Over the last several years, I’ve noticed a growing trend in disputes between students and chairs/committee members regarding their dissertations. The disputes have been related to any number of things – from disagreements about how an analysis should be conducted, to subjective writing style preferences, to study design, or sample size… the list is endless. I’ve been particularly struck by the amount of information and direction received by students that is just plain wrong.
This dispute cycle is not only incredibly frustrating and time-consuming– it’s also very expensive.
For every term a student is delayed, another term of tuition is owed.
Here’s the problem. A lot of online schools immediately hire their own graduates to work as adjunct faculty… and serve as dissertation chairs. But just because someone wrote and defended a single dissertation doesn’t mean they’re qualified to guide others through the process. Further, these chairs often serve on several dissertation committees and can’t (or won’t) dedicate the time necessary to provide meaningful feedback and direction.
To top this off, with so much politics at play within schools and individual departments, it can be very difficult for students to manage disputes. When students try to escalate issues (for example, to their academic advisors), they’re often told to just do what the chair is asking.
But what happens when even the chair doesn’t understand what they’re asking for?
I began helping clients dispute these situations. Serving as an “outside consultant,” I very intentionally comb through all their documents, revisions, and feedback. From there, one of two things happen:
Either I agree with the feedback and help the client revise as necessary, OR
I find the feedback or revision requests be incorrect and craft an email detailing why the feedback is problematic. In this correspondence, I also provide detailed support for project, as is. In this capacity, I become the expert in my client’s corner, letting their chair/committee members know someone else is reviewing their feedback and holding them accountable for the feedback and comments they provide.
Every single time I have used this approach, the chair or committee member has backed down and allowed the student to proceed. Most of the time, they also become very helpful and interested in moving the student through quickly.
It’s sometimes necessary to call out a chair or committee member, but students usually lack the support needed to do this. Everything changes when I step in.
The dissertation process should not wipe students out mentally and emotionally. I think they often feel helpless without anyone in their corner to back them up. There should be a system of accountability that prevents bad, uninformed chairs (or committee members) from creating these problems. But at most schools, there isn’t.
So at Dissertation Angels, I have created one to help my clients.