Planning Progress through a PhD Program
The PhD action plan is more than just a schedule. It is a tool to keep you on track over a very long and complicated program. To create a customized action plan, begin by making a list of the four major parts to most doctoral programs. These include coursework, comprehensive examinations, teaching/research assisting, and the dissertation.
Now, break down each of these areas into smaller parts. For example, under coursework, make a list of all of the courses you need to complete as part of the PhD program. These courses should be clearly laid out in the university’s handbook. Then, look to see what the requirements are for each course. Start grouping the courses into the semesters in which you plan to take these courses. Some courses have prerequisites so make sure you organize the courses into groups not only based on when the university will offer them but in sequential order based on these prerequisites.
The dissertation is the most important, most complicated, and most frustrating part of the doctoral program. Creating a dissertation action plan is essential to get through one. Begin by chronologically listing the different parts of the dissertation. Start by scheduling the proposal, the proposal defense, and the final dissertation chair approval you’ll need to move ahead with the project.
The dissertation itself is typically divided into five chapters but completing the dissertation in order from chapter 1 to chapter 5 is a sure way to never finish. For example, you cannot wait until chapter 4 to collect your data; you should already have your data analyzed before you write chapter 1 so that you can be sure your dissertation will meet the requirements necessary for graduation.
Imagine writing almost the entire dissertation and then finding out in chapter 4 that the data didn’t work out the way you predicted it would. You would then have to go back to the drawing board, rewrite most of the dissertation, and extend your program up to a year or more. A good PhD action plan that protects you from such mistakes can help you finish on time and keep you on track so you can avoid having to unnecessarily spend more time as a doctoral student than you have to.