Dr. Birgit Fisher is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, an EMDR Clinician, an Acupuncture Detox Specialist, and an accredited site visitor for the American Psychological Association. She operates a private practice in Pueblo Colorado where she specializes in forensic and neuropsychology, with a focus on treating complex trauma. She is a Clinical Member of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) and has been approved by the Sex Offender Management Board as a Clinical Supervisor and Full Operational Level Provider and Evaluator for Adults, Adults with Disabilities and Juveniles. She has been a presenter at multiple national and international conferences, and is published in the areas of neuroscience, gerontology and neuropsychology. Birgit has taught at several Universities, both nationally and internationally. In addition to her teaching, clinical, and forensic work, she consults all over the world in the areas of risk management, mental health, trauma, program development and program compliance.
The entire doctoral process, but particularly the Dissertation needs to be approached as a marathon, not a sprint.
1. Take the time (and instruction from your Chair) as you wrap your head around the task at hand).
2. Get organized! Electronically or on paper. Using notecards is a great hack for creating your literature review. The earlier the better (this should be happening LONG before you are formally working on your dissertation/doc project).
3. Ask questions! (See episode #40: How to Not Ask Dumb Questions).
4. Start with the abstract. Then skip to the discussion section (looking for recommendations for future research). Then when you find something interesting, pull the article, and put it in the appropriate folder.
5. Learn APA style ASAP.
6. Use every opportunity to hone your doctoral-level writing. And if you need an editor – PLEASE get one (see recommendation on my website – below).
7. Check out the 1-page alignment worksheet (and episode #14 – see link below).
8. Consider a coach for assisting you with your data analysis.
1-Page Alignment Worksheet: https://www.expandyourhappy.com/1pager
Other resources (including free organization software) are available at: http://Expandyourhappy.com
Happy Doc Student Swag: https://www.bonfire.com/store/happy-doc-student-podcast-swag/
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It is a marathon. So from the very beginning, the earlier you can make it into that kind of mindset, of it is a marathon. I'm not running a sprint.. You're listening to the Happy Doc, Student Podcast, a podcast dedicated to providing clarity to the often mysterious doctoral process. Do you feel like you're losing your mind? Let me and my guests show you how to put more joy in your journal. And graduate with your sanity, health and relationships intact. I'm your host, Dr. Heather Frederick and this is episode 41. In this episode, I interviewed Dr. Birgit Fisher. Birgit is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, an EMDR Clinician, an Acupuncture Detox Specialist, and an accredited site visitor for the American Psychological Association. She operates a private practice in Pueblo, Colorado, where she specializes in forensic and neuropsychology with a focus on treating complex trauma. She is a clinical member of the association for the treatment of sexual abusers and has been approved by the sex offender management board as a clinical supervisor and full operational level provider and evaluator for adults, adults with disabilities and juveniles. She has been a presenter at multiple national and international conferences and is published in the areas of neuroscience gerontology in neuropsychology. Birgit has taught at several universities, both nationally and internationally. In addition to her teaching clinical and forensic work, she consults all over the world in the areas of risk management, mental health, trauma program development, and program compliance. Welcome to the show . Thanks for having me on your podcast. Today. We are going To talk about this idea of the doctoral journey, specifically, the dissertation being a marathon and not a sprint. Yes. And all of my years of chairing dissertations, being a committee member ondifferent dissertations, one of the things I encounter or one of the issues I encounter over and over is students jumping into the process, and just want to get it done. Right? It's the last thing that they're doing. And without even being able to wrap their mind completely around it, it's just this idea of like checking off boxes. You wouldn't believe how many students have sat down, probably in the kitchen and over one, too many cups of coffee, and just sparkthe entire dissertation and, and send it to me and then are upset and so discouraged when it didn't make any sense. It wasn't methodologically aligned. It wasn't organized. And this idea of I'm going to just get this done in two months. It's not going to work that way. And so many of my guests bring up this situation where as an educational system, we've programmed students, you have an assignment, you do it in a short period of time, you move on. But the dissertation is this thing that is this iterative process that you're working on months even years. And so it's outside of what we know as a student. It's different. It is. And again, most students are so not prepared for it and the problem becomes that they get so attached to their words. It's almost impossible for them to disconnect. So, what I'm trying to get them to do from the beginning is help them organize the process. And I tell them again, it's not a sprint, so you