Advice for Doctoral Students

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by not4profit, Oct 1, 2010.

  1. not4profit

    not4profit Active Member

    Well, after getting all the way through the first research course at Northcentral, transferring to Northeastern, and starting the rough, rough, rough, draft of the first part of my dissertation proposal at Northeastern, I have learned some stuff that I thought I should share in case any of the doctoral students or soon to be doctoral students have any interest in my humble advice. Listen, that dissertation will sneak up on you VERY quickly if you are not careful.

    1. For the love of God, narrow down your dissertation topic to a couple general areas from the VERY beginning of the program. Say I was very interested in Homeland Security, and I knew that there was at least a decent chance I would do my dissertation on something related to the broad area of homeland security. Well, write EVERY single paper you can on something related to homeland security (especially if you are NOT in a homeland security program). You will find that this will narrow down your topic throughout your program. You will also find that you will have a nice little stockpile of paragraphs that can be inserted into your dissertation when the time comes. Another possible value to this might be that you realize you DO NOT want to do a dissertation on homeland security. Better to find out sooner than later. Now, the cycle begins again.

    2. Keep thinking about the dissertation throughout your program. When you get bored, go onto Proquest and use different key words to look for other dissertations related to your area of interest. Save those dissertations. You will find that those dissertations have a nice little stockpile of references that have pretty much outlined the progress of research up to this point. Here is a hint: You will probably need those references as well. You aren't copying their literature review, you are simply making a list of the references they are using, so you have an idea where to start. You will also find some helpfull ideas for the types of methods that are being used for research in the area. Why reinvent the wheel?

    3. Take notes! Every single time an idea pops into your head for a possible dissertation topic, write it down. I have approx. 13 folders, each with notes for different ideas for dissertations. You won't know how valid your ideas are unless you brainstorm, and do a bit more research into the area of interest. That extra research will also help minimize the possibility that someone else has already done your project. It may also help you identify areas that are not viable dissertation topics.

    4. If you are a real go-getter, and you think you have your topic locked down from the very beginning of your program, that is great! But, keep taking notes on other ideas. You may find that your idea was garbage or that it was already researched. You will probably find that your idea for a dissertation is actually too big, and it would be 4 dissertations. Understand that your topic WILL be adjusted when you get to talking with the person who will eventually be your committee chair. If you are "married" to your topic, that will only make it all that much harder to adjust to your chair's expert opinion. My advice: Narrow your topic down, but don't "decide" what your research methodology will be. For instance, know that you will research ethics in undergraduate finance programs in a certain state or region. However, realize that your dissertation chair will have significant input into the type of research you do, your population, and other aspects of the dissertation. Hopefully, you have done the background research into the area (because you were writing papers related to the topic), and you have an idea of what research is lacking in the field, and what has been researched to death. It will also help you identify the most readily accesible data or population to use.

    The more prep work you have done leading into your dissertation, the less you will do during the dissertation. You will also be much less stressed.

    Anybody else want to add to this?
  2. cravenco

    cravenco New Member

    Many people I know say that they, if they are working in their 4 and 6 year degree in the same subject, tend to almost, always have something in mind once they hit the Doctoral level. All the papers, research paper, essays, articles, write-ups will help you, trust me.

    I worked my Masters in Humanities through APUS surrounding the Great Books of the Western World. Well once I went to HMU I already had a topic down. Already narrowed it down.

    Well you guys know the rest of the story. But this idea will help.
  3. SurfDoctor

    SurfDoctor Moderator Staff Member

    Thank you, Not4Profit. These are extremely good ideas. I am employing most of them already in working on my doctorate, but you have provided some ideas that will benefit me.

    I am using Zotero to catalog and index every book and article I read. I am keeping copious notes from each reading and they are indexed in there as well. Each entry is set up with a tag that can be used in a search to (hopefully) find and cite everything easily. This also comes in handy in open-book tests. It is a lot of extra work to do it this way, but I think it will pay off in the end. The cool thing about Zotero is the fact that it manages your citations, like many other programs do, and your bibliography flows fairly effortlessly.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 1, 2010
  4. edowave

    edowave Active Member

    My favorite advice comes from economist David Romer:

    Don't clutter up your life with other activities; just write.

    Don't carry out a thorough and comprehensive search of the literature; just write.

    Don't attempt to make sure that every page you write shows the full extent of your professional skills; just write.

    Don't write a well-organized, well-integrated, unified dissertation; just write.

    Don't think profound thoughts that shake the intellectual foundations of the discipline; just write.

    If you don't have a paper started by the spring of your third year, be alarmed.

    If you don't have a paper largely drafted by the fall of your fourth year, panic.

    Have three new ideas a week while you are getting started.

    Don't try to game the profession, work on what interests you.
  5. Shawn Ambrose

    Shawn Ambrose New Member

    Great ideas - here are a couple of more

    Good ideas so far! Let me add a couple more.

    1. Once you decide who your chair will be, go to Proquest and review the last 5 dissertations for your chair. More than likely, the dissertations are all formatted a certain way, and you will be able to pick up the nuances that your chair is looking for. Again don''t reinvent the wheel.

    2. My outside reader was from outside Capella U. If you have the opportunity to get someone from outside your school to be on your committee, DO IT! My outside reader, Paul Camacho, was a great person to review my materials before I submitted to the Chair.

  6. Randell1234

    Randell1234 Moderator Staff Member

    Here are a few I have posted on the NCU discussion board:

    Try to get an idea of what your research will focus on as soon as possible.

    Understand the stats class, you will really need it.

    Keep a list of everything you read and start to think how it will fit into your research topic.

    Use Excel (or some other method) to keep all the information you read. I created a spreadsheet with a few columns. They were Concept, Information, and source. Since my paper focused on communication satisfaction, job satisfaction, and remote employees, each one of those were a “concept” in the spreadsheet. The Information was what I learned, and the source was, well, the source. I was able to sort by concept, everything got grouped together and all I did was put transition sentences between the “information” to make it flow. Of course I did not think of this until I started to build my dissertation proposal and said, “now where did I read that” about 1,000 times. When I did this and pulled out all my books and magazines that I read and had notes in, I was able to write 30 pages of the Literature Review in 30 days. I already knew the information but I got organized and put it to paper.

    Get through the classes as quick as possible and realize that the RSH and DIS classes will go slower and be harder than anything you ever imagined.

    Get to know your committee chair and understand each other’s expectations.

    Practice patience and enjoy your research.
  7. Woho

    Woho New Member

    I wish I were that disciplined with Zotero. Most of the time I use/abuse it only to generate a coherent referencing system. Using the tagging system could be really an excellent way to generate new thoughts based on these relations one can construct after having a decent collection together. But it is really an awesome tool
  8. Dave Wagner

    Dave Wagner Active Member

    My advice is to have a good reason for earning a doctorate, other than expressing your own narcissism at the expense of society (and the public trust)...
  9. rmm0484

    rmm0484 Member


    Thanks for that great tip. I am at the beginning of the DP after a long hiatus with the CP. I am at the "where did I see that?" stage..
  10. RichC.

    RichC. Member

    reviving an old thread as this is great advice.
  11. Boethius

    Boethius Member

    Where did this thread come from? I'm printing this out. This is exactly what I needed! Thanks RichC.
  12. distancedoc2007

    distancedoc2007 New Member

    Don't spend too much time debating which university to go to. Make a choice that makes sense to you, get in, get it done, get out and move on! Easier said than done...
  13. RichC.

    RichC. Member

    I've been doing that for the past couple weeks. Which is also how I stumbled onto this thread and revived it.

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