Planning ahead

by | June 3, 2010

“Taking charge of your own learning is a part of taking charge of your life, which is the sine qua non in becoming an integrated person” – Warren G. Bennis
I have been thinking a lot lately about the importance of thinking and planning ahead in a PhD program. When I was in my PhD program, you could say that I did not take charge of my own learning until more than half way through my program. I spent very little time planning ahead beyond the next semester. Therefore, I found myself stuck after I passed my comps, with little understanding of what I needed to do next. I knew that I needed a dissertation topic, but I had enjoyed my time in courses so much, I had forgotten that I needed a plan for after I passed my exam. I could not just feed my thirst for knowledge by reading everything I came across, digging deep into libraries for each course project, and not see where it was leading me. So, that is what happened, I became one of those people who spends a lot of time in the dissertation proposal stage because I had no idea what I wanted to do for my dissertation. Although I completed my PhD eventually, I spent more time than I should have wondering what kind of topic to choose.
What could I have done to avoid that situation? Well, for one thing, I could have carried a topic from one course to another to learn more about it, look at it from a different perspective. Not every course has room for you to explore your area of interest, but it is a great way to build that literature base and see if the topic still interests you.
How have you been thinking and planning ahead in your program? Have you attended your colloquia on track in your program? Doing so can help you avoid getting stuck later. Colloquia are designed to help you connect the dots in your program, see the big picture, and assess where you are in the doctoral journey. Don’t wait, get started now. Make plans for attending colloquia and think ahead to possible dissertation topics. Take charge of your own learning.

2 Responses to "Planning ahead"

  1. Teresa Mitchell says:

    Hello Lian,

    I will start the DrPH degree program in April 2011. Can you give me an idea of what type of topic I should select for the dissertation? I will specialize in Epidemiology. Should I go for some new disease process or some disease that has been around for a while? Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks so much.

    Teresa Mitchell
    Current Capella Master of Science Learner

  2. Michael Franklin says:

    Hello Teresa,

    I am an advisor with Advanced Learner Doctoral Advising and will be happy to answer this question! In fact, I have written another entry earlier this year that addresses this very issue. You can access the blog entry here:

    In short, this is the type of question you want to take to faculty in your program. In addition, to help determine your topic, you want to review recent literature and keep track of your thoughts as well as maintain dialogues with yourself, faculty, and colleagues about your topic as it evolves.

    Good luck with your new program!