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Dissertation Proposal Information

Dissertation proposal guidelines

From 2010-2011, the format for dissertation proposals has changed, with the department adopting the option of NSF-style proposals. Examples:


Written Proposal

Each Ph.D. candidate is expected to submit a written dissertation proposal (approximately 10-15 pages long) for approval by the dissertation committee (if the dissertation committee changes at a later date, the student should ensure that new committee members approve the dissertation proposal informally). A dissertation proposal will clearly specify the leading research questions and hypotheses, the data relevant to answering those research questions, the theoretical framework being used and the methods of analysis. It will provide a brief literature review, elucidating the relationship of the proposed research to other current research, and a clear workplan. It should also present and interpret progress to date if the research is already underway. Finally, it should briefly discuss any costs involved in carrying out the research and anticipated sources of funding.

Since this work is a proposal, i.e. a plan of work including questions to be answered at a later date, it is not to be thought of as a publishable paper, although it may include work that has been published (for example in conference proceedings). The proposal plays an important part in defining the dissertation, but most of its contents is unlikely to become part of the dissertation itself, although portions of it might serve as drafts of introductory and literature review sections.

The proposal is supposed to be written and submitted before the student undertakes the research, establishing the background, feasibility and interest of the proposed research, and proposing procedures for accomplishing it in a timely manner.

The written proposal is modeled on what is required for a project description for an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant. The project description is a major part of the full grant application, so students are encouraged to complete a grant application and apply for dissertation funding. For those who choose not to seek NSF funding, the proposal format is still likely to be helpful for other types of fellowship and funding applications.

Proposal Meeting

After the approval of the written dissertation proposal, each student is required to meet with their reading committee plus one or more faculty members who are not members of the reading committee, who can provide a fresh perspective on the research. The purpose of the meeting is to provide the student with further guidance on how best to undertake the dissertation research and complete the dissertation in a timely matter. Thus, unlike the QP orals and the University Oral, this meeting is advisory rather than evaluative; that is, no vote is taken by the faculty present at the meeting on whether the student passed; rather, the assessment of the dissertation proposal takes place earlier when the committee reviews and then accepts the student’s proposal.

Students should schedule two hours for the proposal meeting. At the beginning of this meeting, the student should take 10-15 minutes to provide a brief overview of the proposal content and to highlight any issues about the proposed research that would particularly benefit from discussion at the meeting. The rest of the meeting takes the form of a constructive and thorough discussion by those present of the student’s dissertation research program. Topics to be discussed might include priorities among possible research avenues, the best formulation of the research questions and hypotheses, the design of experimental, corpus, or field studies, sources of research funding, and the preparation of grant applications. At the conclusion of the meeting, the dissertation committee chair completes the ‘Dissertation Proposal Meeting’ form, which serves to record the major recommendations to the student emerging from the meeting.

For more information

Further details about the dissertation proposal and the proposal meeting, including timeline for completion and the selection of additional faculty for the proposal meeting, can be found in the PhD Handbook.