probably are going to feel that I'm going to slow you down many times. And I am because I want it to be a quality project. In 50 years from now, you're going to look at a book on the shelf that is your dissertation. You don't want to pick it up and start reading something, put it down and say, oh my gosh, I can't believe I wrote this. This is embarrassing. What if my grandchildren see this, right? It is a legacy that you're working on. Absolutely. It's, it's the crowd jewel, right? It should represent you and who you are and the knowledge that you have. And again, it should be something you can be proud of. Many people will say, students, that they come into the process feeling under-prepared and I've talked to so many chairs and committee members that say they work with students who are under-prepared. Where do you think that originates? I think it originates from number one, students not really asking questions. as they are going through the classes and all of a sudden they're in front of the magic door, that says Dissertation, and they're opening it and they have no idea what to do with it. I think the other part is that I really believe that schools do not prepare students. And especially this distance learning, it's so difficult for many students, right? For those of us who've been through more traditional schools, where you know, that you have the support from your peers and they've been through similar things. And you have somebody who's maybe a little bit ahead of you and they're giving you advice. Many of the distance Learners, they are very isolated. Yeah. I went to a land-based program as well. And that modeling you're talking about was so important because you see people that are a couple steps ahead of you and you're realizing, wow, I need to start thinking about my research area now. And often you're actually. In a lab already where people are researching a general topic area that you had picked when you applied to your graduate program, right? You said, I want to go get my doctorate. And I want to study with this group of people at this university that are doing this thing. So you had a general idea, but almost from day one, when you're in a land-based program, you've got your eye on research that's related to probably something that you're going to study, whereas with 100% online or hybrid programs, what I see is faculty are teaching content courses and not really tying it to this dissertation or doctoral project. So it's like you say, they finish their classes and they get to this magic door and sometimes it's the first time they've really thought about what is this project? What does it entail? And what the heck am I going to do for it?? Absolutely. And, but I'm finding with many of the students, especially from the distance learning and the online programs is in my first conversation with them, they either have no idea what they want to do and they're reaching out to me and saying, what do you think would be a good topic? And it's like, well, okay, I've met you now two and a half minutes ago I do not know what your interested in and, what your background is. what you're really passionate about it. So let's start there. The other ones are the ones who come this, this enormous project. And I always feel so bad because I feel I'm the needle to the little balloon because they come with this project they want to do, and I'm thinking about about it an it's like yeah,, you can do it. You're going to graduate when you're 98, because it's going to take that long. So finding that middle path, quality product, but at the same time, something that's doable and achievable. I've had guests share on other episodes, really understanding that your dissertation or your doctoral project is simply a demonstration to the university that you meet the criteria, that you've got the skillset commensurate with the degree you're being awarded. It's not your life's work because I too have seen that kind of bi-modal distribution. They come to you and they go, okay, I'm ready. What should I do? And I'm thinking, wait, you've been here for years. You mean you haven't already started doing some research in your area, some reading in your area? Or they have this project already mapped out, I want to do this longitudinal study and I'm going to get multiple countries involved. And you're like, whoa, let's reign that in a little bit. Right! Exactly. Those are the, yes, of course you can do this and you will be 98 and I'll be dead by the time you get there.. So, one of the things in my first conversation, after finding out what are their interests, what they are really passionate about, and I really think it is important to pick a topic they are passionate about it because I tell them by the time to they are half way through, they are going to be so sick and tired of it. If they don't have that spark that's going to carry them through, it's just going to be too tedious and so if I encounter students early in the process, like in some universities and in residencies, we prepare them for, I actually encouraged them to each time when you're in a class do you have an idea or you, you hear something that sounds pretty interesting. Have a little dissertation notebook. Start making a note putting in like this could be a potential topic and then just spend about 10 minutes in the library and see if you can find the abstracts related. Get a feeling for what has been done, what hasn't been done. So by the time you actually hit the magic door, you'll have at least three or four solid projects that you're happy about, you're excited about. And you can talk to your chair about it and get like his or