1. Why did you create this website?
Prior to my doctorate I had three clinical licenses, two master’s degrees and thirty three credit hours of post masters classes. I have taken additional business classes, managed a post-acute medical rehabilitation center, was an insurance agent, a stock broker and worked as a manager for two county governments and two state governments. I have worked as a therapist, Clinical Supervisor and Clinical Director. I thought the doctoral degree would be time consuming but the same as my other achievements. Despite a good committee and later an even better doctoral committee I was pushed to my limit. Upon finishing, I ended up with a life threatening medical condition that I think was induced by my extended period of stress while completing the dissertation. At the very bottom, I made a deal with my creator that if he would get me through this I would help others. Of course, the moment I graduated I ran away from that promise because the whole process was still so aversive. But I am back and this is my attempt to help you. Those of you still in the doctoral class work are still in the land of rainbows and unicorns so this site will not make sense to you. Those of who have passed your six hour comprehensive exams and internships and are starting to write your thesis, this site is for you………………..welcome.
2. Where do you get your ideas and techniques from?
We have talked to many successful doctoral students who graduated. We have also talked to many ex-doctoral students who did not graduate. We ask all of them to talk about what happened, what worked and what got in their way. Those that failed are the most willing to talk, it pours out of them. Those with a Ph.D. are harder to talk to since many are happy with the degree but seem to have hidden the memories of the stress filled process away in the back of their mind. If you dig for facts then you stir up old memories and there can be some resistance. Emotions are tied to many memories and the successful Ph.D. has been where you are now. Usually, if we approach them about helping current doctoral students they open up and share quite a lot. They have so much to offer although no technique will work for everyone. This website serves only as a warehouse that you can rummage through to find things that you think may help you. Perhaps nothing we have will work for you or your situation. Looking at other techniques and approaches may stimulate ideas that do work for you. I hope we can help in some way if only to add some distraction or humor to your busy life.
3. Will your site tell me exactly what I need to do for my thesis?
No because that is different for each individual and is really an issue for your doctoral committee. We might give you great technical advice and your committee would demand a completely different approach. We will give ideas on how to manage your committee, work with your committee and manage your own behaviors. The doctoral process is new for you so having other people’s ideas to compare to your own situation may help you.
4. Why do your posts seem so negative instead of focusing on the positive?
The posts are realistic because many people who attempt a doctoral degree fail. They fail after spending huge sums of money. These folks are the brightest in the country and each has had significant success in their lives up to this point. Most entered the degree process full of positive expectations and many will fail. I can throw a ten dollar bill on the table and call it a million bucks but it will still only buy me a couple of cups of coffee. It is time for the wishful thinking to give way to the reality of the situation. Look at what is facing you and overcome it.
5. What are the exact numbers of students who fail?
Interesting question! Do some research on your own and get back to us with the exact numbers. The numbers of students who fail at the Bachelor level are pretty easy to find. As you move up the scale it is more interesting. If you are even reading this website you should have very well developed researching skills so give it a try. Make sure to add in all the doctoral students who start out and drop off during the classroom phase and later due to comprehensive exams, internships or other pre dissertation requirements. What data there is seems to count only those doctoral students who start on their dissertation. Anecdotal questioning of successful doctoral students seems to indicate that not many graduate from the group that started. Some universities seem to have greater success rates.
6. Who are the zombie students you talk about?
These are the doctoral students who have already decided that they cannot finish the degree. They cannot tell anyone because they have gone so far in debt that they can’t figure out how to tell the spouse, their parents or their friends that they are only going through the motions. They are like the husband who has lost his job but can’t tell his family so he puts on his suit and heads off each morning only he is out looking for a new job. These folks are not really doing much research work, talking to their professor or visiting the library. They just want it to end but do not know how without losing face. Besides we have heard with the new laws that people can no longer declare bankruptcy and drop the education debt. Even if they die the debt will be worn around the necks of their loved ones. “Well honey we could have bought a house with what we borrowed for that degree I will never get!” Yeah that really goes over well.
7. Why do some readers seem so angry at you or the web site?
Most are in a process they do not understand and they have failed to manage their doctoral committee well. Most are deeply in debt and they see no end to the process. Most feel the rift forming between them and others as this life sucking process (LSP) continues on and on. Yet they cannot find the successful exit door. Most find the web site and want IMMEDIATELY an exact step by step answer the same as they had in their classroom syllabi. Yet each has a committee that has different demands, egos and expectations. Instead our suggestions are not universally useful and they involve taking charge of the situation when doctoral students are at their weakest and just want this to all go away. Some techniques like the “Hot Potato” are counter intuitive as it tells you to do nothing but rest after you hand in your chapter. You work only on what your committee puts in writing and very little of what is said to you in the verbal feedback unless it lines up with the written feedback. The technique was designed because professors run off at the mouth and throw in all sorts of extra comments. In reality only what they write down will they remember when you meet next time. Yet doctoral students race to the library to research and add those offhand comments. Instead, you rest and work only on the written comments. Many doctoral students come home from dropping off their chapter and go into a frenzy of additional work that goes nowhere. Rest instead!
