The dissertation is the defining element of the doctoral journey as well as one the most respected achievements in academe. New doctoral students often hold the dissertation in equal measures of fear, awe, and excitement. At GCU, the primary goal of the integrated dissertation process is to remove the fear, demystify the awe, and leave the excitement untouched. To achieve that goal, the College has broken up the intensive and often complicated work of building a dissertation into manageable pieces integrated throughout the curriculum.
The dissertation is a lot of work. According to the National Science Foundation (2014), average students in a doctoral program in the United States take approximately seven years to complete their dissertation. The reasons for this are varied, but a common one is that in many doctoral programs the dissertation work is not started until after the course work is completed. These doctoral students do not fully begin the process of writing their dissertations until two to four years of conventional course work is completed. Writing a book of completely new scholarship and research is a major undertaking. In addition to integrating the dissertation process throughout the curriculum, the process of getting to the formulation of a research plan and design has been broken down into a series of steps and milestones that gradually builds research skills and scholarly knowledge. This gradually building, scaffolded process, in which each dissertation step builds on the content developed during the previous step, will make designing and executing the research and writing of the final dissertation manuscript much easier.
As there are many pages of original scholarship that need to be created, learners must become strong researchers and scholarly writers to be successful in the dissertation process. The jump from prospectus to proposal is quite large; however, the learner does not have to complete that step alone. The second step toward the goal of a fear- and confusion-free dissertation is the formation of a knowledgeable and helpful dissertation committee.
The dissertation committee works as a team to advise, guide, and assist the learner in the completion of a dissertation. By the time the committee is assigned in the first dissertation class, learners are building up to an initial draft of the proposal. In the College of Doctoral Studies, each dissertation committee consists of three members: a chair, a methodologist, and a content expert.
The committee will be populated with knowledgeable terminally-degreed faculty members who have experience with scholarship and publication and have been trained on the policies and steps in the College’s dissertation process. These committees are a great asset that will provide learners with essential guidance and direction, but they are not in charge of the dissertation; the dissertation is the learner's responsibility. Ultimately, the learner writes the dissertation, not the chair, not the other committee members, and not the College. So what do the committee members do, and how do learners and their various committee members interact most effectively (see Figure 9.1)?
At GCU, the primary goal of the integrated dissertation process is to remove the fear, demystify the awe, and leave the excitement untouched.
Developing a Realistic Timeline
Upon agreement with a faculty member to direct Dissertation research, development of a realistic timeline for completing the tasks which culminate in a successful Dissertation should be established between the candidate and the faculty member Chair. Components of this process include:
Preparation of the Prospectus
Preparation of the Proposal
Data collection (upon IRB approval)
Submission of the complete manuscript to the Chair
Submission, upon the Chair’s Pre-Defense approval, of the complete manuscript to the committee
Preparation for the Pre-Defense
Preparation for the final defense
Completing final revisions and preparing the manuscript for formatting review
Submission of the manuscript to the Graduate School via the university's digital repository
Preparation for graduation
Anticipated dates may need to be revised along the way. The candidate must maintain a realistic schedule that allows sufficient time for each step in the process, including the project Chair’s reading of, and feedback on, drafts of the Prospectus, Proposal, and final manuscript. Sufficient time must be allotted for the committee members’ reading of those documents as well. Candidates and Chairs should recognize that each committee member needs up to14 days to review each draft of the manuscript. These factors should be considered when scheduling committee meetings and the final defense.
It is also the responsibility of the Chair and candidate to consider deadlines for particular graduation dates. University graduation deadlines are published on the Graduate School website (links: Thesis and Dissertation and Graduate Calendar). Since deadlines may change from one year to the next, candidates are advised to refer to the current deadlines when approaching the final stages of the Dissertation process. Candidates and Chairs should also consider program minimum review requirements when considering a potential graduation semester.
Applying for Graduation
For doctoral candidates, the graduation application process should not be completed until the Pre-Defense stage of the dissertation process is approved. Once the candidate has successfully completed the Pre-Defense stage of the dissertation, the Program Office will notify the candidate to apply for graduation, as well as the appropriate steps to complete. Commencement ceremonies are held each year in May and December with a degree conferral option in August. To confirm graduation application status, login to MyMocsnet, click on the Academics tab, and select “My Graduation Status.” Refer to the Records Office Graduation website for graduation ceremony participation guidelines (link: Records Office - select Graduation from the left-hand menu).
Confirming Graduation Eligibility
The Graduate School will audit the candidate’s file in preparation for graduation. Candidates must earn 66 credits (minimum) toward the doctoral program of study and meet all other academic requirements as listed in the Graduate Catalog in order to be eligible for the graduation ceremony and degree conferral/release of the diploma. For questions regarding graduation eligibility, contact Mr. Mark Fairchild at Mark-Fairchild@utc.edu.