Dissertation Writing: The Importance of Attitude

Part II: Attitude

By: Dr. Cheryl Lentz

The importance of attitude cannot be understated, nor underestimated as one pursues the completion of writing the dissertation. The ability to work well with others—whether faculty,fellow students, or members of the Dissertation Committee, attitude often spells the difference between speed to completion and success of completion.

Let’s explore why further.  Most students tend to do very well within a very structured program, where weekly goals and assignments are charted for them as designed for them by the university and the curriculum design team.  When students complete their courses and are left with only the dissertation to finish, often, frustration increases as the student is now in control.  The tools that the student needs to complete the dissertation are often provided for them–to include rubrics, templates, and checklists.  The student simply has to put in the time and efforts needed to complete the dissertation according to listed standards.  It is precisely here where the challenges lie.

The idea of control scares many students.  The students are used to being reactive—or being a follower; now they are asked to be proactive or the leader of their study and attitude is often a very foundational element that can spell success or delay in the final outcome.

Ideally, students understand the role of their mentor or chair is to shorten their learning curve.  Remember, a coach knows the rules, but a mentor has played the actual game before.  When writing the dissertation, a mentor or chair is neither above or below the doctoral candidate, simply ahead of them in the process.  When a doctoral candidate makes this realization, those on their committee become valuable members and tools for the candidate in completing their own IF the student chooses to understand the gifts they are being given.

The first gift is feedback.  If a student does not have an attitude that embraces feedback and treats every piece as a valuable gift, their attitude may be the barrier to their success.  It has been my experience that students–particularly at this level—must learn to accept feedback graciously and professionally with a positive attitude.  They learn early the benefits of separately themselves the person from themselves the writer.  Only then, will the student lose their ego and embrace the gifts of feedback from all who will offer.

Often, students eventually come to understand the ‘cooperate to graduate’ mentality and attitude.  When one can smile through the seemingly unrelenting editing sessions, graciously accept and perhaps even look through the eyes of humor at the 100TH time a specific section requires adjustment, then success is often found.

If by contrast a student pushes back to everyone and everything regarding suggestions for improvement, the student will struggle throughout their program and the rest of their careers.  Part of the doctoral process is to understand the process of collaboration.  While the doctoral candidate’s name is on the front of the diploma, many names are invisible on the back.  This lesson in humility and cooperation can be either an easy path or a long and arduous one, depending on the attitude of the student.

Learning to give and accept feedback is indeed an art.  When one has a possitive and agreeable attitude, this process of perpetual editing tends to flow more constructively and effectively.  Those who fight and push back often take much longer to understand the higher  level skills required for mastery, well beyond writing the dissertation itself.