The pressures of graduate school vary greatly from those of undergraduate school. Your time is more valuable, even if you’re not paying for graduate school yourself; there are tough decisions to be made about not only how you would like to spend your time, but also how much time you have to give for each activity. You are older, wiser, more mature … and that ticking sound you hear just may be your biological clock. And every day that you spend in graduate school over what you absolutely have to has the potential to diminish your earnings over your lifetime.
In addition, the more time you take, the more likely are the chances that one or more of the following “unpleasant” situations may occur:
- You/your committee’s enthusiasm for your dissertation topic wanes;
- You/your committees’ confidence in your ability to complete your project wanes;
- Your advisor(s) or committee members leave the university or, worse yet, die;
- Your current job and/or family responsibilities become too demanding for you to concentrate on finishing your dissertation;
- Your health deteriorates;
- Someone else publishes your results; or
- You are required to pay far more than necessary due to continuous registrations.
For these reasons and more, you should know exactly what you want to study and why when you enroll in graduate school. Every graduate program asks that you write a statement of purpose, which requires you to have some idea of why you are entering a graduate program, what you hope to study and, more importantly, with whom on the faculty you hope to work. Clearly, you may change your mind over the course of your studies, but if you are going to change your focus or area of study, it’s better to do so quickly at the beginning of the academic career, rather than the end.
Before entering a graduate program, find out the average length of time it takes to complete the program and try to stick to that timeframe. Taking too long to complete your coursework is frowned upon in academia. In fact, many universities have real timetables for completing a graduate degree … for example, students at the University of Maryland are given five years to reach candidacy and four years to write their dissertation. (Even though this allows a total of nine years, some students still have to appeal that deadline requirement to be allowed to finish their degree.)
While you should definitely aspire to turn in your best work all the time, don’t get tripped up and slowed down by always trying to achieve perfection. Don’t pile up a number of incompletes so that you can take the time to improve and “perfect” your work before turning it in. In the eyes of most faculty, however, a “B” is a much preferable mark to an “Incomplete.” Moreover, a build-up of “Incompletes” may be viewed as a harbinger of things to come, and prospective advisors, committee members or employers may be reluctant to take on that kind of risk.
Don’t spend weeks getting ready to do “The Big, Enlightening Experiment" when six little experiments would be far more efficient. Multitasking is a skill all graduate students should master early. Following are some that can help you stay focused and achieve your graduate degree faster.
- Keep your TA-DA! Methods Journal with you at all times. Not only will it help keep you on track, it will also prevent you from having to write your brilliant thoughts on the back of an envelope or a sticky note, where it might get lost.
- Try to spend at least 15 minutes each day doing something to move your thesis or dissertation forward.
- Find creative ways to help you complete your substantial workload, such as joining study groups in which members split reading and other tasks between them.
- Whenever you run an experiment or code data, make sure that you incorporate it into your written document. Writing up your experiments and results as you go along will make the entire process quicker and easier.
- While you’re writing your dissertation, you should also be looking for a job. Be sure to use a systematic approach to seek positions so that it takes as little time as possible away from your main priority: writing.
- Use motivators such as conference ‘calls for papers’ or grant submission deadlines to help you set timelines for major projects, such as completing a chapter.
- Some professors – particularly in the sciences – make the practical suggestion that to complete your thesis or dissertation, all you need do is write three publishable papers, and then tie them together with an introduction and conclusion.
Current research shows that, on average, Ph.D. students take almost two years to settle upon a topic for their thesis or dissertation. To help cut down the time you spend on this process, please refer to our e-book: Practical Steps To Selecting A Viable Thesis Or Dissertation Topic.
In addition, check out all of the other great resources that TA-DA has available to help you. It’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel! It’s far more quick and efficient to expand and cultivate the resources and information that are already at your finger tips!
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Question of the Month:
Hello Dr. Carter, I attended one of your seminars a while ago on finishing the thesis and dissertation. I have since completed my thesis and am in the process of revising my qualifying exam before moving to my dissertation.
ADP students do their qualifying exam, in my case a 50 page comprehensive literature review, after the thesis and before the dissertation. The reason I am contacting you is that at the seminar I attended you had mentioned the use of an editor as a possible solution to speeding up the completion process. I had inquired about how one would go about finding an editor that would be helpful but also within reasonable means for a graduate student to afford. You had suggested I touch base with you after the seminar. As it turned out I needed to choose a new adviser since my previous mentor accepted a position at another university. The new adviser was very helpful in providing clear feedback etc. and I was able to finish the thesis without needing to utilize an outside editor.
For the qualifying exam students cannot utilize assistance from their qualls committee or faculty but can utilize peer or outside support for review, feedback etc.
I am looking for someone who can help me edit and it would be great if they could also serve as somewhat of a tutor as well. I was wondering if you might have a list of individuals who provide editing for students, or if you could give me some ideas about how to go about finding such a person through ads or whatever and also what is a reasonable rate to pay, things I might want to be cautious about etc.
Thank you Dr. Carter, in advance. If this is out of the realm of what you do just let me know and I will explore other avenues.
Hello R: Thank you for contacting me. I recommend that you first try to use the resources on campus. They will incorporate the learning/tutoring aspect that you mentioned in your email. Next try the on-line resources I recommend at the end of this email.
Contact the Graduate Student Association (GSA) on your campus. The GSA on my campus sponsors free writing advisement for graduate students. If your campus has one, contact the GSA Writing Advisor, for an appointment. He/she can help you with dissertations, theses, term papers, reports, articles, resumes, cover letters, etc.
English Learning Center
The English Language Center offers a variety of academic and professional English language and communication programs in a cross-cultural setting. Anticipating and responding to the communicative language needs of adult learners, the ELC provides the highest quality language instruction to students and professionals with a wide range of learning goals. Student success and acculturation in a welcoming atmosphere are of primary importance to all ELC staff and faculty. ELC programs help students become self-confident communicators both within the university and U.S. society.
Campus Writing Center
The Writing Center provides tutoring in writing to all students on campus. You can bring in a writing assignment for any course as well as seek help with resumes, application essays (or personal statements) and letters, and personal writing. Tutoring from peers is available on a walk-in basis; in addition, there is walk-in and limited appointment tutoring for graduate students. The Writing Center’s goal is to help you become an independent writer as you work with a tutor.
www.editfast.com(prices are reasonable) or www.academicword.com (a bit more pricey). Nonetheless these two websites do not offering the tutoring component that you mentioned earlier.
I hope this answers your question and moves you forward as well.
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Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.
About the Author: As a single mother, professor
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