her feelings. So that's if I catch them early. If I don't, and unfortunately many, many students I encounter by the time they actually are starting the process I encourage them to look at this concept of a marathon, really preparing. So starting out with this very practical thing, start doing a literature review.Just a very cursory one. So just look at different abstracts, see what has been done, what hasn't been done. And, you know, I actually encourage them to keep folders with different components of the dissertation folders that tell them, maybe this would be a good sub part of it. And then starting as they're finding research that fits it, actually organizing it into it. And I used to be a researcher full-time, years ago, but it's one of the things that I used because I do better on paper than on laptops or on computers. So I would actually pull out note cards, good size note cards, and I would pull out information from articles that I found really interesting. Key points, things to follow up. And I would have, by the time I'm done, I would have this stack of note cards. And by the time I was ready to write, I wouldn't even look at articles anymore, but would be from my notes. And some studentsare already organizing it like this electronically. Others are doing better, doing it manually the way I'm doing it. And I still use that method when I'm preparing for trainings, because again, going through my cards and kind of like sorting, like, yep, this fits here. This fits here. And it also allows you to organize the information in such a way that as you're reading it, you're getting ideas of this should be presented before that, this is this kind of jive together. And these would be maybe pointing out the connections, this really contradicts this. And if you're trying to get the same information by going article after article, you're not going to see those connections and it's going to become madness, going through 135 articles, trying to find that one perfect quote that you know, you saw somewhere. Yeah. I love that you bring up one of the ways you can prepare for this marathon is by organizing. And maybe you're out there listening and you're early in your program, you can start working on your dissertation right now by learning how is it that you retain information? Do you want to go electronic? Do you want old school notebook right? And write things out. Because by the time you get to that magic door, you should have read a lot of articles related to your general area. I think what happens getting back to that kind of pattern of being a student, you might be able to read eight articles for a research paper in a class and kind of keep everything in your head and not really feel pressure to organize it. By the time you get to your capstone project here, you're going to read hundreds and hundreds of articles. They may not all make it into your final product because they might not be relevant to your final product, but you won't know that at the time. And so start thinking about that now, how are you going to organize this massive amount of information? Absolutely. And what I'm finding is that students who actually follow that advice from the beginning. And I keep telling them don't wait till you read 150, start from the beginning, and it's going to take you a little bit longer to get through it, but it's going to be definitely worth in the end. And I also encourage students as they are doing it to have some kind of short notation that tells them who was the author of this article, either use Refworks or some other program to help them organize the reference section. But from the beginning start building it. You know, so you don't have to make all those entries later, but really be organized, be very structured in how you're approaching it. And students who actually follow this advice, you can tell because the projects flow, they make sense. Versus the ones that they're really doing this article by article, especially the literature review. You can really tell this; nothing is connected. Nothing is synthesized, nothing is presented in any way that shows deeperthinking beyond article one, article two, article three, and that's just what this is about. Yeah, the annotated bibliography style literature review I call it .When I get those, I go, Hey, you've got a great annotated bibliography here. So you've got kind of these core pieces, almost like puzzle pieces. Now what you need to do is analyze what all those things are saying, and you need to synthesize it and create a picture for me. So when we think about Bloom's taxonomy, I think what happens a lot is people are just used to reading things and parroting it back, those low levels. I understand these basic concepts. Let me show you, I understand them. But what we're asking you to do is something totally different at this stage. We are actually asking you to create new knowledge based on your understanding of research that came before, right? Not your opinion. And that's another pitfall I think that students can fall into by justsaying:
