Preparation: A Key for Dissertation Success • Dissertation Self-Efficacy (DSE) • The degree to which one believes that he or she can successfully complete the dissertation • Factors that influence DSE • Overall confidence • Comfort with research • Relationship with mentor • Ability to focus/commit
Important to note that everyone in the room is smart enough to complete a dissertation • If you are delayed in completing your dissertation, it is NOT because you are not bright enough-something else has gotten in the way • Heppner and Heppner outline a number of common problems that serve as impediments towards students completing their dissertations, and thus lower DSE:
Lack of Time • Believe it or not, faculty (at least some faculty) are aware of the short-term process some students engage in when completing class assignments • This is not possible for a dissertation • For example, the literature review process • H & H suggest that you schedule time that is to be devoted solely to dissertation work • Figure out what works best for you (I suggest a daily or almost daily schedule) • Time of day, length of time, etc. • THIS TIME IS TO BE KEPT SACRED • One thing that holds up students, IMHO, is that the dissertation is really the only requirement in grad school that does not have clear external constraints • You must be able to say “no” to other opportunities, obligations, etc.
Lack of Space • Things you might need to work on your dissertation: • Computer • Articles/Binders, etc. • For some, quick internet access (e.g., idea pops up and you want to do a quick lit search) • Notepad, blank paper, etc. • You need devoted physical space to be able to “spread out,” so to speak
Lack of support • Do your family and friends understand what you have gotten yourself into? • H & H encourage that you discuss up front exactly what this is going to entail • Length of time, commitment of effort, need for privacy, etc. • This project goes beyond “a big paper.” • Consider a support group, weekly lunches, etc. with friends and classmates
Lack of Organization • This can really bleed into many other areas • For example, wasting part of your allocated time looking for articles that should already be organized • Being slightly to moderately compulsive is not a bad thing here • You need to organize, articles, notes, emails, books, etc. • An organizational system for your articles is key • Annotated bibliography • Binders/folders for articles • I suggest folders/binders for different content areas-you should have too many articles for a single folder • Electronic reference system could be a plus (e.g., reference manager, end note) • Label drafts of your documents with the date • Potential to go overboard…
Psychological Obstacles • All of the following are relatively normal emotions that are felt by some students, even if toward only some parts of the dissertation: • Anxiety • Procrastination • Depression • Anger • Fear • Be aware of these thoughts and feelings; be willing to explore reasons behind them • H & H have a nice “cognitive therapy for dissertation-related negative affect” section.
The Dreaded “Shoulds” • I should have already gotten started on this • I should have paid closer attention in stats • I should be able to organize myself better • What-if type thinking can really be a major impediment to large tasks, such as the dissertation.
Poor Working Relationship with your Advisor • Getting along with your advisor is not necessarily a prerequisite-can you work together? • What are your advisor’s expectations regarding the process? • Some are proactive in scheduling meetings, others are more student-driven • Some are structured in terms of the process from the student, others are less structured • H & H suggest scheduling regular meetings, especially early on • Come prepared to these meetings! • Few things make many of us madder than students not being prepared for their own dissertation meetings
Lack of Control Over Data • Can be an issue when relying on publically available or already existing data • Also emerges when dissertation data is collected as part of a larger project or via an external agency (e.g., community center, counseling agency) • Potential pitfalls: • PI of the research project decides to cut some or all of your measures • Crafting your idea around existing measures • Committee members request changes that you cannot accommodate • Applies to data analysis as well • Okay to get some help, but you better know what you’re talking about with your committee
Factors Associated with Identifying Your Topic • Hopefully, many of you already have at least a general idea of your topic area • Deciding upon the specific nature of a topic is surprisingly hard for some students • In my initial conversations with students their initial ideas are invariably too broad or too simplistic (e.g., “I want to study depression and eating disorders,” “ I want to see how self esteem impacts alcohol use and alcohol problems”).
