Should you stay or should you go?

by | February 7, 2013

Every so often some of my advisees ask me if they should stay in dissertation or if they should move on without completing it. I am not going to answer that question. What I do, though, is ask my advisees to seriously think about their answers to a series of questions. Those answers will tell them what decision to make.

First I will ask about their engagement in their 9960 courseroom. Did they post the quarterly plan of action? If they did post, do they think the goals set for the quarter are realistic? If they have not been in the courseroom and have not yet posted, why not?

Are they aware that from now on they are being graded each quarter? One of the criteria upon which they will be graded will be the how close they come to completing the plan of action. Their participation in the courseroom and communications with the mentor will also be part of what goes into the grade of S or NS. I will ask my advisee what grade s/he is currently on target to receive for the quarter.

Next, I will ask what they have done to try to get focused and motivated? Have they explored the resources offered on iGuide? For example, under the Learning Resources tab they will find a resource that I strongly recommend. It is under Success Factors — and I especially recommend the time management resources there. Are they actually setting aside times in which to focus on the dissertation? Are they scheduling time regularly and are they scheduling enough time to make sure they can make progress each week? And when you type “motivation” into the search box on iGuide, you will get some links to Ask Doctoral Advising blog entries about maintaining motivation.

If a major life issue has been interfering with dissertation, my advisees need to ask themselves if the issue is something they can get under control in any way. Or will this issue control my advisee? If it is something they think they can get under control, they need to know how they are going to do that and how long it will take.

Once someone has the answers to the questions above, it is time to ask the tough questions about how much they really want to stay in the program. Neither your mentor nor I will make that decision for any of you.

So, here are a few questions for you to consider. Why did you decide to enter this doctoral program? What do you think you learned during coursework that has helped to make you more curious, more likely to employ your critical thinking skills in situations where you previously had not used them, and have you developed your critical thinking skills to a point where they help you make difficult decisions? Has some aspect of the dissertation turned you off to this whole process? Do you choose to let the iterative process frustrate you — or do you embrace it with the thought that this round of feedback is going to improve your paper even more? Do you like/are you interested in your topic? Are you curious about finding answers to the research questions you want to explore? Are you in dissertation because you have spent too much time and money to quit now?

If you choose to leave the program, how will that make you feel? Will you give a sigh of relief and tell yourself that now you can move on to living your life? Will you feel like you wasted your money? Will you grieve that it is no longer part of your life? Will you always be curious about what you might have found in your research?

Answer all of those questions honestly and you should have the answer to whether you should stay in the program.