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Navigating the dissertation process involves, at times, battling strong winds and high seas.

There’s no doubt that the working relationship you have with your doctoral supervisor will have a profound effect on your ability to work through the dissertation process effectively and efficiently.  In fact, it’s a critical factor that will either keep you on track, confident and focused – or, in the case of a less than ideal relationship – could translate to mounting frustration, confusion about the process or even a dreaded graduation delay.         

A productive, positive student/supervisor collaboration is key to graduating successfully and on time, with your confidence and motivation intact to the end.  By taking the initiative and using a few pivotal strategies, you can create and maintain a professional and supportive partnership with your supervisor focused on “getting it done”.           

Check out potential supervisors in the program you’re considering applying to. Schedule a session to speak with one (or more) faculty before you apply to get more detail about the program content and culture, and the overall approach toward student research and the dissertation process.  Do your research on the program. What percentage of students graduate on time? How many students does each supervisor have? Will you have the opportunity to have input on the choice of supervisor?

From the start, ensure that your supervisor is someone you can develop a strong rapport with, that you share common research interests and that he/she has sufficient time to provide you with consistent feedback. Changing supervisors mid-stream is a messy complication you need to avoid.

Be proactive – and stay engaged. Create a schedule of meetings jointly with your supervisor ahead of time – and plan to meet at least every two weeks.  Map out your dissertation project in detail by defining the content of each chapter and the time planned for each phase. Stay with your plan as much as possible and take steps to work with your supervisor closely to ensure the process doesn’t go off the rails. Avoid the temptation to avoid contact when things aren’t going well.

Ask questions and take feedback (yes, diplomatically!)  Regularly submit work to your supervisor by the deadlines you’ve agreed to. Come to each meeting prepared with specific questions at the ready and respond to your supervisor’s written and oral feedback with an open mind.  At times, you won’t agree – when that happens, follow up to get more information and make your case, but be prepared to make changes. Take detailed notes during meetings and don’t be afraid to get clarification.

Keep your eyes on the coveted prize. Your dissertation, although a long and meandering journey, does have a specific final destination – one that ends with “Dr.” (insert your name here). One of the main reasons 50% of doctoral students quit and never graduate is that they get lost mid-stream. The sheer size and complexity of the project becomes overwhelming, they lose their momentum and finally abandon hope. The antidote is to stay in close touch with your supervisor even during the rough times, get extra help if needed and share honestly how you’re feeling. The dissertation is important but it’s not the culmination of your life’s work. That will come later, after you get launched into the next phase of your academic career. For now, just focus on getting the dissertation done – well enough – by keeping the end in mind.  Land is in sight!  


For information about how we can help you get on track with your project and graduate, contact us at info@dissertationcompletecoaching.com