If you are a doctoral student, you must go through a very long and tedious process in order to successfully submit your doctoral dissertation. Each part of the process is fully dependent on the others (i.e., your chair and committee); this makes it near impossible to ignore or downplay certain aspects of the dissertation. Moreover, each of these steps, from the conception and proposal phases, to the research, drafting, and defense phases, is completely unique in its own way. Furthermore, a successful dissertation consists of much more than professional knowledge and expertise about your particular field of study. The technical aspects of the dissertation can make even the most learned scholars whirl in confusion.
For these reasons and so much more, it is nearly impossible to complete the dissertation without expert counsel and guidance in one form or another. This counsel may come from colleagues, professors, friends, dissertation consultants, and mentors. However, to a certain degree, doctoral students greatly depend on their dissertation chairperson for comprehensive guidance and expertise. But in many cases they are very disappointed. They can experience a myriad of difficulties from their dissertation chairperson that include lack of feedback, accessibility, expertise, and guidance. Sometimes there is outright manipulation of one’s work. However, many problems with a dissertation chairperson are a result of simple miscommunication and setting the wrong expectations.
So, what should doctoral students do to prevent difficulties with their dissertation chairperson from arising? How should one appropriately manage this crucial relationship? Of course, there are numerous factors for the successful management of a dissertation chairperson and many factors depend on the situation at hand. They depend on university policies, the particular field of study, a chairperson’s personality, the student, and so much more. However, there are certain guidelines that the doctoral students should follow in order to shape the context in which the relationship plays out.
Choosing Your Dissertation Chairperson
First, you must choose your dissertation chairperson wisely otherwise you will potentially leave the results of your dissertation efforts wholly to chance. Lunenburg and Irby (2008) provided students and researchers with a true scholarly work about successfully writing dissertations. In chapter 2 of their work, they mention crucial factors to consider when you’re choosing your chairperson.
Many of these factors are straightforward but, unfortunately, many students lack awareness of these factors, which may lead to problems and difficulties. Accessibility and feedback turnaround times are two factors that many students don’t take into consideration when choosing their chair. Among the most common complaints from doctoral students about their chair is related to lack of feedback and accessibility. You must make sure your potential chairperson satisfies these two criteria and that you are clear about whether your prospected chairperson will satisfy your expectations in these areas. You should also ask colleagues and other students about the dependability of the prospect in these areas to ensure you are choosing a suitable candidate that will give a realistic amount of his or her time to hear you out and attend to your dissertation needs.
Once you’ve chosen your dissertation chairperson, you should sit down and have a discussion with that person. In this conversation, you want to make sure you are both on the same page with regards to each of your roles in the dissertation process. If you know in advance what your dissertation goals are, it will help in clearly defining and clarifying these roles. Set up a verbal contract with your chairperson about their role. For example, will they help guide your dissertation methodology? Will they help edit your dissertation proposal? The more explicit you are about specific dissertation products and your chairperson’s, as well as your own responsibility for these products, the easier it will be when managing the relationship with your dissertation chairperson.
Aligning Work Styles
In your initial meeting with your dissertation chairperson, let your chair know how you work best and encourage him or her to do the same. By explicitly discussing your working styles, you can better manage your dissertation chairperson. Furthermore, this discussion will help you both develop a strategy for working together effectively on the dissertation. It may also be necessary to compromise elements of your dissertation work in order to appropriately and effectively manage your dissertation chairperson.
Setting a Clear Timetable
When managing your dissertation chairperson, it is a must that you set specific dates in the form of a dissertation submission timeline for the different components of your study. Have a conversation with your dissertation chairperson about your timeline for collecting the data and meeting dissertation requirements. Be explicit about when each product should be due.
It is possible that your dissertation chairperson will prefer a different type of method for submitting your work. For example, your dissertation chairperson may prefer that you provide full dissertation drafts instead of drafts for the different dissertation sections and chapters. However, you will not know this until you take steps toward managing your dissertation chairperson and communicating clearly & early thus eliminating many factors that can cause problems for you later on.
Again, work with concrete dates for each piece of your dissertation that will be required. Revise the dates as needed for meeting your goals. This timeline will help you in managing your dissertation chairperson and managing yourself as well. Using a dissertation timeline when managing your chair will help each of you determine whether your goals are feasible and whether they can be realistically completed in the time allotted. Your dissertation chairperson may think that certain parts of your dissertation may take more time to develop and write. There is no way to know these things until you have this discussion with your chair.
Develop Alternative Points of Contact
To avoid fallout from any difficulties arising with your dissertation chairperson, it is crucial that you develop relationships with colleagues and other members of faculty staff. These may be the other members of your dissertation committee or even the dean of your faculty. Regardless of who the person is, you must make sure this person has soft or hard influence over your chairperson by being his or her colleague or superior.
On the other hand, since university dissertation guidelines may limit the ability for you to get specific help from non-committee staff, you should always have a dissertation consultant on standby. A dissertation consultant provides comprehensive expertise and practical advice for helping you in any part of the dissertation process. Moreover, they will help you avoid problems and even influence staff members since many dissertation consulting firms have a wide-ranging network of countless university and research contacts. They also have the know-how as well as resources regardless of your field of study. You can quickly get in touch with a dissertation consultant to have your concerns heard and problems solved quickly.
When Difficulties Arise
Regardless of the measures that they take, some students have a very difficult time managing their dissertation chairperson. These problems may arise when the dissertation chairperson is simply difficult or even lazy. It is hard to know what to do in these kinds of situations especially if you think you are doing all you can to manage your dissertation chairperson effectively. There are several ways you can address this problem and to limit any negative impacts a rocky relationship with your dissertation chair may have.
First, get in touch with your alternative contact and politely state your concerns. This person may help find a solution or even influence your dissertation chairperson and put them back in the appropriate direction. Also, you can make use of the Dean or Ombudsman’s office. This will allow you to communicate your concerns in a secure environment from a third-party not directly involved with the administration. You can also go to this person knowing that full confidentiality will be preserved. Your alternative contact will hear your concerns and discuss possible solutions. They may also be able to offer dispute resolution services and, in extreme situations, notify upper-level faculty and university staff to resolve any serious issues you may be having with your dissertation chairperson.
Don’t Risk Your Dissertation – Seek the Advice of an Expert Dissertation Consultant
There are many situations where the Dean or Ombudsman’s hands are tied and they can’t do anything. Their resources are limited and, furthermore, it may be difficult for doctoral students to complain about their dissertation chairperson since doing so may put the entire progress of their dissertation at risk by potentially burning the bridge with their particular chairperson.
Additionally, you may feel intimidated since your dissertation chairperson is usually influential within your university and potentially has great power over the fate of your dissertation. Therefore, if you are having a difficult time with your chairperson and don’t know exactly how to proceed, try not to risk ending the relationship with your dissertation chairperson which may well happen if you lodge complaints to university staff.
Instead, you should quickly seek advice from an experienced dissertation consultant. The dissertation consultant can help you figure out what you should do to improve the situation as it is related to managing your dissertation chairperson. They are usually vastly experienced with the entire dissertation process and know how to effectively manage problematic relationships with dissertation chairpersons and committees.
Don’t hesitate to contact a dissertation consultant and have your concerns be heard. You can quickly get in touch with them and receive a free initial consultation where they can hear you out and provide solutions to your dissertation problems.
Lunenburg, F. C., & Irby, B. J. (2008). Writing a successful thesis or dissertation: Tips and strategies for students in the social and behavioral sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.