What is the Good News About Writing/Finishing a Dissertation?

Ask anyone about their dissertation writing experience, and you’ll get a high degree of similar stories – some of which may be marked by sobbing, yelling and otherwise agitated recollections of the process. It seems that no one has anything good to say about the process and product. There are, of course, myriad reasons why this is the case. Given all the negatives, I thought it might be nice to post some of the positive aspects and potential gains of writing and completing a dissertation1. Of course, your experience will vary, but some of these are universal.

  1. You get to graduate. Finally.
  2. You get to tell everyone you basically wrote a book. And graduated.
  3. You get to tell everyone that you are a published author (assuming you took the next step and published your oeuvre).

But wait! There’s more!

An eerily familiar sight

As I went through the process of writing my own dissertation, I realized something else that was important. I had acquired a formidable set of skills during graduate school2 en route to working on the dissertation – skills that I would undoubtedly be able to use in other areas of life. Below is a list of some of the things that came to mind3:

  1. I learned to use SPSS. Not just fire it up and plug in some numbers, though – I really learned it.
  2. I learned how to properly construct a database. This is a separate skill from running any stats software, since software really won’t stop you in most cases to tell you your database is screwy. I have talked about this before.
  3. I got really, really good with Microsoft Word. Love it or hate it, the reality is that Microsoft Word is still the go to word processor for most of the world. Among the important elements I mastered was the use of styles, which I then used to create styles based on APA 6th edition. This made for an exceptionally polished document.
  4. I honed my critical/skeptical thinking skills. This made me a more effective consumer of research from any discipline. This is the most valuable of all the skills on this list, and one of the most valuable and applicable in day to day life.
  5. I learned how to integrate and mobilize the technology available to me to create my own workflow. This allowed me to produce a dissertation without printing any paper (except for one draft required by my committee and a hard copy version of my database. These were unavoidable, and I was perfectly okay with that).
  6. I learned how to evade and fight off paper wasps that chase you relentlessly when you are trying to pull files out of a 10 X 20 storage shed almost every day over the course of the summer. I never got stung, but the wasps really, really tried.

There are other skills that belong in the above list, but the ones I outlined are the most salient based on my experience. None of these things may seem conciliatory while you’re working on your dissertation (or other faculty-mandated project), but knowing that I had acquired an entire technological/scientific skill set that was quite marketable outside my field of study made the going a little easier for me.

Can you think of any positive outcomes from working on your dissertation? If so, let me know in the comments. You may also be doing your fellow graduate school students a service, since we could all use a little more positive mojo during sleepless nights of researching and writing.

Shameless Self-Promotion Time

As a final note, if you’re ever really in a bind and need some help, head over to the Buddin Research Dynamo Official Site – I might be able to help you out.

  1. I hated everything about the process. What is written here represents a collection of positives that I forced my brain to come up with. Finding redemptive qualities was, in part, how I combatted the daily deluge of negative feelings and thoughts about how I was being raked over the coals by my committee. Also, I never bought the whole tacit “this is a rite of passage” bit.  ↩
  2. Some of these were taught, others were autodidactic. ↩
  3. An important question I asked myself regarded others who went through the same training as I did, but did not necessarily have the outcomes I have listed. What was the difference between me and them – why didn’t everyone come away with a similar skill set? I quickly arrived at an answer that explains much of this quandary: I am a glutton for learning, which is code for “huge nerd”.  ↩

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