this is my research idea. I know this is what I want to research, but you brought up twice earlier, you need to read those abstracts and see what's been done and what hasn't been done, I will say you don't even need to really come up with your idea. The research is going to lead you to what logical things there are to still research in this field. And then you pick from those, you don't just pull something out of a hat. Well, exactly. And then they're reading those abstracts in the beginning and I always encourage them to ones you find pretty interesting, pull the entire article at that point. And then just jump to the discussion section and the section that talks about future research, because that's going to be the jack pot for where you find ideas. It's like, oh yeah, this hasn't been studied let's do this, right? I really appreciate students who are actually doing this. You know, who are following the steps and who are willing to do it versus who are coming, the ones who are coming in and they have it all figured out. And then again, there's just a lot of sadness when it doesn't work out. And major frustration. Oh, absolutely. And they don't often realize, especially in the beginning, by going slower, you're going to go faster.And, you know, what many people say that:
you have to go slow to go fast, which really comes back to this idea of thinking of the content courses that you're taking, and if your program has residencies as, like, training sessions ,preparing you. And I will say to students, please be learning APA so that that's not another thing you have to do at the end, please be working on your doctoral level writing every time you get a paper, you have a discussion posting, or whatever it is, activities that you're doing. Use that as an opportunity to hone these skills, that if they're not honed by the time you get to that end, to that magic door, it's, it's going to be sad. Like you said, it's not going to be an enjoyable process. It's not, and I feel bad having to give feedback that just points out all the deficiencies and it's not fun. It's really not. I mean, I enjoy ones I can read and go, yes, this is exciting. And you know, she got it or he got it right? They got it. And I, again, I feel bad, but ultimately they need to do the work. Yeah. If the training hasn't been occurring over the years that proceed this point in time, it's going to be very painful. I don't run, but I can only imagine waking up one day saying I'm going to go run a marathon. It would be a very uncomfortable experience. And so listeners out there, your chair wants to be your cheerleader and your supporter. And we love it when things get turned into us that are aligned and make sense and are APA style. We don't enjoy telling you time and time again, this still isn't up to standards. So take time early in your program to do the work. Absolutely. And it's really, it's more enjoyable in the long run. The product's better. Right? And again, everybody wants to be proud of it in the end. And yeah, it can be very frustrating. And the other part that I'm finding is many students are not prepared for the concept ofmethodological alignment, and we talk about it all the time, especially in the beginning. And I'm not sure if students just don't want to say, I have no idea what you're talking about, because even by saying, all the pieces have to fit, one piece has to lead to the next. There shouldn't be any surprise, by the time you come to the purpose of the study and you're looking at the research questions or the hypothesis, you shouldn't be sitting there saying, where's this coming from? Nothing prepared me to even read this. So everything should be in alignment. Step-by-step. And I know Heather you have this awesome worksheet that I've used over and over and over again. Yeah. And we talk about that in podcast episode 14, because faculty were saying, make sure one of your first podcasts is about alignment because it's the number one thing that trips people up. And on that podcast, I admit, I don't even know where that worksheet came from. It's this living, breathing document that many faculty have passed around, but it is on the website. I'll put a link below in the show notes. It is really just one page. And if you use just a few words with a few sentences and make sure everything is aligned, it becomes the cornerstone of your document. And it keeps you on track is the main, main thing that it does. It really does. And I also find that students who actually take the time and actually, and it doesn't take very long, but it does take some thought to fill it out and take the feedback. They're actually going through the process of thinking the project through. Because again, oftentimes the pieces don't fit. And it's a wonderful way to very early intervene and say, look, you know, you're giving me all those pieces, but none of them is really connected. So in your mind, how do they coordinate? And how can I help you get there? It's a great worksheet, and again so easy to use. And, oh my gosh priceless. Another thing that I'm finding is that many students are very reluctant and not very open to editors. Not everybody is a great writer. Some students are. Some students are excellent writers, but what I'm finding is this is a different level of writing than writing a paper for one. of your classes. And what I tell students is your dissertation, it really should be ready to be published. Because it will be. So you need to look at it at this level. It's not just a paper to get a grade. It's something much deeper, right? And, and many students just don't have the academic writing skills to make it not just mechanically sound, but also to make it flow, to make it elegant. To make it interesting. So it's not this boring. It's like, oh my gosh, if I have to read one more page of this, it should be enjoyable. And it should be something again that's interesting and it flows and that's that's smooth and that's aligned. And unless you've sat down and maybe written a book before your dissertation, most people, when they're getting to that stage have not written something that's a hundred plus pages. And so yes, you may be an okay writer, but the way I explain it is, Hey, you're not going