Advice for Pre-dissertation Doctoral Students on August 4, 2012

(session 226 at AOM 2012)

Bias list: In keeping with my caveat lector motto, the following may have these biases inherent in it: selection bias (small sample of scholars, not randomly selected), recall bias (I may have missed noting some critical point during the presentations).

Multiple experienced scholars shared their experiences with the dissertation process, all the great advice is to their credit, all errors are mine. This is not a complete record of the session, just my notes. Some of the scholars who presented (in order of talks given) were:

  1. Tom Lee
  2. Lisa Dragoni
  3. Don Conlon
  4. Brent Scott

Key Points:

I.         General observations:

1)    Keep big picture in mind (Tom)

2)    On oft repeated quote that “best dissertation is a done dissertation”:

a)     Tom: not strictly true, it is an “incomplete idea” at best because things get more challenging for each generation of scholars in terms of expectations from a “good dissertation”. Your main goal should be to have a dissertation that leads to A-level journal publication(s) in your field.

b)    Lisa: “doesn’t sit totally right with me…should be more than that.”

3)    Tom had a bunch of useful advice specific to why academia is so attractive: you get to do interesting work with interesting people while having enormous personal control over your time.

II.         On developing a Research Stream:

1)    Tom: decide if you are a focused researcher or a sequential researcher (doing a new topic every 5 years or so). Narrated anecdote by two Organization Behavior researchers that you get 1-2 years to become THE EXPERT on a topic of your choice (“the biggest opportunity”). Don’t get sidetracked by uninteresting or petty stuff.

2)    Brent suggested integration (intersections of research sets) between your research interests that are broadly allied.

III.         Mechanics of the Dissertation Process: this topic was mainly presented by Lisa, notes from her presentation

1)    Many things about the dissertation process are new.

2)    Your dissertation “defines you on the job market”.

3)    Lisa used the metaphor of “the maiden voyage” for the dissertation to reflect that this is (probably) the first full-scale research project that you lead. This maiden voyage has the following components:

a)     Destination & route (i.e. topic & method):

i.       In terms of topic selection key advice was to identify what you like to read about? What puzzles you? Critically, in areas that interest you, where is the conversation headed?

ii.       Writing a one page description of the ideas that interest you allows you to move to the second step, namely idea vetting. Test marketing your ideas important (initially with advisor, later on with broader committee members). A doable dissertation needs to be specific, Lisa’s donut theory of dissertation, you may collect data for the broader donut but the central hole (research question) needs to be specific.

b)    Your crew (i.e. committee):

i.         Advisor: most important criteria is availability. Other considerations are knowledge of literature, methodological savvy, good working relationship (i.e. challenges your ideas constructively).

ii.         Committee: should have members who fulfill role(s) of a research design expert, data analytic expert, literature expert and great sense of the field.

c)     Your ETA (estimated time of arrival):

i.         Key junctions in your journey are: first, after the topic is established – should have round 2 of your idea vetting (potential contribution & challenges?). Second, after core elements determined (before proposal defense) – determine what must go well (i.e. necessary conditions for success)?

ii.         Generate momentum in dissertation work.

iii.         Map out big chunks of your time for each step (BE REALISTIC).

This dissertation is a “great process model that can be modified for future voyages” (i.e., other projects in the future).