John Caughlin

(Ph.D. Speech Communication, 1997; Anita Vangelisti, Supervisor)
Assistant Professor, Communication
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

John CaughlinI have three bits of advice regarding the dissertation. First, a dissertation is just one project in a career. It's not (or shouldn't be) one's life work. Choose a project that can be completed in a reasonable time and get it done. You'll have the rest of your life to finish that enormous project you envision.

Second, if your advisor or committee tells you that your idea won't work, it's probably best to just trust them on that and move on. Fighting to convince a committee that your idea is worthy can take years. Moreover, if people who know you already do not receive the idea well, chances are it won't fair well when you try to publish from that dissertation. If you really do have an idea that is so brilliant that your committee can't see it, there will be plenty of time to work on that after you finish.

Finally, completing a dissertation is largely about inertia. People who take a little time off at a certain stage (e.g., after comprehensive exams or after the prospectus meeting) often find themselves still on a break many months later. (That is, bodies at rest tend to stay that way.) People who force themselves to do at least something on their project nearly every day tend to gather momentum as they make progress. If you can at least start on a section, for example, there is a tendency to want to get back to it to finish that off.