ALL BUT DISSERTATION (ABD)
Are you at the ABD destination in your program?
There are two types of Ph.D. candidates that fall into this category:
1) The “just arrived” and anxious to move forward.
2) The “been there for awhile” and think they will never move forward.
While both types might require help to move on, it is the latter that is likely to derive the most benefit from this article and become motivated to complete, perhaps, the most important event in their life.
You are intelligent enough to have come this far, there is no reason (from an academic stand point) to linger in the “ABD Zone.” The longer you are there, the more difficult it becomes to pick up the pieces and move forward.
Many Ph.D. candidates seem to hit a brick wall and feel disarmed when called upon to work on the “methods” and “results” section of their dissertation. This is the point where many students diligently search for help calling on their mentor, peers, university assistance and even Google. This is also the time when the student may ask themselves the question “HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH”?
Surely no one will deny that having your dissertation written for you is very wrong. On the other hand, it is not unusual for doctoral students to get help on specific aspects of their dissertation (e.g. APA formatting and editing). It is also not unusual for advisers to encourage students to seek outside help with the statistical aspects of their dissertation.
A qualified and experienced statistical consultant who works with Ph.D candidates understands the special circumstances that can lead to ABD status (e.g. hectic fulltime job, family, and other personal issues). The question is how do you find a qualified statistician?
The best way to get started is with a phone call to a statistical consultant and ask the question: “How can you help me move beyond the ABD level and complete my Ph.D. program”? This is also the time you need to evaluate the consultant and answer the following questions:
1) Does the consultant have an advanced degree in statistics.
2) Will this person answer the phone and personally talk to you every time you call.
3) Can you reach this person when you need to. (Evenings and weekends).
4) Will this person be available all the way through the defense.
5) Will the consultant give you a fixed price quote up front so you will know your costs ahead of time?
6) Will the consultant give you a money-back guarantee the results will be correct, you will fully understand them,
and they will be accepted by your committee?
7) Will you get unlimited email and phone support until the day you graduate?
Caution: Make sure the consultant actually has an advanced degree in statistics, rather than having a degree in some other subject and is simply “good at statistics”. Where the difference really shows up is when a committee member asks lots of technical questions or you have a problem defending.
For many doctoral students, the most rigorous parts of a quantitative or mixed-methods dissertation are:
1) Methods Section
* Study Design
* Research questions and hypothesis formulation
* Development of instrumentation
* Describing the independent and dependent variables
* Writing the data analysis plan
* Performing a Power Analysis to justify the sample size and writing about it
2) Results Section
* Performing the Data Analysis
* Understanding the analysis results
* Reporting the results.
If you are a distance learning student it is almost essential you seek outside assistance for the methods and results section of your dissertation. The very nature of distance learning suggests the need for not only outside help but help from someone gifted in explaining highly technical concepts in understandable language by telephone and e-mail.
The ideal time to begin working with a statistical consultant is once you have a topic and you have done some preliminary literature review. Otherwise, you run the risk of unnecessarily complicating your study. This could result in the consultant being unable to help you, unless you are willing to start over with the problem statement, purpose of the study, research questions, instrumentation and data analysis plan.
As stated above, many students hit their dissertation “brick wall” when they encounter the statistical considerations. Frequently, a student will struggle for months before they seek a statistician’s help. This often leads to additional tuition costs and missed graduation dates. The number of Ph.D candidates not completing their program is staggering. If I were to name a single reason why a Ph.D candidate, doing a quantitative or mixed-methods study gets off track in their program, it is the statistics and their fear of statistics. So, the question is whether or not it is ethical to get help at all. If so, how much help is too much?
I don’t know if there has ever been a survey of dissertation committee members who were asked this question, however, I know many advisers take the following position when they suggest or approve outside help: To a large extent the process is self controlling. If the student relies too much on a consultant, the product may look good; however, the student will be unable to defend their dissertation.
It takes a committed effort on the part of the student and the consultant (resulting in a collaborative/teaching exchange) to have the student responsible for the data and thoroughly understand the statistics. This is not accomplished in just one or two emails or a single telephone conversation. It is a dynamic process; one that calls for unending patience on the consultant’s part and perseverance on the student’s part.
The day the student walks in front of the committee to defend, there should be no question as to their understanding of statistics. It is the consultant’s job to see to it this occurs.
When their defense is successful, the question ”was the help too much” is answered.
If you are a Ph.D candidate and would like additional information, you may wish to review the referenced sites below: