Coursework and the Dissertation

There is a common attitude among doctoral students to only focus on their regular classes to the exclusion of the dissertation research during the early stages of their degree program. If you are one of those individuals, you may want to reconsider this approach. There is no doubt that doing well in the required courses is a must. But suppose that the term papers you write for each course could also have some relationship later to your dissertation research.

Caroline was a student attending Capella University in an online doctoral program in psychology. She contacted me and said she had an idea for her dissertation topic even though she had just started her studies. She wondered if I could help her select term paper topics which could be integrated into her dissertation. During my own doctoral studies, I knew of two students who had done just that and when they “officially” started on their dissertations they made great progress because they had already been reading and writing about related literature. I told Caroline that she was quite progressive to have come up that the idea on her own.

Over the subsequent semesters, at the start of each course we would have a session to talk about the instructors’ coursework requirements and their guidelines or suggestions for the term papers. Together we brainstormed how a topic might fit somewhere in her future dissertation research. We followed this strategy at the beginning of each semester for two years. When she finally started taking the dissertation sequence courses, she breezed through and finished her research in record time. Her committee chairperson marveled at her pace and high quality of work.

You may want to consider following the example of Caroline and look for ways to have your regular term papers count double – meet the current course requirements and have some relevance to your future dissertation. Most students underestimate the high level of work and the extreme quality required for dissertation writing. By following Caroline’s strategy you will increase your dissertation socialization because you will be immersing yourself in literature of your topic and increasing your dialogue with your professors.

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