by Michael David Franklin | July 21, 2011
After putting hundreds and hundreds of hours into a career-defining case, a lawyer is stunned by the judge’s decision: he and his client have lost. Before court adjourns, he approaches the bench to speak with the judge. The lawyer pleads with him to reconsider the verdict. After all, he has worked so hard on this case. If only the judge knew how hard he has worked. If only the judge knew how many hours he logged, how many sleepless nights he stayed at the office and away from his family, how fiercely he wanted to win. If only the judge could see what the lawyer thinks is obvious: that his hard work deserves a favorable verdict, and anything else is unfair.
The judge cannot believe what he is hearing. He has made his decision based upon the evidence presented and the arguments given. This is how the legal system works. He tells the lawyer that the stronger case won, plain and simple. He tells the lawyer that he doesn’t care how hard he worked. He lost. If he doesn’t like it, he can appeal and hopefully learn from this experience to make a stronger case in the appeal.
I begin with this allegory to illustrate a key difference between achievement and entitlement, a difference that is crucial to understand if you are in a doctoral program. In brief, the lawyer did not achieve what he felt entitled to. The judge responded to what was presented to him. If the evidence had been better or a different approach had been taken, perhaps the outcome would have been different. But the fact that the lawyer worked hard on the case makes no difference. The other side worked hard, too. They just had a better case.
Doctoral advisors have conversations with learners who have worked hard on iterations, but have not gotten the mentor response they believe they deserve. Learners may become angry that they are asked to make further revisions on a chapter that they believe is finished because they have worked hard on it already and are ready to move on. They may tell their mentor that the expectation for further revision is just holding them back. This is entitlement.
But just like the judge’s response, any mentor has an obligation to point out that there is a system by which dissertations are written. If the iteration submitted is deficient, it is their duty to identify this and to provide feedback for improvement. And through cooperation with the mentor and continued hard work on the dissertation, the learner can finally win approval. If the iteration is deficient, it’s deficient. It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve already worked on it. But with continued hard work through the iterative process, you can get there. This is achievement.
Anyone writing a dissertation may feel entitled to advance through the milestone process due to a number of reasons: the hard work already invested, the amount of money spent on tuition, the determination to complete the dissertation within a very short time frame, etc. But you should not expect advancement if your work doesn’t meet the standards to which your mentor, the University, and the academic community holds you.
Do not let feelings of entitlement get the best of you. Work to be humble yet diligent as you strive to complete your dissertation.