In setting intentions for successfully and healthfully navigating the dissertation journey the first concern is about connections and intersections. Connection, that is to say, to your world and experiences as a researcher and the intersection of those experiences with the theoretical world of research. Doctoral studies are ripe with opportunities to connect our whole person experiences with the theoretical research. To connect effective practice with theory is an ever productive intersection. At the end of this journey you will receive your diploma – your doctoral credential. Set your intentions on a farther horizon by considering how your dissertation research can aid in advancing your career, in solving immediate and local problems in your place of work, communities, and home. The dissertation is not the end of the journey; it is the beginning of your career as a scholar/practitioner/leader.
"Research is hard work, but like any challenging job well done, both the process and the results bring immense personal satisfaction. But research and its reporting are also social acts that require you to think steadily about how your work relates to your readers, about the responsibility you have not just toward your subject and yourself, but toward them as well, especially when you believe that you have something to say that is important enough to cause readers to change their lives by changing what and how they think." ~The Craft of Research*
One of the lessons a researcher must learn is the discipline of understanding and the limitation of both words and concepts. Language, words and concepts, are something we work with as they are useful tools but that usefulness evaporates without discipline. For example, we currently believe, given one concept over another, that the first concept may more approximate the truth than the other (the nature of the concept is not important). One of the concepts, we might say, is taking us to some meaning or larger truth where the other would nudge us away – off our path. Some words, even though they are just words, can even awaken in us that experience of truth, even though they themselves are not that experience. The point is we must become aware of our bias, of our beliefs …of our attachment to some truth that would prevent us our learning. We must come to the understanding that anytime we risk learning we are risking our knowing.
A researcher cannot change the nature of reality by changing one’s thoughts. Ontology (the study of the nature of reality) involves coming to clarity concerning what is. Therefore the researcher must understand that it is our consciousness that is being transformed not our ideas. Learning builds consciousness. Unless the quality of the consciousness changes you will get more of what you already know and with that a sense of justification that stifles real inquiry and creativity. This happens too often and we produce too many empty projects where all that has been accomplished is the new arrangement of what was already known. If you are looking for new knowledge or wisdom then you will need the tools of research. This new knowledge will be a product of your creativity therefore these research tools are just like painter’s brush or the sculptor’s chisel. They can be used like any tool with a creative intention— that is to say they can be used creatively. Use this to gain a heightened awareness as being one as researcher.
Foundations must be constructed. This is sage advice for any discipline. In your research you will likely be exploring some of the deepest pools of human possibilities and problems. This is good and of necessity – it is why you are here. However, unless you are able to connect that knowledge, your discoveries, your creativity, back to its place of functionality in or for society, your research will be dysfunctional or seen at best as something less than ordinary where you were seeking the extraordinary. Foundations are constructed by being aware of what has come before you, who is already working on this idea, where will it become valued, why is it significant…or any other questions of relevance concerning the connection of your work, your creativity, to the wide domain of epistemology.
Pursue your own questions. There are actually two lessons held within this statement. The first is finding motivation for your work. If it is important and meaningful to you, you will likely create important and meaningful work. Don’t become saddled by someone else’s work. I once had a student who was so dedicated to his church he could not contemplate doing a study that did not serve the church. He spent year after agonizing year pursuing (as he later defined) this “heartless work”. After three years and the approach of the permanent ABD (all but dissertation) designation he approached me with an idea he had that had nothing do with the church and was more about understanding how good teachers are created. He graduated. The lesson is to study what you love or will love. To your own self be true. The second part of this lesson is about desire and dedication. Don’t ask another person questions you know can be found by study or by digging into the literature. Read, reflect, and refine your own thinking. Build a mental discipline that would complement your other strengths.
Connected knowledge is the only usable knowledge. It is one thing to read and study it is quite another to make that reading and studying your own. As you move through the knowledge base of research look for ways to connect it to your life – make it meaningful. Using an odd metaphor, say you have before your three unlabeled cans and a gadget you have never seen before (a can opener). You need to see what is in each can but have no way of knowing beyond opening them. All you have is this crazy piece of metal. As you study this odd contraption it dawns on you it could be useful as a tool, perhaps even one that could open these cans. You study harder and make the connection – this goes here, this goes down, I twist this and bingo-casserole. Look for the usefulness in these research tools to uncover a curiosity you might hold. Put them to work – make them yours to hold and control.
* Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., & Williams, J. M. (2008) The Craft of Research (3rd ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (p. 5).