ORGANIZING Dissertation themes How to generate, capture, and collect ideas to realize creative projects.
Having just finished my dissertation thesis it is time to look back on the challenges a dissertation provides. I think that there are three main crises: a beginning-dissertation crisis, and mid-dissertation crisis, and an end-dissertation crisis. You think you should be able to work effectively as a PhD student because you did study the topic but it’s harder than expected. What breaks you: Not taking the time to learn the basics of practical research. You will have to learn a lot, probably more than you did while studying, and you need time and energy for it. Accepting that doing a PhD thesis is a learning process and that it is natural to make mistakes and not know everything about it, is an important realization. Not knowing which research question to examine.
Description: Everyone else is following a specific topic and working hard on it, but you still don’t know which research question will be in the focus of your PhD thesis. What breaks you: Switching from topic to topic, asking around for interesting research questions, never getting to know a topic deeply enough to develop your own research questions. Dropping a topic as soon as the first problems occur, in the hope of finding the golden topic where everything runs smoothly because you see this as a sign of a good topic where you are competent. You have to get familiar with the area you are working in and that takes time. This does not mean that you can slack off, but it does mean that working hard and not finding a research question until 6 to 12 months have passed is natural. Description: Starting a PhD thesis in a department brings you into contact with the departments resources. Usually, when a lot of smart people are working together, there are a lot of interesting things one can learn or sample.
New statistical methods, new technology, interesting research topics, and much more. What breaks you: You stretch yourself too thin. You start to learn dissertation themes and anything and end up knowing nothing good enough to really do something with it. Possible Solution: Realizing that you cannot learn everything.
How to make a dissertation
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The time of universal experts is long gone. You have to set priorities what to learn and when. And you will have to delegate some things. Having no time for the dissertation project.
7 but despite all your work you do not make improvements in your PhD thesis. You are working for thousands of other projects but not your PhD thesis. You supervisor is confident that you will manage it, but you are not so sure. What breaks you: Not setting limits and saying no. It is hard to reject work offers or assignments, but if your supervisor has many PhD students and does not know how much work is involved in the tasks, he might easily crush you under work orders, first leaving you no time for your PhD thesis, then leaving you no time for any life at all. Possible Solution: Many supervisors underestimate the time it takes for beginners to do a study. Proposals for the national science foundation are written in a way that experts could do the study in the assigned time.
Supervisors often do not see this and they need explicit and direct information about the time it takes to do a study from a PhD’s perspective. You read another article, and another. You change the design of the study, talk to others about it, change the program, change the question. The only thing you do not do is the damned study.
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