There are of course many dissertation topics and many ways to process through the maze of challenges you will inevitably confront. How do you get through an arduous Ph.D. program quickly? The average time to completion in the social sciences is 7.5 years. Wow! That is a long time.
My answer may unsettle some of you. My recommendation to those wishing to finish faster than 7.5 years is to piggy back on the research of your dissertation chair. They can help you with the existent research. This alone will cut down six months of work. They would have already focused on one or several theories which inform specific hypotheses. This alone will cut down six months of work. You have already saved a year.
The twist normally involves doing a similar study as they have done but with a different study population – or perhaps examining an issue raised by people working in the area. If you get along well with your chair and see yourself working collaboratively with them in the future – this might be an excellent choice. Your chair will also be eager to spend lots of time helping you finish. Of course, if they are well known in the field, the chances you will secure a reasonable faculty appointment are improved.
So much for the positives. I personally never allowed any of my students to piggy back on my own research. Why? I believe they learned a great deal more about the research process when they had to learn how to piece together everything themselves. You do not learn by copying someone else. You learn by doing it yourself.
If you decide to become one of your faculty chair’s proteges – you may never become your own researcher with your own research agenda.
The people who succeed in academic life are doing research that excites them from the inside out. If you are piggy backing on someone elses thinking, it is unlikely you will have the passion to do the work for longer than a dissertation or a few follow-up studies.
The downside is that it will take longer to complete your own work. You may have several starts which fizzle. You may well become depressed in the process. Most students have spells of depression. You may also find that you will discover a passion that lies deep inside that you never knew existed.
Once you light the fire of that passion, no one can stop you. You will find the job you want. If it is a faculty appointment – you will be deliriously successful. You will publish because you must publish to get the word out about your discoveries.
It is a choice – but then again – every moment in life is a choice.
Robert Rodgers, Ph.D.