upon receiving my dissertation schedule my chair told me that deadlines were meaningless. I know, now you are confused, but he was right. I found that the plan itself was not meaningless, but assigning a definitive timeline to the plan was. I had to be flexible and, instead of focusing on the timeframe, concentrate on chipping away at each piece.
Finally, if the Stephen A. Smith reference seems random it is. He is a sports caster generally disliked by fans. Despite the fact that he usually has one or two good points when it comes to his coverage, he does have a tendency to get out of his comfort zone. When this happens it's all downhill from there, which is often if you ask sports fans. I think Fox likes him for the same reason we have a bi-partisan legislature. If nothing else, he inspires debate. Now I ask you - how close is this to some rouge committee members?
Stephanie Dailey is a counselor, adjunct faculty and doctoral candidate at Argosy University-Washington, D.C.