A guest post by Dr. Lawrence Ness

The doctoral journey is a new, and often, daunting experience for students.  Much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, students find themselves in an unknown environment, with people they don’t know, who may seem odd, and are told to proceed in a direction that they’ve never traveled to a place they’ve never been.  Sound familiar?  Is it any wonder that 36- 51% of students do not complete their doctorate (Young, Vanwye, Schafer, Robertson, & Poore, 2019)?

Extending the Oz-as-doctorate paradigm, just as the Yellow Brick Road provides a path to Oz, so do universities provide the courses and deliverables to earn a doctorate, including (in most cases) a topic, proposal, and dissertation – ending with an oral defense.  Like the road to Oz, there are many twists, turns, and dangers when pursuing a doctorate.  For instance, recalling Dorothy’s journey to Oz along the Yellow Brick Road, there were various dangers and trials, including a wicked witch throwing fireballs, an enchanted apple tree orchard, sleepy poppy field, then those pesky flying monkeys!

What are some of the speed-bumps, pitfalls, and other dangers along the road to your doctorate?  Here’s a basic list, but there are many more!

  • A non-researchable topic (see explanation below)
  • Lack of Research Rigor
  • Non-Alignment with University Criteria
  • Lack of Recent/Scholarly Literature
  • Lack of Data (topic is too narrow or a small population)
  • Time to Completion (7 year max for many universities)

Probably the most important step in beginning the doctoral journey is topic selection.  This is covered in more depth in another blog post, but the keys are to avoid a topic that’s overly complex or encompassing (“boiling the ocean”), or conversely, that’s too narrow.  A narrow topic may result in a lack of supporting literature, population, and/or data to collect for analysis.  Your chair/coach can help guide you through this very important step.

As a dissertation coach, mentor, professor, and chair, I advise students that this is their first time to travel to “Oz” and that they are likely unaware of the dangers and risks that await them.  However, as both a doctoral graduate and guide, I’ve been down that path numerous times.  Further, while most experienced coaches/chairs can readily anticipate and avoid possible problems, the best coaches/chairs can help navigate and diffuse unforeseen issues when they occur (and they usually do occur).


Young, S. N., Vanwye, W. R., Schafer, M. A., Robertson, T. A., & Poore, A. V. (2019). Factors affecting PhD student success. International journal of exercise science, 12(1), 34–45. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6355122/

Dr. Lonny is a senior dissertation coach and chair with many years of experience at multiple online universities, as well as through personal consulting engagements, with over 80 graduated doctoral mentees.  Dr. Lonny is qualified to walk you through your doctoral journey once you’ve decided to take the plunge!  If interested, please complete the inquiry and/or contact form on mydissertation.coach to let Dr. Lonny know that you would like to speak further about your desire to partner with a professional coach towards doctoral degree completion – or any phase/aspect of the process thereof.  Dr. Lonny can be reached directly via email at drness@dissertation101.com or info.mydissertation.coach@gmail.com.

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