I Finished My Coursework, Now What? Preparing for Your Dissertation
Well, five weeks ago, I finished the last of my coursework. Let’s take a minute to look at how excited I was in that photo…. Now what? What do I do??? The fear has set in! I remember reading that someone said that the coursework was the most difficult part of this journey, I always thought that this was false—coursework is easy because there is a clear cut rubric for how to pass—no committees necessary!
Here I am, six weeks later, enrolled in my Researcher course to prepare my for my comprehensive exam and dissertation proposal. I’ve decided to write a little bit about things that I am learning now that I have transitioned into the next chapter of this doctoral journey and hopefully offer some food for thought for those of you who are on similar paths.
1. You know stuff! I’ve spent so much time methodically moving through my coursework, that I forget that I’ve been taking classes for 2.5 years. At this point, I have a pretty sound knowledge base and can critically think my way out of most situations. As I move forward in my current course, I’m constantly looking at old papers I wrote and readings from other courses to help me establish where I need to go with my dissertation. It’s a strange feeling when you realize you are a beacon of knowledge.
2. Approach your research course with a true level of seriousness. I look at this course like a workout. I get out of it what I put into it. This course isn’t simply about passing, it’s about laying the foundation that you will need to take your comps and write your dissertation.
3. Get that writing schedule together! I’m still on the struggle bus with this as I’ve noticed that the older I get the most my energy levels shift (dang age!). The advice I’ve been given by every Ph.D I know is to set up a writing schedule for yourself. Now, I’m working on being much more intentional about when I’m working and creating a routine around it.
4. Do your dissertation research. Not as in your topic, but as in the actually writing of a dissertation. Have you gotten a book that goes through the process of writing a dissertation? Have you downloaded the templates that you will need? Have you reviewed the comp requirements? What are you waiting for? Do you want to be writing your dissertation forever??? I don’t!
5. Try to watch someone’s defense. Part of the fear is the not-knowing. I receive invitations for dissertation defenses constantly, but I have yet to attend one. (They’re usually at the most inopportune time, like a Tuesday and 10:30a—I’m at work man!) I am making a note of tuning in to a few defenses so that I can actually see what happens. There is not such thing as being over-prepared.
6. Be vulnerable and prepared for feedback. Coursework is different in that there is a right or wrong. I know that with dissertation work, there is a right or wrong, sorta…. I’m preparing myself for being completely off with some things and embracing the tenacity and growth mindset that I will need in order to be successful in this process.
So, all of that hard work has paid off, and I am now in the next phase of my graduate school process. As I move forward, I have to learn a new set of rules so that I'll be part of the percentage of people who are awarded their doctoral degree.
Good luck to you!