Students often experience a range of emotions when trying to develop a topic • Excitement at the prospect of doing the study • Fear/doubt about selecting a topic that is worthwhile and interesting • Pressure to select something and get on with it • It’s very important to balance such emotions when putting your dissertation together • Important to recognize that research is generally a building process • That is, most researchers build on previous research in relatively small increments • My examples • Major “breakthroughs” often occur only after many considerably smaller steps • Keep this in mind when thinking about your topic • To get hung up on “it’s never been done before.”
Thinking about mediation or moderation can often be useful avenue • Addressing the foreclosure issue • Some students have difficulty committing to a topic • Do not want to “give up” other interests • Avoidance mechanism • Thought of a 1-2 year commitment • Importance of honesty regarding your research abilities • Even among the brightest students, natural variability exists regarding research skills
I suggest not engaging in a design if you have not had prior experience with such a design (with some exceptions, of course) • For example, a RCT if you have no RCT experience • Also consider your professional goals • If you are thinking about a research career, then extending yourself may be a more reasonable decision • But, avoid the “I just want to graduate/finish comments” • Statistical experience and ability • Do you have the experience to conduct complex analyses, or the ability to learn the necessary techniques? • Be honest with your advisor-have conversations
In general, how closely does your topic match your advisor’s area of expertise? • In general, the closer the better • Benefits in getting started, unanswered research questions, addressing concerns from other faculty members, etc. • Example, alcohol measurement issue; college drinking topic • If you are of the “the dissertation is simply a hurdle” mindset, then doing something that is clearly in your advisor’s area may be especially warranted • Similarly, do you already have an existing line of research? • HUGE advantages to programmatic research
Potential for skill acquisition • Use the dissertation, in part, as a learning tool • In general, I place this lower on the “selecting a dissertation topic” continuum • Link with professional goals • Helpful to match dissertation topic with nature of desired job • For example, college counseling center issues if desire to work in such a setting • Health psychology issues if hospital is desired
Personal passion • Important to be interested in your topic-you’ll be bed-mates for a year or two • If too passionate, though, objectivity can be compromised • Keep in mind that you have to be able to deal with results that are in direct opposition to your hypothesis • Responding to Societal Needs • Can be helpful for funding • Time considerations • The projects need to be “do-able”
Specifics on narrowing your research topic • READ READREADREADREADREADREADREADREAD • Crucial to be well-versed in your area • Impossible to determine what is going to spark your research topic • My example • Don’t be afraid to talk to experts about your ideas • Think about how theory will guide your ideas • Advisors will always be asking how the idea links to theory (we’re not epidemiologists!) • Can your idea be tested? • One of the first things I’ll ask students is “how are you going to measure it?”
The Funnel • Perhaps the most useful scientific writing heuristic I’ve ever seen • Common errors in writing involve: • Being too broad and including irrelevant information • Not having a clear direction in one’s writing(i.e., “telling the story”) • Moving back and forth between broad and narrow topics
A funnel starts broad, ends narrow, and only includes things that fit inside its parameters • Great tool for thinking about introductions and literature reviews • Examples (my research and others’ ideas) • Helpful to link idea of the funnel with chapter outlines • I encourage students to outline all chapters
The Overview • Analogous to a journal article introduction • Engage the reader • Build a rationale • Discuss implications • State purpose • List hypotheses
Engaging the reader • First and second paragraphs are important • Students often get stuck here • Think about how you can get your reader’s attention • Statistics • Dramatic Stories • Easily understood intro to a topic (what H & H call “Philosophical Pondering” • Critique examples
Begin establishing a rationale • Glimpse of the relevant literature • Theoretical background • Prior studies and lack thereof • Need for the topic (e.g., health implications) • Discuss implications • Also related to establishing a rationale • How will results for the study provide positive impact • Lead into purpose of the study, hypotheses, etc. • Also important to define relevant terms (e.g., “social norms,” “protective behavioral strategies”)