Scheduling the Dissertation and Producing a Timeline

Scheduling the Dissertation and Producing a Timeline
Although some doctoral candidates will reject the idea of a rigid schedule, hoping instead for their research and writing to rush ahead at their own speed towards a satisfactory conclusion, the fact is that PhD degrees need to be completed within a certain period of time, scholarly research and writing are incredibly time-consuming and the situations presented by daily life are not always conducive to efficient progress. Even if your supervisor, committee, department or university does not require a dissertation timeline, it is therefore a very good idea to look ahead, design a schedule, write it up neatly, share it with your supervisory committee and keep it close to hand as you work towards your degree.
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A dissertation timeline is essentially a chronological schedule of your anticipated progress in the research and writing you will be doing for your dissertation. The way in which a timeline is organised can vary, and your university or department may have an example or template that you can use as a model as you design your own, or your supervisor and perhaps your other committee members may be able to offer helpful advice. Most timelines are arranged by weeks, by months or by academic terms or semesters, and some will go all the way back to the beginning of a doctoral candidate’s course work, though this is not usually necessary. The primary concern is to outline a schedule for completing the main stages in the dissertation process (the drafting and revision of individual chapters, for instance). Your timeline may take the form of an extremely detailed table with information about your research and writing activities every week, or it may be a simple list of dates indicating the aspects or parts of your research and writing that you plan to have finished by those dates. Whether long and complex or short and simple, however, your timeline should definitely contain details and dates regarding the completion and final examination of your dissertation, and it is also important to include any bureaucratic or administrative procedures that may require extra time and effort.

It can be very helpful, by the way, to indicate in a diplomatic way in your timeline any necessary consultation with and feedback from your supervisor and other committee members: for example, ‘Week of 14 Jan.: meeting with supervisor to discuss draft of results chapter’ or ‘Month of March: revising chapters 2 and 3 in response to committee feedback.’ Your timeline is an informal contract of sorts which tells your supervisory committee that you will do your very best to meet the goals and deadlines that you have set for yourself, and while your responsibilities and obligations are therefore the main point, it is also wise to give those busy scholars the information they need to know just how important it is to your schedule and ultimately your progress and success that they do their very best to meet those deadlines as well. Sharing such a timeline with your committee members can also identify and prevent potential problems and conflicts. For example, perhaps one of your committee members will be away precisely when you, according to your timeline, will very likely require feedback on a freshly drafted chapter of your dissertation. If the committee member reads your timeline, he or she can inform you of the problem, and adjustments can be made to ensure that your progress continues unhindered. Your supervisor and other committee members may also have comments about the possibility or probability of your meeting the dates and deadlines you indicate: if so, remember that they have more research and writing experience than you do, and their comments should always be seriously considered.

A carefully planned timeline has the added benefit of helping you proceed efficiently with your research and writing by providing you with a firm schedule within which to work, and if you are prone to procrastination, you may even find it helpful to print up a copy of your timeline and attach it to the wall above your computer. Constructing a dissertation timeline can in itself be time-consuming, of course, as well as challenging, and you need to be both realistic and demanding in assessing your efficiency and future progress, but as an effective tool for keeping you on track and enabling a successful working relationship with your dissertation committee, a timeline is well worth the effort it requires.

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