Day 57: Making the Dissertation Mine


A few weeks ago, in the process of writing my dissertation proposal, I felt that my progress was out of my control. And that my dissertation was not mine, but that of my advisors. I was wrong. This dissertation is MINE. And remembering that has helped me keep pushing.

Why did I change my dissertation strategy?

The last time I actually discussed my dissertation progress, I talked about my research idea being almost approved and having my three papers mapped out. Since then, the idea has evolved (and it’s still not quite approved) and I am no longer doing a three paper dissertation.

I spent a long time thinking about the fact that my dissertation was MINE. Yes, I need to make sure my chair approves. And yes, I need to make sure the rest of the committee approves. But at the end of the day, it will be my name it that document. And whatever that document says, I need to make sure is something that I care about.

As soon as I realized this, I knew that the three paper approach was not a good fit for me.

Finding my Dissertation Path

It took me a long time to find the theoretical conversation I wanted to join. I blogged over a year ago (yikes!) about the process. My chair had me review the last five years of our top journals to find out which articles I liked and why. After a while I noticed that I liked papers that discussed the importance of individuals and context to organizational strategy. Ultimately, I chose institutional logics because it is deliberately multi-level in its approach to research questions. It has everything I love: individuals, context, institutional forces. YES!

Once I had my theoretical home, I needed to find a way to make a contribution. That took a long time too. In a way, that is still happening. Every time I have a conversation with my chair, I understand where the gaps in my reasoning are and work to correct them. And in doing so, I have been able to learn how to make a theoretical argument. Most importantly, I am on my way to becoming an expert in my topic.

Becoming an Expert

I am by no means an expert right now. But every day, I get closer. Some times, my chair asks me questions and I realize I know the answers because I am the one that is closest to the literature. I have been reading (and re-reading), taking notes, and writing. I have a Google Scholar alert for Institutional Logics, and I read (or skim) anything that might be relevant. In the field of management and beyond.

Slowly, I have become better acquainted with how scholars frame research questions in this literature, and the kinds of things they are interested in. Slowly, I have begun to see a place for me to say something new. The process of getting here has been painfully slow. And emotionally taxing. But it is quite rewarding.

Changing my Dissertation Plan

About a month ago, I realized that what I was proposing to do was going to require a SIGNIFICANT amount of data collection. My arguments are still being developed, but I can see that I want to take time to get in-depth knowledge. A three paper dissertation would necessarily put pressure on finding two different empirical questions.

I understand that the advantage of a three paper dissertation is to have a pipeline ready. But doing a single in-depth dissertation prepares me just as well. I will have enough in this dissertation for two papers – one theoretical and one empirical. Most importantly, I will have enough deep knowledge to continue to ask questions in this AND related literature.

The Pitch to my Chair

All humans that have earned a PhD understand that the dissertation chair has tremendous amount of power. That is why selecting the right person to chair your committee is one of the most important decisions you will make. I chose my chair because he saw his role as the guide – not as the dictator. And that is important.

I have been able to choose my theoretical home, my methods, and my context. He has said no to a few things – mostly because the questions I wanted to ask where not appropriate. But the essence of my dissertation remains unchanged. When I realized that a single dissertation approach was going to be better for me, I brought it up. I made the argument about the depth of the question and the extent of the data collection. I asked if he agreed this approach has right. He did!

Every Day I’m Dissertatin’

I have had to do a lot of writing and re-writing to get my previous two papers into one dissertation. And the rigor expected from my logical arguments remains unchanged. What has changed the most is that I once again feel in control over my dissertation – and the direction.

This dissertation is MINE. And every day I work hard to get it done.


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