Graduate studies – especially those that require the completion of a dissertation – are not for everyone.
So, how do you know if writing a dissertation is the right move for you?
Here are my top three pieces of advice.
You Need to be Passionate About Something
A dissertation takes a LOT of time and effort to write, so it’s ESSENTIAL that you be really passionate about your field and topic.
Sure, there are people who complete dissertations they care very little about, simply to get the career benefits and accolades that a graduate degree confers. However, the vast majority of these dissertations are mediocre and—perhaps, from your point of view, more importantly—they were exceedingly painful to write. In fact, most students who drop out of graduate studies at the dissertation stage do so because they have simply lacked the enthusiasm for their topic needed to push through.
Once you begin a dissertation course your dissertation topic will become the air that you breathe. It will take up every minute of your time and every ounce of your energy. If you are not crazy passionate about what you do, this might not be the path for you.
On the other hand, if you are that passionate about something – anything – then a dissertation is a great way to indulge that passion while doing something worthwhile and valuable!
You Need to Love Reading and Writing
There’s no getting round the fact that a dissertation involves more than just data collection – it requires a whole lot of reading and writing too.
How much reading? Well, the reference list for my PhD dissertation included around 200 papers and books – and those were just the ones I decided were relevant enough to cite. How much writing? A master’s dissertation can be anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 words long, while a PhD dissertation can range from 20,000 to 80,000 words in length.
If the thought of writing even a few pages fills you with anxiety, or you struggle to read even the abstracts of academic papers, a dissertation may not be the right path for you. Remember, however, that tutors, instructors, support centers, and coaches are all available to help you through the reading and writing, so if you are truly passionate and determined, there’s no reason to let a distaste for academic reading and writing hold you back.
You Need an End Goal
Graduate studies are not cheap and, as already discussed, a lot of time and effort go into completing a dissertation. So, while it’s cool if you’re real passionate about what you do, you also ideally want to have an end game in mind.
Think carefully about what you intend to do after that dissertation is approved and your graduate degree is awarded. Do you want a career in academia, as a researcher or instructor? Do you hope to go into an industry position? Are you hoping to set up as a consultant or freelance expert? Identify your career goals and then decide: is a dissertation study the best way to get there?