doctoralnet logo

doctoralnet logo


  • You are in Phase 1 Category

    Phase 1:

    Starting to Design Your Doctoral Research

Starting Research: Is It Really a Maze?

mariaWhen a doctoral student faces the task of beginning the research journey for her/his thesis or dissertation, the whole task seems overwhelming and frightening.  Many questions arise: What should I do? Am I capable of doing what is needed? How should I organise my life and work to accomplish the task? Can I have access to the required data and resources? How will I manage theories and literature review? How much methodological knowledge I need to develop the study? Will I have enough support at the university and home? ... All those questions are common, valid, and important and students need to answer them as soon as possible in order to keep their work on track and finish it on time. However, the most frightening question is perhaps: “Where should I begin?”


Developing a doctoral thesis or dissertation can be compared to a maze. There is an entrance and an exit, but the road(s) to go from the former to the latter has detours, cul-de-sac, disorientation, and many decisions to take whose accuracy determines how successful the whole process is. Mistakes may produce confusion and despair that could severely impact the journey. Is it possible to avoid that possibility and have a kind of GPS for the journey?

YES, that is possible. Although each doctoral student faces a different maze and therefore the road to the exit is different in each case, you can learn how to identify the possible roads and make the most appropriate decisions. So, instead of expecting to be given an immutable course of action –a kind of dogmatic recipe- that fits everybody, you have to learn how to know what is needed and how to adapt to specific characteristics and circumstances. In other words, you need a very special kind of GPS: one that lets you choose the start and end points, but also build the intermediate points based on some directions it gives you. Imagine that!!!! You are a thoughtful doer as well as an informed user.

Where do you get that GPS? At an academic mall in which there are university shops and coaching or mentoring ones. In the former, you get knowledge about the different kinds of mazes that exist while in the latter you get the directions to create the different points of your own journey. The road is yours but you are supported to build it.

My work at DoctoralNet is to help you use that GPS to enter the maze and exit from it despite problems. How do I help people I coach? Giving them directions to choose the start and end points (if it is necessary) and to create the intermediate points of the maze journey. During the first phase of the process when you are creating the foundations of your study, those directions are focused on the pivotal elements of a thesis or dissertation.

Regarding those pivotal elements, it is necessary that you know for example:

  • Differences between topics, problems, and research questions
  • How to choose the most promising topic and research problem for your thesis
  • How to formulate the research questions or objectives of your study
  • What the purpose and significance of your study are
  • How to select the most appropriate research method
  • What population and sample your study requires
  • How to contextualize your study
  • How to look for useful literature sources
  • How to record information so as to maximize efforts and time
  • How to deal with theories, models, and approaches so as to build a strong theoretical framework
  • How to establish assumptions and limitations
  • What instruments are necessary to gather valid data for your research
  • How to build those instruments (if it is necessary)

The way I approach my task is based on the three pillars I think should characterise any coaching or mentoring relationship: trust – respect – guidance. A team to get common goals is created; the team workers trust and respect each other. The more experienced person provides options and directions intended to guide the less experienced one who makes the decision and creates the arguments to support it. The exchange of ideas and work enriches both people and the goals are achieved.

Want to get inspired? Check out these testimonials from the students I've helped:

  • Dr. Christopher Jelderks, 2012 JIU Dissertation of the Year recipient.

    “I have had the great pleasure of working with Dr. Sanchez over the past 3 years on my doctoral dissertation.
    As a professor at Jones International University, she was my guide through the process.
    If you do not know JIU's K-12 Educational Leadership program runs it dissertation process concurrently with is regular core classes, so candidates are taking a 1 credit dissertation course along with a 3 credit core course.
    This means that students have an opportunity to work through their dissertation over an extended period of time.
    Dr. Sanchez was there for me from the beginning until the end. She always knew how to guide me through the next step.
    There were times when I was felt like I was walking in the dark and didn't know which way to go or where to step, Maria was always there for me--guiding me along the way.
    I could not imagine trying to go through this process without a mentor to see me along the way. Thank you Maria for all your wisdom, knowledge, and care. “

  • Pedro Robles, Ed.D

    “I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to Dr Sanchez for her assistance and guidance during my dissertation process. There are no words in any language dictionary that I can use to express my gratitude for her moral and professional support throughout this important process in my educational career.
    Dr. Sanchez took the time to get me on track and ease my stress levels. I particularly have to be thankful for her meticulousness, timely feedback, and for taking the time to give words of encouragement and motivation. I recently successfully defended my dissertation and earned the title of Dr. with high honors (Magna Cum Laude). I need to be thankful for all her advice and wish that she continues to bless others with her talents. Once more “Thank you”. I will definitely recommend others to you for your help and most assertive guidance. Dr. Sanchez is the best dissertation chair ever”.

  • Dr. Troy R. Bell

    “I have had the privilege of knowing Dr. Sanchez Patino for the past 3 years, and she has played a significant role in my academic and professional development, which is why I am grateful she was chosen as my dissertation chair. Dr. Sanchez Patino had a unique way of getting me to reflect on what it was I was trying to convey when writing and she did all of this without having me feel utterly hopeless. She empowered me so that I could have the confidence to complete my journey and achieve success. She made the journey about what was important to me, as she facilitated how to get me there. She encouraged me to dig deeper, which helped me to become the writer and researcher I am today. She has a passion for promoting education at every level and ensuring that the teaching profession is always on the cutting edge of educational enrichment”.

  • Dr. Bernard Sheridan

    "I wanted a doctorate to prove wrong all the people who had said I was stupid. So much of the challenges involved in writing up my research had me wondering if they were right - until I found DoctoralNet. A simple thank you does not express how I feel about the help, guidance, advice and support I have received through the services of Doctoralnet, and in particular Maria. While I know that I have completed the required work for my Doctorate, this would never have been possible without her regular supportive guidance."

    Need More? Check out What should a doctoral student look for in a mentoring relationship or Mentor – Mentee Relationship

    Report a Bug
    by filling out this form


    You are leaving your
    main portal but
    an extra window will pop up.

    access the international community and the webinars