(Hire a consultant for my dissertation proposal? Isn’t that what my dissertation chair and committee are for?)
by Richard Pollard, Ph.D.
I’ve worked with a lot of doctoral students over the years and, until recently, I didn’t know anyone who had hired a dissertation consultant for their dissertation proposal. But, in retrospect, many of the candidates who never finished their doctorates, or who took way too long to finish, could have benefited from hiring research and writing consultants, starting with their dissertation proposals. Among the candidates who have hired me as a dissertation consultant, approximately half hired me early in the process and half near the end. My experience is that it is easier (and less expensive for the client) if the consultant is brought in early in the process. Fixing a 200-page dissertation is a lot more time-consuming than helping to guide the process from the start.
The problem with relying on your dissertation chair as your sole guide through the process is that it is unlikely that your goals align perfectly with your chair’s goals. Think about your goals in working toward a doctorate. Most likely, these are the first two:
1. Get it done and approved as soon as possible, and
2. Get a job, or a promotion, when it’s done.
Your secondary goals may include:
1. Find a topic that interests you enough to spend a huge amount of time on it,
2. Get something from it published before you graduate,
3. Leave enough room for a future research agenda and publications, and
4. Do something that is of value either to you or to society at large.
Most likely, your dissertation chair’s primary goals are:
1. Avoiding the embarrassment of signing off on a weak dissertation.
2. Furthering his/her own research agenda through possible co-authorships with you or, worse, taking credit for your work.
3. Graduating doctorates who will cite his/her research.
That’s not to say that most dissertation chairs are not also motivated by a sincere interest in mentoring you and wanting to help you succeed. It’s simply a recognition that we all have our own motivations and sometimes the motivations of student and chair are not well aligned.
When you hire a consultant at the dissertation proposal stage, you are getting someone who has a strong interest in helping you reach your personal goals. The consultant’s motivation is to help you succeed and to identify research questions that are of an appropriate scope, and inherently interesting to you, so that you can follow through and earn your doctorate. That also means helping you frame reasonable hypotheses and select the appropriate methodology. Future business for the consultant depends on your positive experience and on completing your dissertation in a timely manner. That starts with navigating the dissertation proposal process through to approval by a dissertation committee.
Richard Pollard (Ph.D. Harvard University) has held professorships at Northeastern University, University of Arizona, and Lewis & Clark College. He has served as chair or reader on numerous doctoral dissertations in management, organizational development, leadership, nursing, homeland security, and social/environmental sustainability.
He designed the doctoral programs at Colorado Technical University and served as the founding Chancellor of CTU’s Institute for Advanced Studies, where he oversaw all dissertation chairs and readers. He has taught statistics and research methods at all levels from undergraduate through doctoral.
He served as founding editor of International Journal of Small Group Research for five years before merging it with Sage Publications’ Small Group Behavior to create Small Group Research, which he editor for another eighteen years. He has chaired management programs, served as System Dean of Business and Management at CTU and as Chief Academic Officer at Daniel Webster College and the New England Institute of Art. He has been awarded Fullbright and National Science Foundation international research grants that supported his research in Norway, Sweden, Estonia and Germany. He has published extensively in management and social science journals.
His primary areas of expertise include organizational behavior, organization development, small groups and teams, leadership, psychology, sociology, research methods and statistics.
He teaches online and works with masters and doctoral students during the thesis or dissertation writing process.