Always stay busy

by | November 13, 2012

A number of my advisees have been asking about how they can manage the SMR/Research Plan part of their dissertation journey. So, this blog post is especially targeted for those who are still working on their Research Plan and who just want to get on to data collection. First of all, be patient. The SMR/Research Plan needs to be a very clear and detailed blueprint for how you are going to carry out your research. It also provides you with an amazing outline for your full dissertation.

So here are some suggestions I share with advisees to help them seize more control of the Research Plan process.
1. Understand what the first step for your school is. In some of our graduate programs, the first step is getting school approval for the topic – which is sections 1 and 2 of the Research Plan. Once your mentor thinks those two sections are in good shape, the mentor needs to submit it for school approval of the topic.

2. Understand that you are building a knowledge base while you are also beginning to build the Research Plan. Those two are intertwined and both equally important. It might be easier to see progress with the Research Plan – but you need to find a way to stop and think about what you have learned in the past week. What I like to recommend is that you just use a spiral bound notebook and a pen. Find a place completely away from your office space. Pick a time each week when you sit down and just write about some of what you have learned in the past week. Soon you will start to make connections that you had not really thought about before. You might start seeing other holes that you have not yet recognized – which will give you additional self assignments to find the information you need to fill those holes.

3. Understand that you are likely to build the Research Plan in chunks and later fit the chunks together. Even the writing process of the chapters might be in chunks you later weave together. The writing is not necessarily a linear process in the Research Plan or in the dissertation chapters.

4. Every time you submit part of the Research Plan or the dissertation, always ask your mentor for an anticipated return date. Mark that on your calendar and send a professional and friendly reminder about two or three days before the return date to let the mentor know you are looking forward to the feedback you are getting in two or three days.

5. Every time you submit something to the mentor for feedback, let your mentor know what assignment you have given yourself to work on during the turnaround time and ask the mentor if she has a more appropriate assignment for you to attack.

6. Stop at regular intervals and ask yourself where you think you need to continue to improve – and then develop a strategy to deal with that. Feedback from your mentor and committee members will help you see the areas where you might need additional help. For example, if you think your writing needs to be strengthened what resources do you have, have access to or feel you need? If you think you should be stronger on your theoretical approach, how are you going to improve that? If you think you need a refresher course on the methodology you plan to utilize for your dissertation, how are you approaching that? Have you exhausted all of the resources that Capella provides for you? Many great resources exist on iGuide – but the Internet is also full of resources that are most helpful.

7. Embrace the iterative nature of the Research Plan and the full dissertation. No matter how well we might write or no matter how clearly we believe we are conveying a particular point – everyone needs an editor. Everyone can improve their own writing by giving it a day or two and then re-reading it – out loud. I know that a certain number of you “make the corrections” and send a document right back to your mentor – but all of you who do that would save yourself an enormous amount of time if you carefully read and re-read all of the feedback. Then, make sure that you incorporate every single bit of feedback. Keep in mind that mentors are not your editors, so if an editor shows you several dangling modifiers that you need to fix, YOU are the one who must carefully read through the rest of your document to find all of the other ones that exist. Until you do, your mentor will keep sending it back for further improvement. You save yourself many weeks – and probably many months – if you take the time to read through everything carefully and respond to every single piece of feedback.