Thesis Student Responsibilities for a Successful Degree
Among the many matters discussed between you and your PhD supervisor, the deadlines within which both of you will need to work and the responsibilities that each of you are taking on should be prominent. All relevant issues need not be discussed in your first meeting, but clarifying such details early in the dissertation process can encourage a positive working relationship between you and your supervisor, improve your efficiency in significant ways and contribute markedly to your success. Most doctoral research and the dissertations resulting from it are student driven, and the enthusiasm, initiative and persistence of candidates are often considered to be as important as their research topics and written work, so your responsibilities regarding your dissertation will no doubt be more numerous than those of your supervisor: it is, after all, your dissertation. In most cases it is, for example, your job to determine exactly what the deadlines and responsibilities that apply to you are, and supervisors will vary in the degree to which they are willing to encourage you in making the necessary discoveries, but raising such concerns in your discussions with your supervisor will almost always be rewarded with a ready welcome and helpful advice.
Every university will set a specific amount of time – usually between three and seven years – within which a dissertation must be completed and examined in order for a candidate to achieve a doctoral degree. This deadline will probably already be well known to you, but there are a number of other less obvious deadlines that will also require careful planning. You may, for instance, have to draft parts of your dissertation within a certain period of time, and have them approved by your committee members before proceeding further; your university’s or institute’s approval of your research project may involve finishing that research within a given amount of time, and may not allow the repetition of tests and procedures without additional approval; your supervisor and other committee members will require a reasonable amount of time (two weeks is common) to read and provide feedback on any piece of writing you share with them; and there are always forms and other bureaucratic procedures that have to be completed at various stages in the degree process, with frustrating delays and complications being the result if they are not. You will need to be aware of all such deadlines and requirements and design your own work schedule around them, and you should also do your best to learn of any unusual circumstances that may affect your progress: perhaps, for instance, your supervisor or another committee member will be away for the summer months and thus unable to provide feedback on your writing, a situation that may require some careful planning on your part.
Your supervisor’s responsibilities will include providing you with the guidance you need to complete your research and dissertation successfully, so it is imperative that he or she allows you opportunities to meet, seriously engages with your questions and problems, and offers you timely and thoughtful commentary on your written work. Your supervisor may use discussions and comments to nudge you in the right directions, but it is your responsibility to conduct your research in appropriate and approved ways, to present and analyse that research honestly and effectively, to master to an acceptable degree the language in which you are working, to write your dissertation clearly and professionally, to observe all university guidelines regarding the length, style, format and referencing methods of your dissertation, to discuss your work and the responses it receives in a mature and respectful manner, to revise and improve your writing in accord with the advice of your supervisor and other committee members, and to take the initiative in resolving any issues or problems that arise during your degree process.
Composing checklists, outlines and schedules is an excellent idea, and these can be shared with the members of your supervisory committee to obtain their input and ensure that you are all working towards the same goals, but making and sharing such organisational aids is not enough – you also have to make good use of them by doing what you intended to do when you designed them. Remember that the onus may fall largely upon you to determine your success as a doctoral student, but since your dissertation will mark your formal entrance into your chosen discipline and career, the rewards will be yours as well.
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