When I first finished my Ph.D. comprehensive exams and officially became a Ph.D. candidate, I knew that my experience was going to be very different going forward. No more weekly assignments, no more exams, just me doing the reading and writing necessary in order to finish my dissertation.
The time has come to be more prescriptive: I need to have a clear timeline in mind or I’m never going to be motivated to finish. So here goes.
The first (and most time consuming, for me) stage of a dissertation is reading everything you can find on the subject, so that you can summary what the current literature has to say on your topic. Having become a subject matter expert on existing research, you are then uniquely qualified to identify gaps in the research: there’s all this stuff out there, but nobody’s really addressed this, and that’s what you’re going to write your dissertation about.
The problem here is that there is a seemingly endless supply of literature on many academic subjects, and I could spend all of my free time reading research on diversity and never get through it all. This is the trap that I’ve found myself in this year… I just keep finding new interesting things to pivot to. This makes it far too easy to be self-indulgent in reading, and never get closer to actually writing something. (And that’s when I’m not procrastinating, and am actually doing something on the dissertation in the first place.)
The line must be drawn here. This far, no further!
I’ve got to start writing now, get some thoughts down in text, at least a general framework of the message that I want to share in my dissertation. And then I can go back and add citations where appropriate, figure out where I’m missing good references to existing research, and supplement as needed. In short, I’ve got to get moving, or I’ll never finish.
So here’s my own self-declared timeline:
- Research proposal draft complete by the end of December (that’s introduction, literature review, and research methodology)
- Conduct the actual study, which according to my current plan calls for about 30 interviews, by the end of February.
- Finish first draft of results, conclusions, and recommendations by the end of March.
- Get feedback from dissertation committee and make edits/revisions as needed by the end of April.
- Defend the final version and start calling myself Dr. GatorUptown by mid-May so that I can go celebrate in Italy for the last two weeks of the month.
There. I have a timeline. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get back to work.