Confession – before this morning, I had been ABD for the past three years. For those not familiar with the term, ABD is an acronym for “All But Dissertation”; meaning I had completed all the requirements for a degree of “Doctor of Education: Ed.D” except the dissertation. So today, 232 pages later, I successfully defended my dissertation: Impact of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program on
a Suburban New York Middle School
– An Action Research Study. Yes, I am now Donald F. Gately Ed.D! Gotta admit – it feels amazing to attain this degree and to have this arduous and rewarding process behind me. I feel very proud.
But why did it take me three years to complete the dissertation after the thousands of hours that went into the coursework leading up to it? I have some reflections that might help others on a journey similar to mine:
1. Don’t take a break after completing the program, the day after you take your comps, hit your study, HARD! I completed a blended program through Concordia University, Chicago. A “blended” program involves a combination of online and face-to-face meetings. Given my personal and work commitments, a blended program was the only way I could complete my studies. Many universities (St. John’s, CW Post, Seton Hall) offer blended programs which allow you to fulfill part of the requirements of the degree after you put your kids to sleep. Each week I was responsible for discussion posts, online discussion protocols, and research papers, lots of research papers. It was a tremendous amount of work. So it should come as no surprise that when the coursework is completed (2 1/2 years) you feel like you want to take a break. For me this was a mistake. I needed to capitalize on the momentum I had to get my study done.
2. Make sure you choose a topic you are passionate about and that is doable! I started with another topic and wrote about 60 pages before abandoning it because it was too unwieldy and it simply didn’t have my attention.
3. Don’t have four feet of the Atlantic Ocean in your home – at any time…causing massive damage to half your house and the loss of yours and your wife’s cars. Avoid having your wife’s parents move in with you and sleep on the couch for 8 months… if you can help it; don’t do this. It doesn’t help you complete your study.
4. Don’t watch a single episode of Dexter, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, American Horror Story or Game of Thrones on Netflix. You and your wife (who is also completing a dissertation) won’t write another word until you’ve watched every episode.
5. My daughter Juliet is one of the best things that ever happened to me, my wife, and our family (she’s 3 now; same as the amount of time as I’ve been ABD. coincidence? hmmmm). However, as cute as she is, Juliet hasn’t lifted a finger to help me finish my dissertation, and she ruined one of my flash drives by teething on it when she was an infant. So – well – that’s your call…
6. If your wife does her dissertation at the same time as you, and your wife is as amazing as mine is (Danielle Gately @dmgately), that can me a real asset. Danielle pushed me, supported me and provided practical support throughout this entire process. Simply stated, I could not have done this without her — the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen a woman do was when Danielle changed all my citations from APA 5th to APA 6th edition with four pull-down menus on Endnote! And if it took us too much time to finish, that’s entirely my fault (for the record though, it was her idea to watch all five seasons of Dexter over winter break 2012).
7. Listen to your committee, they know how to do this work. My committee, Drs. Daniel Tomal, Craig Schilling and Meja Miskovitz were incredibly supportive of my work and understanding of the ardor that this process involves. Work with a good committee and take their advice – always!
8. Don’t decide you’re going to teach yourself how to cook while you’re doing your study, it’s hard to type with a spatula in your hand.
9. Don’t be a middle school principal and try to do this (then you’ll be doing TWO full time jobs, maybe three…)
Nothing in my life has activated my energies as a learner more than the process of pursuing this degree and completing a dissertation. Bottom line… the methods one learns through doctoral study and the rigor involved in examining an issue of significance to our field in exhaustive detail using established quasi-scientific methods are invaluable to any educator. My professional and personal life have been enriched by this extremely challenging endeavor. I’m happy I did it! I’d be pleased to offer support and advice to anyone considering pursuing this degree.