10 Tips for Online Doctoral Students: A Dissertation Success Kit

Ed.D. student Stephanie Marcotte offers online doctoral students 10 tips and toolsGuest blogger and doctoral student Stephanie N. Marcotte is in her last semester of the online Doctor of Education (Ed.D) program at the University of New England. Her dissertation is focused on community college academic English as a second language (ESL) programs in Massachusetts. She is currently a Nursing Resource Coordinator and Adjunct Professor of ESL at Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts.

Greetings! My name is Stephanie Marcotte, and I am in the last semester of my online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program at UNE. As I am finishing up my dissertation, I have been reflecting on all the lessons that I have learned that enabled me to reach this point in my dissertation journey. I have thought about every tool that I hold in my dissertation kit which might be helpful to others who are on the same journey. Here are 10 tips that have kept me on track and engaged throughout this process.

1. Befriend your APA manual

Throughout your academic journey, you have probably come to find your citation manual to be a helpful tool. It has probably been sitting on your desk as a reference that gathers layer after layer of dust. However, once you begin your dissertation journey, it is time to truly befriend your APA manual. You might even need to buy a few companion resources as well. Now is the time to mark up the book, add post-it flags, and take notes. Your dissertation will most likely require you to dig deeper into APA and use it on a deeper level.

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2. Find solace in your research team

The media likes to depict a dissertation as an isolating journey; however, it does not have to be. Luckily, you are not alone on a deserted island; you have a course full of people who are in the same boat as you. They might have similar topics or a similar research design. Or, they might just have a similar personality. Together, you are a team to help pull each other to the finish line. Once you have your official research team, be sure to take time to regularly check in with people in your group. Reaching out is supportive to your colleagues, and it can be a resource for you.

3. Take your organization game to the next level

Participating in this online doctoral program means that you probably have a good handle on organizing all of your professional, academic, and social commitments. Think about what has really worked for you in the past. Putting a clear organizational plan in place will allow you to not only survive your dissertation, but you will thrive in the process. If specific organizational tools are not working, take advantage of your colleagues and resources, like the Student Academic Success Center (SASC), to help get you on track.

4. Take stock of your learning & research style

Everyone has different learning preferences. However, just because you have been an auditory learner in the past does not necessarily mean that you are an auditory learner in every content area, context area, or learning space. Take stock of how you are doing and make changes. This is also true for your research. Some people can sit and binge read 20 articles in one sitting, but this is not the reality for everyone. Break the research into meaningful chunks, organize your notes, skim and scan, and/or use a reader app to read the articles out loud to you.

5. To save your eyes, or not to save your eyes

There is a big misconception about participating in an online doctoral program. Many people believe that all reading and work has to be done in front of a computer that is streaming blue light into your eyes. However, much of the work that needs to get done can also be done on paper. There is something to be said for old fashioned paper and pens. If you need to read something in print, buy it. If you need to edit something on paper, print it. Think about what will allow you to complete tasks in a painless way. If you are someone who loves doing everything on a computer, consider using a blue light filter setting or application. If you are using more paper, just remember to recycle!

Read more: Stephanie’s Student Spotlight

6. Get a life (A.K.A have some fun)

Many folks in online doctoral programs are focused on pursuing their academic and career goals. Otherwise, why do any of us do it? However, remember that life is about more than just doing dissertation research and emailing your committee chair. Be sure to take the time and as my students would say and “get a life.” Take time to establish a self-care routine and dedicate time to yourself even when things get hectic. You are only human, and the work will get done. Your rest, happiness, and well-being are worth more than stress.

7. Actually learn about campus resources

As an online doctoral student completing a dissertation, it is easy to forget about or not take advantage of campus resources. Even though you are not living on campus or in the State of Maine, there are many resources that UNE has to offer to all students. From research help to writing support, there are many supports available when the going is easy and when the going is rough. The Student Success Portal is a great place to start. https://success.une.edu/education/

8. Embrace the grammar police

Throughout your dissertation, you are going to make lots of changes. You will add and move content. You will write and rewrite, and this is all part of the process. This is the time to think about and embrace all of the academic grammar rules that you know. Think back to 8th grade English or college composition. Draw on all of the comma rules that you have accumulated and use them. Embrace grammar and embrace grammar comments; your dissertation will thank you.

9. Do not hide in the shadows

In the era of countless superhero movies, do not be the person hiding in the shadows. Be sure to communicate with your professor and dissertation committee chair. They are available to help you. If you are falling behind, contact your advisor. If you are feeling ahead, contact your advisor. Having an open line of communication is important. This will help to keep you on track with the dissertation process. Honestly, there will be times when you are feeling months behind and times when you feel like you are nearly done; this will fluctuate.

10. Stay positive

There are always going to be people who are farther along than you, and there are always going to be people who are not as far along as you. The difficult trick is to avoid comparing yourself with others. This can put undue pressure on you and actually restrict your motivation. Everyone has a different topic, a different research study, and different life commitments. This is a fluid process that can become too rigid when people compare themselves to others. Keep a positive mindset about yourself, your work, and your dissertation journey.

Everyone will find their dissertation journey to be different. There is no set perspective foundation or steps that will work for everyone. As you progress in your journey, take stock of everything you have done and everything that has helped you. You are doing great work, and your finalized dissertation is in sight.

Interested in becoming a doctoral student and applying these tips to our online Ed.D. program? Download our guide!

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