Complete Your Dissertation or Thesis in Two Semesters or Less (my reading notes) – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD

I recently ran a poll on Twitter about whether I should write about books I did NOT like, and the majority ruled that it was important to know which ones and why not in order to make better decisions. This was a split decision, since 48% approximately suggested that I should NOT write about these volumes that I did not believe would be useful. I decided to type my reading notes for one specific reason: I may not have liked these volumes, but certainly, other people did. And if that’s the case, then it’s worth highlighting that what didn’t work for me, DID WORK for other people. Therefore, there’s value in these books.

The first one of (two so far) books I did not really like was Evelyn Hunt Ogden’s ““. Strangely enough, both books I didn’t like are by Rowman & Littlefield, a publishing house that I actually really, really like. This is just plain coincidence.

“Completing Your Doctoral Dissertation or Master’s Thesis in Two Semesters or Less” by Evelyn Hunt Ogden, is the next in my list #PhDChat

— Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega (@raulpacheco) May 15, 2018

Anyhow, there are plenty of good tips in Ogden’s book, and in my Twitter thread, I shared them, but my main annoyance is that writing a doctoral dissertation in such short period of time is basically impossible and almost unattainable. Good goal to strive for, but not realistic. The tweet below shows exactly WHY I hated this book.

Oh boy. This two semester timeline is entirely unrealistic, for history, fieldwork-based dissertations, and many STEM disciplines.

— Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega (@raulpacheco) May 15, 2018

This timeline is, as I said in my tweet, entirely unrealistic. Even if EVERYTHING went your way, there is no way you can get this done within this unrealistic timeline. BUT, scheduling pipe dreams aside, the underlying premise is good: you should plan to achieve the best, but prepare for the worst (Ogden suggests the earlier approach, I suggest that you should combine with the latter one).

Oh boy, again. According to Hunt Ogden you could do this in two semesters and it’s a *reasonable expectation* – if you have all data MAYBE

— Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega (@raulpacheco) May 15, 2018

There are plenty of reasons why this approach could fail.

The idea is very neat, the reality is that there will be days when you face writers’ block, an experiment won’t work, an interview will fail

— Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega (@raulpacheco) May 15, 2018

I can see the logic in Ogden’s premises, but the “perfectness” and “ideal world” conditions grated me. What if an advisor gets sick? What if the doctoral candidate gets sick? What if nobody in the committee responds? In theory, this process “let’s go all in” should work. My experience writing my own and supervising doctoral dissertations tells me that this is an unrealistic approach.

You need time to read, process and digest your thinking. A doctorate may be the only moment in your career when you get to do this, and be EXPECTED to read, and take time to think.

Lots of good pieces of advice IF you realize before reading the book that this is an unreasonable timeline for PhDs. his could potentially work for an undergraduate or even (pushing it) a Masters thesis. But a PhD needs way more buffers built in. his book has no room for contingency plans and the author assumes perfect working conditions. I wish this approach would work but hell no.

As I concluded, my assessment is that this book offers an unrealistic timeline, BUT is equipped with several good gems of advice. My concern is the inherent assumption that everything is going to go according to plan in a perfect world where the PhD candidate has control over everything, everyone including his/her own health and well being.

As I said on Twitter, there people for whom these books worked (see tweet below by Dr. Wiley). But she is absolutely clear about how she made them work: by extracting whatever gems of wisdom

A fellow #academicmama gifted me 4 books as I began my diss. I found it helpful to go section by section across the 4 books to locate themes and apply what was useful to me. None were helpful alone, but together (w/ a stellar mentor) they pulled me through rather efficiently!

— Dr. Kimberly Wiley (@kwileyfl) May 15, 2018

I found Dr. Wiley’s approach extraordinarily helpful in determining whether to write about Ogden’s book – individually, all feel somewhat unreasonable, but put together, they demistify the process. Worth considering.

As a mom of 3, all 4 books felt unreasonable individually. Together they made the process feel less foreign. I grabbed onto the tips and tools that crossed 3-4 of the books. If multiple authors suggested it, then it must be workable advice! At least, that’s what I told myself.

— Dr. Kimberly Wiley (@kwileyfl) May 15, 2018

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