A Dissertation Checklist: 5 Questions to Check Your Progress
How hard do you work? How hard do you study? As a student who has reached the doctorate level, no doubt you’ve worked very hard to get to this point. With that being said, do you feel like no matter how hard you work, you are still behind on the dissertation goals you set for the coming months or year?
If this is the case, you probably think to yourself that you simply must work harder and longer. Or maybe you are questioning your own ability to complete the thesis? Don’t even think about calling it quits!
When you first drafted your dissertation proposal, you set dissertation goals for the coming year. But, just about all doctoral students (past and present) will fall behind their proposed work plan. So with a new year, it may be time to revisit your goal and plan.
The Reality: There is a big difference between goals and daily work
So how is falling behind your goals possible? It’s simple actually. There is obviously a difference between what you planned for the coming year and how you are working/studying on a daily basis. Of course, planning is a necessary tool of life.
This article will give you tools to reduce that gap between your goals and your actual progress. These tools run according to the ‘monthly progress monitor’ concept formulated by 2 authors from their exceptional work Mastering your PhD (Gosling & Noordam, 2011).
Your Solution: The Monthly Dissertation Progress Monitor Checklist
So how exactly do you use this monthly progress monitor checklist? The concept is very simple and all you must do is answer 5 questions every month (as fully and honestly as possible of course!). These are the questions:
- What are the most important results I obtained the last month?
- Did I deviate from the planning of the last month? If so, why?
- What are my most important goals for the coming month?
- What do I have to do to meet these goals?
- What can I do to overcome any hurdles on the way?
So why will these questions help? They help you because the answers you extract will allow you to identify certain patterns (healthy or otherwise) and will also allow you to prepare more fully for meetings with your dissertation supervisor.
Question #1 – What are the most important results I obtained last month?
This first question helps you to elucidate which of your activities were productive and which of them were not. Which were the substantive accomplishments related to your dissertation? Which of your accomplishments weren’t related. When you clear up the answers to this question, you will find it much easier to prioritize your tasks.
Question #2 – Did I deviate from last month’s planning? And if so, why?
The answer(s) to this particular question will also help you identify particular patterns and habits in your work routine. It will also help you realize if you’ve deviated from the plan for some time now.
Answering this question is vital – and perhaps difficult since you are forced to pick at any shortcomings within yourself. Keep in mind deviations don’t necessarily have to come from yourself. External circumstances can also play a role. Regardless, once you answer this question and clearly identify your deviations and reasons behind them, the solution will appear.
Question #3 – What are my most important goals for the coming month?
Answering this particular question will allow you to plan ahead more realistically since you now have the answers from question #2. Here, it is imperative that you are as detailed as possible when you delineate your goals. It is also important to mention that you should be very specific when outlining these goals. To illustrate, ‘to read more journals and articles on the subject’ is not a precise goal. A more specific goal would be, for example, ‘to read fifteen more articles from the American Journal of Psychiatry.’
Questions #4 and #5 – What do I have to do to meet these goals? And what can I do to overcome any hurdles on the way?
At this point, you have looked back at your actions and planning from last month. You have analyzed the effects of your work and their results. And you have come up with concrete goals for the upcoming month.
But for questions 4 and 5, answering them will probably be far more difficult to answer than the previous three. You probably won’t find fully-concrete answers since these questions have to do with forecasting the future. Nonetheless, simply reflecting on matters such as potential hurdles proves to be an immensely useful exercise. The greatest minds of history, regardless of background, used meticulous planning and the foreseeing of problems so they can solve them if and when the need arose. This is called contingency planning (in other spheres it is called ‘risk management’).
The point is that trying to stay one step ahead of your problems is a necessary skill you must cultivate, both for your dissertation and in your later career, no matter what career that may be.
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Gosling, P., & Noordam, B. (2011). Mastering your PhD: Survival and success in the doctoral years and beyond. Berlin, Germany: Springer.