Dissertations

As you finish you doctoral coursework and essays at Saybrook, you will register for your dissertation. I have included some information below about the approach I take to working with dissertations as a chair and committee member. If you are considering asking me to chair or serve on your dissertation and I was not on your essay committee, I would encourage you to review my vita to become familiar with my areas of experience.

Chair

With a dissertation, you will first want to identify a chair. At Saybrook, your dissertation chair and committee is often the same as your essay committee. If you are making adjustments, I recommend you start by identifying your chair and then discussing your committee or changes to your committee with your chair.

When chairing dissertations, here is some important information about how I prefer to approach working with these:

* Students have different preferences for frequency and format of communication. I believe it is important for us to be in contact at least every 3 weeks at a minimum. Many students prefer to have weekly Email, phone, or Skype check ins. My goal is to find what works best for the student to assure consistent progress toward completion. It is helpful to discuss these preferences upfront. If, after a couple of months, it does not appear that progress is being made, I may strongly encourage us to be in contact once a week or every other week.

* I suggest that in early conversations we discuss timelines for the dissertation to make sure your timeline is realistic. It is common for students to identify aggressive, and at times unrealistic, timelines and then make firm life plans around these. It can prevent potential problems to discuss the timeline upfront and then revisit the timeline any time there are changes.

* Before beginning to write each chapter, I recommend that we have a phone or Skype conversation about what is expected. With Chapter 2, I request that you submit an outline of the chapter before beginning to work on this chapter.

* With dissertations, it is always important to be prepared for revisions. Most students need at least 3-5 revisions before the proposal defense and 4-7 revisions prior to the final version submitted to the committee prior to the dissertation defense. However, with each revision there is generally fewer and smaller changes needed. At a certain point I will suggest that you begin highlighting any changes in yellow so that I can just focus on the changes to the dissertation. There typically are a few changes after the proposal meeting and the final dissertation defense as well.

* I encourage students to be cognizant of time. If you wish to work on a dissertation over break, which I encourage, then I recommend that we talk before the break to discuss the direction of your dissertation and how to best use the break. Additionally, please keep in mind that I have an ongoing cue with essays, theses/projects, and dissertations, reviewing them in the order they are submitted. It is common for students to submit toward the end of the term hoping for a quick turn around and completing before the end of the term. This is often unrealistic, particularly as I am also grading many class papers and have other deadlines that are at the end of the term. You will typically get a quicker turnaround time if submitting before week 12.

* With dissertations, it is important that your final version is in correct APA style. I do not correct every instance of a repeated style error. Please keep in mind that when a repeated error is corrected on your dissertation you should review your entire dissertation to correct all instances of this error.

* A dissertation, for most students, is the largest and most significant scholarly project of their career thus far, if not ever. The sheer size of it often overwhelms students. Because of this, even students who have been highly successful with their previous academic writing often struggle, especially with organization and some of the chapters that are different than most of the papers they have written for class (i.e., chapters 1 and 3). Additionally, some students find psychological blocks emerging as they begin working on their dissertation. If you find yourself encountering any of these problems, know you are not alone. I have had many students who have experienced one or more of these challenges who have successfully completed their dissertation. If you do find yourself facing any of these struggles, I strongly encourage you to set up more regular times to talk with me about your progress and any challenges.

Dissertation Committee Member

If you ask me to serve on a dissertation committee that I am not chairing, I do expect that much of the work will be done in close connection with your chair. Please do keep me regularly updated regarding your progress. Additionally, I still do like to see an outline of chapter 2 prior to your writing it. For any areas of your dissertation where I will be the primary content expert, please discuss this with me so that I can provide input and feedback as your develop your project.


The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth.’

— Dan Rather