Completing a Psychology Dissertation: 11 Practical Tips for Success

Completing a psychology dissertation represents the last lap on a long, arduous race towards the completion of a doctoral degree. Psychology students who engage on the long journey of obtaining a Ph.D. of Psy.D have already completed 4 years of undergraduate and 3-4 years of graduate studies by the time the formal dissertation process begins.

The dissertation is the looming last academic task that stands in the way of completing your studies. Most doctoral psychology students have already scarified a few years in the workforce and spend thousands of dollars before arriving at the culmination of their long academic journey.

For many doctoral students, the dissertation process is daunting and overwhelming. The time has come to cast aside your classroom experience and embark on an independent research project.

Approaching this important endeavor with a healthy mindset is of most critical importance. Feelings of being overwhelmed, frustration, and anger are all common emotional responses to embarking on such a project after so much hard work has already been completed. It is natural to engage  comparison with your peers and where they are in their careers while you are still technically a student, and most likely still incurring debt.

Adopting a healthy mindset to combat this frustration is an essential element in the completion of your doctoral dissertation. The following sections will outline the important psychological preparation and practical tips for completing your psychology dissertation efficiently and effectively so, you can move forward with your professional psychology practice.


  1. Start early

As you move through the beginning semesters of your graduate study, start to develop a plan of attack. This plan should involve identifying an area of psychology that you are interested in and passionate about. Once you have identified a few areas, use your time wisely and productively. Focus on these identified areas for your research interests. This will help you:

  • Become familiar with the empirical literature in the areas
  • Identify a need of study
  • Begin making a reference list that will ease the process of citations once you begin writing your dissertation.


  1. Make inroads with faculty members

Faculty members are not only there to instruct and conduct research studies. A critical part of their job is to advise and mentor students. Start early in making connections with faculty members who are approachable, helpful and most importantly, have an active research project in the area of your interest. This leads our discussion to choosing the right dissertation advisor.


  1. Select the right dissertation advisor

The dissertation committee will generally consist of one mentor and 3 Readers. You are not alone in this process. The committee functions to guide you along in your process. Your dissertation mentor will be the most important person on your committee. This faculty member has the professional responsibility of guiding you from start to finish. Look for the following traits in a dissertation advisor:

  • Easy to communication with
  • Makes time for graduate students
  • Provides timely and helpful feedback
  • Is actively conducting research in area that matches your interest. A big plus will be if they have access to existing data that you can use for your dissertation.
  • Has a strong background in research methodology. This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks on developing a psychometrically sound research project. Most graduate students have a poor grasp of research methodology and statistics. If your advisor does not have a strong background in research methodology, make sure you choose a reader who does.


  1. Utilize your research courses to gain an understanding of research designs that are easily implemented.

I discovered that using Hierarchical Regressions were the easiest to understand and most conducive to collect data. ANOVAs in their various forms are probably the soundest psychometrically but they involve random sampling and assignment, which adds another layer of immerse complication for a dissertation. Choose a design that is parsimonious and effectively answers your research questions.


  1. Don’t reinvent the wheel

Many doctoral students want to leave a mark on the psychological community through their research. While this is noble and ambitious, it is prudent to think of the dissertation as a “means to an end”. The dissertation does not have to be your seminal work, particularly if you plan to become a practitioner, as opposed to an academic. Even those aspiring academics can find a balance between being prudent while still conducting research that will be publishable by an academic journal.

Consider identifying areas of research within your interest that need further investigations. This can include:

  • Expanding of research by focusing on a different age group, clinical diagnosis, gender, and socio-economic status.

The key is to use existing developmental theories and easily implemented designs as a basis for expanding the literature with variables that have not be examined yet. This will still satisfy the requirement of a unique contribution to the literature, in a parsimonious way.


  1. Hire a statistician

Securing an expert in statistics is ethical and, in many universities, encouraged. This does not mean this stats expert will do the work for you. However, a statistician will come in handy when it is time to crunch your numbers using SPSS and will help with the interpretation of your results.


  1. Write everyday

Make a commitment to working on your dissertation every day until its completion. Procrastination is your worse enemy. I made a commitment of one hour per day, no matter what was occurring in my life. I found that the 1 hours often turned into 3, 4, or 5 hours one many occasion. Create the habit of mind of consistent effort and production. Your mind will come accustomed to this habit. Daily writing will add up quickly and you will see the fruits of your labor sooner rather than later.


  1. Hire a professional proofreader

Universities have stringent rules on formatting and style elements. It is well worth the money to hire a professional dissertation proofreader. It is  worth the cost, once you have completed your 5 chapters. This should be one gift you give to yourself upon completion.


  1. Reward yourself

Use what you have learned from positive reinforcement to facilitate your performance. Provide yourself with small rewards periodically and large rewards after a milestones such as completing Chapter 1.


  1. Stay connected

The dissertation process can be lonely and isolated. Long hours spent alone in front of a computer necessitates to maintain your connections with friends and family. Also, schedule regular meeting with your doctoral cohort to vent, strategize, and cut loose.


11. Come to acceptance

These are  practical strategies that can be implemented for the successful completion of a psychology dissertation. Practical strategies are useful, but only if you adopt the right mindset will your dissertation be completed with efficiency.  The following is the most important element of mindset that contributed to my efficient completion of my psychology dissertation. Acceptance

The frustration, resistance, and anger associated in this process will only be ameliorated by coming into full acceptance. Acceptance involves being thankful for such an opportunity. With your completion of a doctoral degree you will have surpassed 99 percent of the population with regard to educational achievement. This will place you great company among the best minds in your society.

Accept that all great achievement require sacrifice. There will be social gatherings missed, movie series you cannot keep up with, and a lack of rest along the dissertation process. Ultimately, it is commitment to professional and academic excellence that you should feel grateful for.. This scholarly achievement is to be appreciated. Be grateful for the opportunity and accept the sacrifice. It will save you emotional turmoil in the long run.


Moving forward

The dissertation process was actually the most rewarding component of my graduate studies. It is the final culmination of a long road towards becoming a professional psychologist or academic. It also serves as a necessity for career advancement within the field of psychology. A doctoral degree will open many doors and will provide opportunities to work within your desired capacity.

Developing a healthy mindset centered around acceptance and gratitude will create the proper psychological preparation for completing your research. Utilizing the 10 tips outlines in this article will help you complete your psychology dissertation efficiently and effectively.

Best of luck in the completion of your dissertation.

Respectfully submitted,

Joseph Graybill, Ph.D.

P.S. This is a great resource for competing your dissertation: From Start to finish

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