Feature

Follow along as four students narrate the ups and downs of their dissertations through video diaries.

This winter, our dissertation diarists were working on proposal writing, data collection, data analysis and more — all while juggling other obligations, like applying to internships. Find out more about each of their journeys below. And to learn about the best dissertation advice they've ever been given, check out their video diaries in our digital edition.

Natalie T., 28, PhD candidate in developmental psychology at the University of California, Davis

Working on data analysis and her dissertation proposal

In March, Natalie finished running all of the 70 mother/child participant pairs in her study on how attachment in preschool children relates to prosocial behavior. It was a big undertaking — the children and parents came to the lab three times between ages 3 and 6, and each time spent more than an hour completing tasks that measured such things as emotional understanding and emotion regulation. Parents also completed a survey on attachment style.

"I'm really excited to have all the data in front of me," Natalie says. "I've been doing a little analysis and poking around before now, but I felt sketchy about doing that because effects could disappear, and things that are on the edge of significance could not make it into significance."

Now, Natalie plans to dive into data analysis this spring, along with working toward another important milestone. She still has to defend her dissertation proposal, even though she's well into the research. That's because her work is based on a long-term, longitudinal study that was underway when she joined her lab.

"I've done everything a little out of order," she says. "I've been so busy actually doing the research, that I haven't scheduled [the proposal defense] yet."

Natalie is now aiming to defend her proposal by the end of spring and finish her dissertation in the fall.

Ross M., 31, PhD candidate in clinical psychology at Penn State University

Working on data analysis

Like Natalie, Ross recently finished collecting data on all of the 50 participants in his study on neuromechanisms associated with occasional smoking.

Now, he's beginning his data analysis. That's going to take some work because he's learning both a new analysis method — multilevel structural equation modeling — and a new software package, Mplus.

"It's been a little overwhelming, but it's also exciting since these are skills I can take forward in my career," he says.

Despite a few setbacks, he's kept up with his original timeline for the dissertation. He plans to finish his analysis in the spring, then write up the final few sections and defend in June.

That's important because he wants to finish the dissertation by the time he starts his internship at the VA Healthcare system in West Haven, Conn., in July. "I want to hit the ground running," he says.

Melissa G., 29, PsyD candidate in clinical psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology, San Francisco

Dealing with slow-going data analysis

Melissa's dissertation research is a series of structured interviews with black male teens examining how they express and experience empathy. She chose a labor-intensive analysis method called consensual qualitative research, which requires a team of researchers to review and agree on the meaning of the teens' responses.

That means that data analysis — which she originally hoped to finish this winter — is still ongoing. She considered eliminating some measures to speed things up, but eventually decided that would take away too much of what had made the topic interesting to her to begin with.

While the analysis chugs along, meanwhile, she's polishing her introduction and methods sections. At this point, she's targeting next fall to complete the dissertation.

"Coming to terms with that has not been the easiest thing," she says.

Amy M., 25, PsyD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Hartford

Putting her dissertation to work

Amy finished her dissertation last year. This year, she's been trying to put the work — a training manual to help college resident advisors deal with sexual assault crises — into practice. During the fall and winter, she contacted several colleges in Connecticut to discuss the idea, but she hasn't had any interest from them so far.

More recently, Amy spent much of her time applying for internships. That's kept her dissertation research in the forefront of her mind too since the subject came up at many interviews — particularly, she says, at more research-oriented sites.

"I've interviewed with someone who wanted to know all the details, my methods, how it had progressed, everything," she says. "At this point I've described it so many times, I could do it in my sleep."

Unfortunately, in March Amy found out that she hadn't matched to an internship, and she began the process of applying through the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Center's second round. If she ends up at a university counseling site that's receptive, she hopes to put her manual into practice there next year.

Digital Extra

To watch their video diaries, visit our digital edition.