A dissertation in any discipline is a tall order for any student. Dissertations will require students to conduct research of their own choosing. This is both an exciting, yet challenging prospect. Yes, students are able to tackle something that is in their wheelhouse of interest, but in this assignment, they are the captains of their own ship and will face the hardships that come with the role. Students will immediately face the challenge of producing quality research and documentation with limited time and resources. They will simultaneously need to be agile, resourceful and precise in how they conduct their dissertation.


If that wasn’t hard enough, a psychology dissertation presents challenges that are unique. Psychology is a vast field of study and there are thousands upon thousands of topics that a student can choose from. Furthermore, researchers will have to deal with what is perhaps the greatest variable known to man, the human mind. This is true for both ends of the study. The researcher must be willing to set aside any biases they may have and approach the study from a neutral standpoint. They will also have to somehow navigate the tricky waters of interviews, surveys, polls and research to find the hard, quantitative data contained within them.


Before the student cracks open a book or jots down a word, they must begin their dissertation by taking stock of the situation and their resources. Understand in great detail exactly what it is the administration or instructor is asking for in the dissertation. Make note of the formatting expected as well as any deadlines. Then take stock of the resources at your disposal which will include access to source material, research, people to interview and even time with advisors or the instructor. With this in mind, the student can set a realistic expectation when it comes to choosing the subject matter or question to study.


Picking an appropriate topic or subject to study in the dissertation is critical. There are many to choose from, dozens upon dozens of avenues of thoughts, ideas and issues to look into. Unsurprisingly, this part of the dissertation process can be one of the most difficult and confusing for a student. Start with by making a broad list of topics of interest, this list should contain no more than ten topics. Then whittle this list down to half, restricting yourself to those topics which explore social problems that you truly care about. Then below each topic, list the specific social problem(s) you would like explore or solve. Now bring things down to a personal level by asking yourself what each topic means to you and in doing so narrowing the field to the top two or three topics. Now it is a matter of briefly exploring the top two or three topics, a task that can be done in an afternoon of research on the Internet and a bit of introspection. The final topic will eventually rise to the top.


With the topic of the dissertation in mind, it is time to do the research to explore and solve it. Along with the writing and presentation of the dissertation, the research that needs to be conducted is one of the most important and resource consuming parts of the assignment. Faced with this, the majority of students will immediately dive headlong into books and articles, or hop on the Internet. However, a logical first step would be to consult with the instructor or, if you have access to them, a research advisor. Discuss with them your topics and ideas, and your plan on how to conduct the dissertation. These individuals usually have read numerous dissertations and have decades of experience in psychology. The tips and insights that they may have are invaluable and cannot be found in any book or online article. They may point you towards a piece of literature that would have taken you hours or days to find. They may point you towards or give access to certain individuals that would greatly help in the formation of your dissertation.


After a visit or two to the research advisor or instructor should the student start deep diving into textbooks, research material, articles and interviews? Ask questions, challenge popular opinion and create experiments to continually test assumptions and gather data. Always use multiple sources, the more the better. Also, consider source material that may present a counter argument to your topic, as these may provide perspectives that you may not have thought of.


Finally, it is good to remind yourself that this is an academic study. It should maintain a neutral stance. Because psychology deal with people (the writer included) on a visceral level, it easy very easy to let personal biases bleed into the study. The student should be cognizant of these at all times and avoid it at all costs.