Dissertation, Inc.: Seeking Investors (By Jennifer Travis, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant)


Dissertation, Inc.: Seeking Investors

By Jennifer Travis, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant

Who are your investors? Stakeholders? Do you have any? Besides you, who has invested in your doctoral journey?


Looking back on my own journey, I see it became richer when I allowed others to invest in it. (Interestingly, their investment coincided with my acquisition of a solid writing habit and an increased rate of progress.) Your venture will also benefit from investors: people who believe in the cause (you), and have backed their belief by voluntarily sacrificing time and effort to further your progress.


I’m not talking primarily about family, fellow graduate students, or professors on your committee. Let’s face it—your family’s sacrifice, though much appreciated, is not entirely voluntary. Support from peers is essential, but is often a reciprocal transaction—as my fellow travelers encourage me on my doctoral journey, I can hope to return the favor. And your advisor’s investment, though very real and very important, is part of a professor’s job. (Believe me, I’m not discounting my advisor’s sacrifice—agreeing to mentor someone is a huge commitment. But that’s a topic for a different blog post.)


I’m talking about outside investors, people not related to you and not on your committee, who give to your effort without expecting any credit or any immediate benefit to themselves.


If your experiences receiving investments (help, feedback, advice, etc.) have been limited to comments received on class papers, I challenge you to broaden your concept of investment, in two ways:


  1. Expand the circle of people you might ask. (Think beyond other graduate students or professors on your committee.)
  1. Expand the sort of help you could request. (Think beyond paper-editing.)

Consider who you could ask for help: a non-academic friend, a professor outside your department, a colleague at your workplace, a former grad student now teaching at another university. You may be surprised — the person may not only be willing, but honored to be asked.


What could you ask? Here are some ideas:


  • For a friend with good organizational skills: “Would you help me figure out a filing/sorting system for my piles of data?”
  • For a wise person who is good at time management: “Would you be willing to meet for coffee every two weeks and help me prioritize my current list of tasks?”
  • For someone whose esteem you value: “Would you hold me accountable to send a daily email listing my time-on-task for the day? Your replies can be very short, just ‘Check’.  It will help me just to know you’re reading them, and that you’ll hunt me down if I disappear.”
  • For someone who’s a good writer (not necessarily an academic): “Would you look at how this paper (or section) is structured, and help me put the chunks in a logical order?”
  • For a person with high-level specialized expertise: “Would you read these two pages for foolishness? Tell me if I’ve written anything that is factually incorrect.”
  • For a very intelligent friend who doesn’t love math: “Could you read this formula, and my explanation of it, and tell me if you could apply the formula yourself?”
  • For just about anyone: “Would you be willing to give feedback on two pages of my paper?” (Please don’t send your whole dissertation. And don’t forget to specify the type of feedback you need.)


A couple of caveats: Do not ask for an unreasonable time commitment, and make it clear that there will be no hard feelings if the answer is “no”. After all, the people whose help is most valuable tend to be the busiest people. Our investors need to know that we value their time as much as their wisdom.


Don’t let fear deter you. Sometimes, I have avoided asking for help because I was afraid — afraid the person would think less of me. Because of my fear (and ego, maybe?), I missed out not only on amazing help, but on amazing relationships.


This blog post is dedicated to my own outside investors. Thank you for investing precious time and energy in me. I am indescribably grateful.