8. Did you write the website just to sell a book?
Sure, that is why the website has been up a year and the book still is not attached to it. In fact, the book was written to stop the 2 hour phone calls from people who had heard I had some idea how to breathe life back into their doctoral journey. It is hard to hang up on someone who is on the edge and feels their life plans slipping away. The angst in their voices takes me back to my days as a therapist. They are always grateful but I have a family, my job as an Analyst, my graduate students to assist and my long commute each day. So I wrote down the core items into a very small e-book that hopefully will make it out in 2012 . From the core of that book, most folks should be able to pull out some useful ideas. Proceeds from the book will pay for the website once I retire since my day job salary is keeping this running now. Technical help is expensive and worth every penny. Update- After three years I finally got the book out. Everything in the small e-book will eventually end up here on the web site. This website is actually my third job / hobby so it will take a bit to get out but everything will come out sooner or later. I had kind of hoped the book would offset some of the costs.but the main thing is that folks stay in school and graduate.
9. What can I do to get my degree back on track?
First, take off the rose colored glasses and realize you are in the fight of your life and if you pass this you have really accomplished something. The key to your success is your doctoral committee and you need to start approaching them even though you do not want to do this. Helping doctoral students write their thesis is a secondary job for the committee members. Many students drop out and that is painful for the professors, so expect little intense leadership from them until you prove yourself. Every time that you drop off a chapter, each Monday there after you will send a one line email to all of your committee members and ask if they are ready to set up a feedback meeting. Keep physical copies of all of these emails. Do this every Monday until you obtain a meeting. Condition them to expect the email. If you do not hear back from them in three weeks then start to leave a voice mail every Tuesday after the Monday email. You do not want a phone conversation where one tells you to stop calling, so call them after they have left for the day and leave a voice mail for each. They will expect a meek doctoral student that they hear from only occasionally. Condition them to realize you will not be the typical doctoral student that waits weeks or months for feedback. In many cases they will read over your chapter 10 minutes before you arrive so why wait two months to meet with them again. Rest once you have given them your document. Most students write like a fiend after any contact with their committee. They write like crazy even after dropping off chapters and that is useless work. You blaze into action when you get the paper back and you hit it with everything that you have and get it back to them in one if not two weeks. Slowly they will start to respond to you as a serious student and more help may come from them. Some may try to put you in your place and you accept this treatment gracefully but change your approach as little as possible. These are smart people and you are lucky to be working with them and you can let them know that in many small ways.
10. Any overall advice?
This is one of the most magical and interesting things that you will ever do. When I taught physical management I would tell my staff the secret is to control yourself when the client is screaming and hurting people and starts coming for you. If my staff remained calm, the client would feel it and that in many cases would at least slow them down. Then, it was much easier to direct the angry patients’ energy into de-escalation or if they continued to attack it was easier to then apply a take down or a hold until help arrived. You are in a hard place and need to center yourself. You do that by connecting to loved ones, resting and taking control back of the situation. You can exert tremendous positive control over your committee and help them to help you but only if you are centered and know what your next step is going to be. In the center of chaos you can be relaxed and purposeful. That is what this site is all about, helping you to reach that state of success when you feel weak and alone. Learn from the many techniques we have picked up from others. Add yours to our site and share your needs and triumphs. Expect some crabby folks to make comments on the site as that happens when people are under pressure. Not everything here will work for everyone. But the ideas presented may allow each person to come up with their own approach.
11. I am a truly brilliant doctoral student (much smarter than you) so why do I need your help?
Many of the brilliant folks I have worked with had very poor people skills even though they could tell you pi out to the 37th place by memory. Unless your professors are as brilliant, you may need some help understanding this process and getting along with others. And then maybe you do not need any help, if so my very best to you! Good luck
12. I found some grammar errors with your writing so you have nothing to offer me!
Yes, please do not come to this web site if you are expecting perfection. First of all, I type as I speak so it will not have perfect grammar. Second, I really cannot do much for you if your main attention is on my grammatical errors versus what you need to do to complete your doctorate. Many intelligent, “perfect thinking” people do not complete their doctorates. People so into perfect organization, perfect color coded notebooks, perfect grammar, perfect notes, etc. are going to get lost in all the details and eventually give up. There is no perfect way to complete your doctorate. If you are a very rigid person and compulsive about details do not be quick to criticize others. They may end up having a better chance of succeeding as they will see the bigger picture and what is truly important. So if perfection is your only course then try the Mount Olympus or Perfect Ville websites. (That was a joke) I have nothing to offer you but I truly do wish you the very best.