9 Tips for Your PsyD Dissertation

Though it’s not a requirement in every program, most Psy.D. tracks, regardless of their specialty, include a dissertation as part of what it takes to graduate and complete the program. Psy.D. dissertations are similar to dissertations in other graduate and doctoral programs, but completing one isn’t a simple or easy task.

Check out these tips to help guide you along the path to a successful dissertation process, from picking your topic to defending your work. Also, be sure to closely examine all dissertation requirements at your college, university or professional school. The specific process and prerequisites may vary.

#1 Make a Schedule

Depending on where you’re getting your Psy.D., your college or university may have a specific dissertation schedule set out for you before you even enroll. If so, be sure to stick with that, but if not, make sure you’ve read and understand what’s required for your dissertation. Your school should provide you with a dissertation handbook. Think about the classes you know you’ll need to take, and working backward from your graduation date, set some milestones for your dissertation, including when you’ll set your topic, make your proposal, do your research and more. Being specific and manageable with your milestones will help you stay on track.

#2 Read and Research Before Picking Your Topic

Consult with professionals in the field whom you respect, such as a favorite professor or mentor, about possible research topics. Take time to research and read the existing information and absorb it before you narrow your focus. Consult available literature in the subject, and further refine your possible focus areas.

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#3 Pick a Topic You Care About But Don’t Get Too Personal

Formulating your central thesis around a subject that you personally are passionate about can help you maintain momentum during the long process of completing a dissertation. So be sure to focus your work in an area of psychology that excites you. That said, it’s important to pick a topic you have some personal passion for, but it’s best to avoid choosing one that hits too close to home. If you have personal experience in any aspect of psychology, it can be difficult to separate your own life from what’s revealed in your research, and if you aren’t at least somewhat objective, you could let your biases lead you in the wrong direction.

#4 Think About Your Previous Work

Ideally, you’d be able to select a topic that builds upon your previous research in the area, even if the topics aren’t tied closely together. Consider whether your previous academic research can serve as a bridge to a topic that doesn’t at first glance appear connected.

#5 Write As Much As You Can

Don’t worry about having every single bit of research or data before you begin writing. A dissertation is a massive project that can feel incredibly overwhelming when you’re attempting to get your arms around disparate pieces of literature to support your thesis. Writing nearly constantly can help you refine your arguments as you continue researching and finding new and interesting literature. Taking as little as 30 minutes a day can help ensure the data and research remains fresh on your mind.

#6 Write in Whatever Order You Wish

While you certainly should structure your Psy.D. dissertation in a specific way, and your school may have strict requirements on this, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write it in that order. Similarly to how movies are made, which is usually not in chronological order, consider approaching your dissertation by jumping around to different sections, and then going back and filling in the gaps. This is particularly helpful for those who are prone to writer’s block, as completing a section can be energizing and give you a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t come from staring at a blank page.

#7 Develop Thick Skin

Avoid being too precious about your work, including the research and the writing itself. Consult with as many trusted people as you can, including your dissertation adviser and committee, and take their notes in stride.

#8 Be Yourself and Stick to Your Values

Yes, there may be times when you get a piece of feedback that feels too negative or critical but is actually valid. However, there may be times when a colleague or adviser gives you a note that seems totally counter to the values that have informed your project to that point. If you are convinced in the importance of a point you’ve made, stick to your guns. This is your project, after all, and you are the one who must defend it.

#9 Practice, Practice, Practice

Researching and writing your dissertation is a huge task, but it’s only one part of the process of actually earning your Psy.D. Dissertation defense brings with it a whole host of new anxieties, and the best way to help curb these is to practice every chance you get. You should be prepared to speak in-depth on the genesis of your topic, your research methodology and results, as well as how you reached your conclusions. The goal isn’t to memorize some script, but you should consider what questions you’ll be asked from as many perspectives as possible.

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According to the best research on the subject, about 80% of graduate students (in all fields) who complete their coursework are able to successfully get their dissertations done. So while it’s natural to feel overwhelmed at the start of the process, the reality is most students are able to get them done. If you can follow your school’s guidelines and keep to a manageable schedule, there’s no reason you can’t be among them.