to find me on The Voice, but if I wanted to learn how to sing, I could take some rigorous singing lessons. I could get a singing coach. I could probably learn how to carry a tune. And I think the writing required at the doctoral level is like that. You may be a fine academic writer for your bachelor's level and your master's degree. You may even have a very high GPA. And I see a lot students coming to me saying: what's going on? I feel completely deflated. I'm getting this feedback where I'm having to make significant changes, and I thought I was a pretty good writer. And I say, you are a pretty good writer. This is a different beast. Absolutely. And I'm finding it all the time, too. What students are saying seems like, but I used to get A's in all my papers, but yeah, it's a difference between writing a 14 page paper and treading a hundred twenty five, a hundred fifty, a hundred seventy five page. Basically the writing a book. Yeah. And so sometimes people think, oh, I don't think I need an editor. Or maybe is that quote, unquote cheating. Shouldn't I be doing this by myself, but many of the podcasts talk about how getting outside help can really be your saving grace, because it's simply a weakness that many, many people have. There's nothing to be ashamed of. We're not trained how to write a dissertation. We're not. Right? And so getting that outside help can mean the difference, not just between you completing or not completing, but completing in a way that's a little more efficient and a little more enjoyable. Exactly. And then I have many students tell me, well, I'll geteditor all the way at the endbecause I want to wait till it's all done and because I wanted to save some money and I'm doing it at the end. It's not going to save you money because the process is going to be so much slower. That investing the money in an editor is probably worthwhile because in the long run, you don't have to repeat classes, the process is going to be faster. Absolutely. I mean, Birgit not just not having to repeat courses. You being able to keep your sanity as a student. The chair and the committee members, I promise you when we get something that's well-written we read it faster. We put those to the top of our queue. Feedback can really focus on content. So you're having fewer reviews and they're happening faster. So it really does shrink that absolute time from start to finish. And I have yet to have a student come to me and say, oh, that was a waste of time. Nine times out of 10, they say, I wish I'd done it sooner. If I had only known. Correct. Yes. Again, similar to an editor for some students when they're getting to the point of chapter four, where they are analyzing their results. I'm finding that some of them are getting too close to it. And at this point cannot look at the results objectively. And at that point I recommend getting a coach, somebody to help them, to help sort through it and help them distance themselves from it. And again, it can save so much time in the long run. It's going to make a better product, and it's going to save them frombanging their headagainst the wall more often than they absolutely need. Them and the entire committee, right? Because what I've noticed is the more involved you are with the project over time, the chair and the committee members kind of habituate at some point after they've read something so many times, because I have hadstudents say:
a coach, well isn't that what my committee should do? But like you said, that outside set of eyes coming in and reading it fresh can pick up all the weaknesses, can pick up all the biases and you can fix them in one version. Rounds and rounds and rounds with your committee. Exactly. So again, it's those little things like sending it to an editor, and it's going to save you time in the long and probably money. Yeah. So just like you wouldn't decide, I'm going to strap on my tennis shoes and run 20 some odd miles, you do a littleprep work. You get organized. You have a game plan. You have a support system. The dissertation is the same thing. So we're encouraging you here., If you don't already have a mindset where you're realizing this isn't a sprint, this is a marathon, then we're encouraging you to adopt that mindset today. And Birgit, before we go, do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with the audience? I just would like to reiterate that it is a marathon. So from the very beginning, the earlier you can make it into thatkind of mindset of:
it is a marathon. I'm not running a sprint. I am not going to get this done in two and a half months and this just might take me a year, and it's going to be okay, and it's going to be enjoyable and I'm going to come out on the other end proud of it. So again, get ready to run your marathon. Thank you so much for sharing your years and years of experience with learners who have gone through this project successfully. I personally have sat on committees with you. You're an amazing chair. So I just appreciate you taking time to share your insights with the audience today. Thank you Heather, I really appreciate it. Before I sign off, I want to make sure that you know where to find that one page alignment worksheet we were talking about. I will put a link in the show notes below, but it's also available as a free download on my website. ExpandYourHappy.Com. Thanks so much for listening and I look forward to connecting with you on the next episode. Until then I'm wishing you more joy in your job. Hey, one more thing. Just a quick reminder that the information opinions and recommendations presented in this podcast are for general information only.