Dissertation Tips from NCU Graduates

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Writing a dissertation can be the most intimidating but the most rewarding part of a doctoral or PhD program. The journey to completion can be long and arduous, filled with challenges. Two Northcentral University PhD graduates offer a few tips for writing your dissertation and how they developed basic study tips to help them not only survive, but thrive throughout the process.

Getting to Know Normajean Cefarelli, PhD, LMFT

Founder and director of Balance Within, LLC—“a holistic approach to total wellness, bringing the ancient practice of energy healing to a psychotherapeutic environment”—Normajean Cefarelli, PhD, LMFT, offers psychotherapy, Reiki, hypnosis, and Jin Shin Do® Bodymind Acupressure® in her Hartford, Connecticut practice. She can customize all of this to ease stress and tension, facilitate healing, and promote wellness on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels.

Cefarelli works with individuals, couples, and families with anger issues. She also deals with a variety of other topics including parenting, single parenting, blended families, multiculturalism, stress, anxiety, recovery, addiction, and more. Cefarelli received her PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy from NCU and says that the dissertation process taught her to “have grace and compassion for yourself.”

Dissertation Tips from Dr. Cefarelli

“I learned that I am perfectly capable of organizing, researching, developing, analyzing, and interpreting a study,” said Cefarelli. “I learned that I need to reach beyond what is comfortable for me and know that I can ask for help if needed.” Cefarelli encourages students to stay strong throughout the process. “Your research will not be completed if you give up.”

Cefarelli offers current students a few tips for writing your dissertation:

  1. Make time for yourself.
  2. Always ask for help if needed.
  3. Begin to contemplate the process of the next steps while working on the current step.
  4. As difficult as it is sometimes, read the feedback from the committee with an open mind. She encourages students to “be kind to others even if you are being pushed beyond your own limitations.”
  5. Read the feedback again a day or two after you initially read it; it will make much more sense and seem less personal.
  6. Trust your Chair—he or she is there to help you through the process.
  7. Understand that at this level of education, you are required to read, write, and present yourself as a high level student and professional.

Cefarelli believes that the dissertation process helped her grow as an individual because it provided her with a deeper understanding of herself and her capabilities. She learned that “the mind, when pushed, can go farther than I had ever anticipated.” One of her biggest lessons was learning that “wisdom is choosing your intellectual battles wisely.”

Getting to Know Nina Moliver, PhD

Nina Moliver earned her PhD in Psychology from NCU in 2010, with a specialization in Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine. Before attending NCU, Moliver received a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College, Columbia University and a master’s degree from McGill University in Montréal in Computer Science before embarking on a software career.

“I started a new career direction in 2007 as a pre-master’s candidate, helping people navigate the statistics course I had just completed,” said Moliver. “I found a steady stream of people who appreciated my patient guidance and explanations. As I entered the doctoral process a year later, I found even more people who needed help designing their dissertation topics, formulating their research questions, and generally putting together a compelling argument for their study. By the time I was ready to assemble my own proposal to my Dissertation Committee, I had embarked on a way of helping others for which there was no end of need and gratitude.” Today, Moliver is an independent research consultant who continues to offer other graduate students study tips and tips for writing your dissertation.

Dissertation Tips from Dr. Moliver

When Moliver completed her dissertation at NCU 2010, on physical and psychological wellness among long-term female yoga practitioners, she won the prestigious Dissertation of the Year award. She offers a few tips for writing your dissertation as you embark on your journey toward graduation.

  1. Read the template and the APA manual thoroughly; read them several times until you are familiar with them.
  2. Become familiar with scientific literature. Get a sense of how scientific articles are written and organized. What goes into the introductory section? What goes into a Methods section? What goes into a Results section? What does the final discussion sound like? “I have found the best journal articles to read for this purpose are in medical journals,” said Moliver. “The scientific content is above the head for most of us, but these articles are tightly written and appropriately organized. They are excellent learning tools.”
  3. Work backwards. Start with the solution. “I learned this technique from more advanced mathematicians while I was studying for a master’s degree in a mathematical field,” explained Moliver.
    • Are you having trouble with your Problem statement? First, choose your instruments. Make sure you can measure what you want to know. If you cannot measure your variables, all your hard work will be wasted.
    • Then, develop research questions that will incorporate the variables you are measuring in your instruments.
    • Once you have your research questions, write your Purpose statement to describe how you plan to answer your research questions.
    • Finally, does your Problem statement describe the reason your study has the purpose you have described? If not, revisit your Problem statement.

With a few helpful tips for writing your dissertation, you can turn one of the most intimidating parts of your graduate education into one of the most rewarding parts of your education and your career.

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