Later this evening – Thursday, July 19th – I’ll be discussing the following question with my course of educational leadership doctoral students at the University of Colorado Denver: How can you work productively with your doctoral advisor and committee, particularly in the final stages of your dissertation study?

For those of us who have walked this journey, we’ve certainly learned various lessons (perhaps the hard way) and strategies for success. And for those of us, like me, who are now advising doctoral students, we hopefully model and pass along productive practices in our daily work as advisors.

While some of what follows may be specific to the current cohort of EdD students I’m supporting at CU Denver, I suspect much is useful across both doctoral programs and various disciples. To that end, if you’re reading this post and would like to share any of your advice for how doctoral students can productively work with their advisor and committee, particularly in the final stages of their dissertation studies, please add a comment below or annotate this post using Hypothesis.

A quick, incomplete, though perhaps somewhat sufficient list of Remi’s recommendations for doctoral students to productively work with their advisor and committee:

  1. Remember – irrespective of your passion and investment – that your dissertation is not actually about you.
  2. Recognize when to compromise and when to pick your battles (about theory, methods, how to present findings, etc.) as you can’t win every argument.
  3. If you’re not already communicating regularly and openly with your advisor (via email, at weekly or monthly meetings, or as part of a research team), send regular check-ins regarding the progress of your dissertation research and your outstanding questions. And for those doctoral students who may be defending in the coming semesters, communicate with a focus on backwards planning to address all of the scholarly and administrative steps necessary to finish.
  4. Be concise and specific with your requests to both your advisor and your committee.
  5. Recognize if it’s best for you to meet with your advisor in person or online (like via Zoom), and respectfully suggest such meetings so you can maximize the impact of those meetings.
  6. Ask your advisor for advice on managing committee communication dynamics. Who will email writing updates to everyone? How will you not overwhelm the full committee with logistic emails that people will invariably miss or not read? By the way, I’m not suggesting your advisor micro-manage everything you do. Rather, I am suggesting that you do have a plan for coordinating the team dynamic among a distributed group.
  7. If helpful, communicate among your advisor’s advisees. Discuss what’s working and what’s not, share resources with one another, and commiserate. Other doctoral students are tremendous resources, particularly in the final stretch.
  8. Regarding committee members: Make strategic requests for what they can specifically do in support of your progress.
  9. If it arises, don’t try and put out fires between your advisor and a committee member. That’s on them. It’s not your responsibility to mediate or try and mitigate other people’s conflicts.
  10. When communicating with your advisor and committee, distinguish between “how you’re doing” (your physical, mental, and social well-being) and “how your dissertation is progressing.” Attend to both in communicating with your advisor and committee.

OK… that’s a brief list intended to start a broader conversation. Please share your suggestions too!

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