The Dissertation Proposal. #phdchat

For those of you who are not aware, I’ve been grinding away at my dissertation proposal the last couple of months. This (as I am told) is 80% of the work towards the final dissertation product. The plan is to complete and defend this piece of literature prior to March 28, 2014 (so that I can graduate and be finished in May 2014 – YAY!). For my specific doctoral degree program, the faculty in the Department of Learning Technologies provided their doctoral candidates with a rubric to guide the dissertation proposal process. Here it is:

I thought I would share a couple of key pieces of advice I have found to be quite valuable so far in the “proposing” stage from Appendix A: The Dissertation (Gray & Drew, 2008):

#163: PUT A LOT OF EFFORT INTO WRITING YOUR DISSERTATION PROPOSAL. The proposal provides two important payoffs:

  1. It usually provides one or more chapters of your end product, the dissertation.
  2. It is a contract between you and your advisory committee on what you must do to receive the degree. In general, if you do what you promise in the proposal, the committee should sign the final document. If, because of circumstances, you cannot accomplish all you set out to do, you have the basis for negotiation.

#166: IN DOING A LITERATURE SEARCH, use the “chain of references.” Begin with one or two recent articles (a survey article helps!). Look at the references that are cited. Then read those publications that seem apropos and look at their reference lists. Some things will pop out often. These are usually (but not invariably) the classics in the field that you must reference. Proceed from reference to references until the law of diminishing returns takes over.

Lessons to Learn #phdchat

In Gray and Drew’s (2012) 2.0 version of this same advice book for graduate students, they include a whole chapter on The Dissertation. There are a few useful tidbits for those of us who are (what I lovingly call) “dissertating”:

#19: PROBLEM-SOLVING MODE. Don’t assume that if you are having trouble defining a dissertation topic that the entire dissertation process will be that arduous. Once you define the topic, you are in problem-solving mode, and most people do well in solving a problem once they know what the topic is.

#26: MATCH THE LITERATURE SEARCH TO THE DISCUSSION OF RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS. You may find that as your dissertation progresses, some parts of your literature search are really irrelevant to your research. In this case, you should be ruthless. Despite the brilliance of your pose and the long, tedious hours you put into creating the material, you must delete these pearls. Of course, you should save what you don’t use as part of your file of references so you can use it over and over in future publications.

Right now, I am spending much of my time refining and working on #163 and #19. I just met with my faculty advisor, Dr. Jeff Allen, to review my chapter three research methods and discussed how to develop the recipe for this section. Stay tuned as you will soon learn more about  my topic and direction I am going, and hopefully I will get some input when I crowdsource my data collection in the very near future.

For those who are currently developing your dissertation proposals as well OR those who have successfully defended your dissertation proposals, what sort of advice and tips would you give? Please share!


Gray, P., & Drew, D. E. (2008). What they didn’t teach you in graduate school: 199 helpful hints for success in your academic career. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Gray, P., & Drew, D. E. (2012). What They Didn’t Teach You in Graduate School 2.0. Chronicle of Higher Education.


10 thoughts on “The Dissertation Proposal. #phdchat”

  1. Laura, first of all congratulations on being so close to being done! Thank you for sharing this with us! I know that I’m not at this stage yet but it’s always good to look ahead.

  2. Laura, it was nice reading your progress. I’m still formulating my research topic so this was helpful to read. Keep up the good work and I look forward to attending your defense.

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