(Isn’t that what my dissertation chair and committee are for?)
by Richard Pollard, Ph.D.
I’ve worked with a lot of doctoral students over the years and, until recently, I didn’t know anyone who had hired a dissertation consultant. But, in retrospect, many of the candidates who never finished their doctorates, or who took way too long to finish, could have benefited from hiring a consultant. Among the candidates who have hired me as a consultant, approximately half hired me early in the process and half near the end. My experience is that it is easier (and less expensive for the client) if the consultant is brought in early in the process. Fixing a 200-page dissertation is a lot more time-consuming than helping to guide the process from the start.
The problem with relying on your dissertation chair as your sole guide through the process is that it is unlikely that your goals align perfectly with your chair’s goals. Think about your goals in working toward a doctorate. Most likely, these are the first two:
1. Get it done and approved as soon as possible, and
2. Get a job, or a promotion, when it’s done.
Your secondary goals may include:
1. Find a topic that interests you enough to spend a huge amount of time on it,
2. Get something from it published before you graduate,
3. Leave enough room for a future research agenda and publications, and
4. Do something that is of value either to you or to society at large.
Most likely, your dissertation chair’s primary goals are:
1. Avoiding the embarrassment of signing off on a weak dissertation.
2. Furthering his/her own research agenda through possible co-authorships with you or, worse, taking credit for your work.
3. Graduating doctorates who will cite his/her research.
That’s not to say that most dissertation chairs are not also motivated by a sincere interest in mentoring you and wanting to help you succeed. It’s simply a recognition that we all have our own motivations and sometimes the motivations of student and chair are not well aligned.
When you hire a consultant at the proposal stage, you are getting someone who has a strong interest in helping you reach your personal goals. The consultant’s motivation is to help you succeed and to identify research questions that are of an appropriate scope, and inherently interesting to you, so that you can follow through and earn your doctorate. That also means helping you frame reasonable hypotheses and select the appropriate methodology. Future business for the consultant depends on your positive experience and on completing your dissertation in a timely manner. That starts with navigating the proposal process through to approval by a dissertation committee.
As a university chancellor, Dr. Pollard oversaw dissertation chairs and readers and taught courses in business, statistics, and research methods. He works with master’s and doctoral students during the thesis and dissertation writing process.