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Helping Doctoral Candidates Finish Faster By E. Alana James, Ed.D.

Professors Blog, 3 January, 2012

What Does It Take to Graduate This Year? Part One: Backward-Mapping


Its heartening to see the amount of traffic increase on our site that DoctoralNet at two different times each year: January and September. While they both follow the normal ebbs and flows of academic school calendars everywhere, the increase in January comes we know with goals and hopes and dreams of finishing your dissertation this year. For some who read this it will be finally finishing the dissertation this year, because as we know through statistics anywhere in the world, only 50% of those who start a doctoral degree finish it and the longer you go the less likely you are in percentage. We say these things not to discourage but to hearten as we believe that only by looking the adversity we face clearly in the eye can we find that inner courage and strength it takes to overcome the challenges. This short blog post has two purposes: the first to help you with a model for analyzing what it will take for you to finish this year, and the second is to look at those challenges straight in the face and discuss them. Elmore (1979) developed or at least published, a process called backward mapping. It was used in New York City schools to implement change in the 1980s, and I used it to make sure that I graduated on time. My own personal story is that my graduation was absolutely needed because I was moving to Ireland therefore a precise set of milestone deadlines kept me on track and finishing. In fact, I was the first and only person in my department to finish in the three years that Columbia University told all of us was possible. The process below is written as though you were a doctoral student in the United States. Students other parts of the world will find it to be accurate enough from numbers one through seven. Doctoral candidates working in universities based on a more European model will be aware that you have a much longer data collection/analysis timeframe. You, however, should leave a longer period of time for writing, as you may be retro-fitting a methodology which was not as well spelled out as those to which students in the United States would have been required to adhere. All in all, no matter where you are in the world, youll catch the drift of what this process is trying to get you to do, and will be able to adjust according to your personal situations. Ill walk you quickly through the process: 1. Look at your school calendar and determine what is the last date you would need to have your work published documents submitted in order to graduate this year? Put this in your calendar as your end date. 2. Go backwards three weeks this is likely the time it takes for the University to take in your submission and process it. Put this in your calendar as the day you need to have your dissertation not only accepted, but all the small changes made ready for publication. Do you know someone else who could use these two articles? Feel free to download them here and email them to other doctoral students our mission is to help everyone succeed in meeting their goal of graduating this year. Page 1

Helping Doctoral Candidates Finish Faster By E. Alana James, Ed.D. Professors Blog, 3 January, 2012 3. Go backwards another three weeks this is the length of time it usually takes for candidates to finish the small changes required by their defense. Put this in your calendar as your defense date. 4. Go backwards another three weeks this is the minimum length of time it takes a university to submit your work to all of the readers in preparation for defense. Prior to putting the state in your calendar talk with people at your University to see if in fact it might be much longer than that. But for now, put this date in your calendar as the day you need to be finished with your writing. 5. Go back four to six weeks this is usually the time between the first submission of collected and analyzed data written in the final chapters, and the complete rewrite that is often needed after the first submission. Put this date in your calendar as when you need to have your final chapters submitted in rough draft back from your advisor. 6. Go back two weeks this is the time it usually takes advisors to read a piece of work, adjust according to your knowledge if it should be longer than this. Put the state in your calendar as the day you need to have your rough draft of the entire dissertation finished. 7. Six weeks before this you need to have your data collected. 8. One month to six weeks before this you need to be beginning your data collection. 9. Prior to data collection you need to have your ethical review board approve your work. 10. Prior to ethical review you need to complete whatever proposal defense and agreements are required by your University Why do I lay this out in such detail? Because it is been our experience that most doctoral students are not properly prepared for the length of time End Game takes. Now that you have your calendar for the year laid out in detail, the next article moves on to help you face the dragons which keep you from finishing. Reference: Elmore, R. M. (1979). Backward mapping: Implementation research and plicy decisions. Political science quarterly, 94(4), 601-616.

Do you know someone else who could use these two articles? Feel free to download them here and email them to other doctoral students our mission is to help everyone succeed in meeting their goal of graduating this year. Page 2