Finishing your Ph.D. dissertation – The final stages and preplanning

You’ve labored through courses and preliminary and qualifying exams. You’ve read a lot of papers, prepared a proposal for your research and travailed through reading, writing, coding, analyzing and the myriad of details needed to complete a Ph.D. dissertation. The only thing that is left to do is to get your written work to be approved by your adviser, mail the dissertation to your committee members and then stand up and defend. Sounds simple doesn’t it? This last stage requires a lot of planning and some careful thought.

This is what a forward thinking graduate student should do

1. Policies. Before you go any further find out the departmental policies for submitting a dissertation and the deadlines. It is also important to read the graduate school hand book to make sure if there are additional procedures and policies in place.

Common misconception : When the time comes, I’ll just ask the department staff assistant or my adviser. Better yet, I’ll just talk to a fellow student.

My answer : Wrong! Wherever you find a place of employment or life in general there are numerous policies and procedures in place – all with deadlines. Know these policies and write them down on your calendar/organizer. You should know all policies such as : How many weeks before my defense should I send my committee members (CM) my dissertation? It is important that you send your CMs the entire dissertation – complete from title page to references/Appendices. It is poor practice to send CM portions of your dissertation.

A dissertation should never ever be sent out to CMs unless the adviser has worked through the various drafts and approved (the complete dissertation).

2) This could be costly! Most Universities require the PhD student to be enrolled anywhere from 3 credits during the semester that you are defending. Let’s say that you are planning on defending your dissertation during the summer semester. Make sure that you adhere to the deadlines. The Graduate school will not process your dissertation of you do not submit it on time for the summer semester. This means that you will become a Fall semester graduate and guess what? You have to pay 3 credits of tuition even if it means that you will only need part of the Fall semester to finish your dissertation. Rules are rules and most Universities will not make exceptions. There is no sense in getting frustrated at the University or for that matter your adviser or the department. If you do not plan the sequence of events carefully leaving adequate time for the various steps there is no one else to blame but you!

Poor time and project management will lead to frustration and less money in your bank account.

3. Your Committee members have other responsibilities as well. If you have 5 committee members you may think that they will be there every step of the way. Some CMs are very involved and others are less so but it is your job to navigate the process of writing and defending your dissertation. Engage our CMs in meaningful ways and tap into their expertise. In other words, make them work for you!


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