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EDHE 6500



Overview of Dissertation

Chapter 1

  • the issue
  • my problem/question
  • "so what?"
  • SUMMARY of what I did and found (what I'm going to do)
  • a lot of people will only read the first chapter--about ten pages of what you did and why


Chapter 2

  • what do we know?
  • how do we know it?
  • what don't we know? (the set-up for your study)
  • you don't want this to be an annotated bibliography; find some way to organize it; historical periods, elements of your question, schools of thought--break it into several thematic sections (2 - 5 sections)
  • very brief: a few paragraphs to a page on very relevant works--others get brief 1-2 sentence mentions; "Blah Blah supports this idea as well, etc."
  • average # of references? 70 or 80--can be good with only 25 or bad with 100
  • find out what are any limitations of previous methodologies


Chapter 3

  • what I did (how you investigated the question)
  • make it explicit--so the quality can be examined, and so they can replicate the research
  • for the proposal, you'll have the first free chapters, but chapter 3 will be written in the future tense "this is what I WILL do"
  • change the tense after proposal


Chapter 4

  • this is what I found
  • NOTE: qualitative dissertations often break this chapter into two chapters, for a six-chapter format (instead of 5 chapters)--moves from raw data to thematic finding


Chapter 5

  • what it means
  • what we still need to know (further research questions)


Common Dissertation Mistakes

  • failure to examine the relevant literature
    • examining business lit without looking at educational lit--look broadly, at a couple of fields outside of education
  • failure to understand the difference between research and popular lit
  • failure to examine the lit for research methods and further questions
    • need to see how people made inquiry into those questions
    • will help you refine your own research methods
    • be able to critique the lit in terms of its value
  • failure to "own" the project
    • this has to be your work
    • you have to have enough interest in and confidence in the significance of your research to stand up for it
  • unwillingness to consider advice
    • thin line between failure to own and bullheadedness
  • dissertation as an effort to "prove" a point of view
    • you have to be objective in your research
  • poor selection of committee members
    • need to be able to work well with your chair (or change them)
    • don't select your committee before selecting your chair--they have to work together
    • you want your chair to help select or approve your committee members
  • not allowing sufficient time to complete the project
    • good rule of thumb: multiply time by 3
  • failure to multitask
    • multitask--do more than one track on your dissertation at one time--don't be sequential or every delay delays the entire project
  • failure to secure IRB approval or understand human subject issues
    • get it early!
  • procrastination and perfectionism
    • yep
  • attempt to use the advisor as a fundamental editor
    • good to use chair as a methodologial editor
    • they won't want to correct all of your grammar, at this level
    • hire an editor, if necessary
  • trying to do the "easy" dissertation
    • it's the faculty's job to make it harder
    • pick something that you're interested in--but it needs to be doable in the given time frame
    • don't do something that is so huge and "important" that it chokes you or takes a long time
    • this is not your life's work--this is your ticket to the show
    • once you finish it, then you begin your life's work
    • but write something you're not ashamed to put your name to
  • failure to identify and support the "so what?" of a study
  • failure to get the study into the literature after completion
    • should be publishable in some format or another
      • adapt to journal format (or presentation, paper, etc.)
    • Dr. Cutright expects a print piece within one year of graduation, with himself as second author
    • could also be a book--multiple projects can come out of it
    • also practitioner pieces
    • having a PhD or EdD isn't just a privilege, it's an obligation to share what you know


General Class Discussion


  • discussing Foster & Cone (book on thesis/dissertation)


  • ASHE was excellent (Baaska & Peggy went)
    • a lot of networking and discussing research
    • presentations about policy and practice
    • financial policies, how to use databases, etc.
    • acceptance is pretty tough there (Peggy presented with another student)


  • discussion of GRE scores vs. holistic admissions
    • also comprehensive exams and more real-world alternatives


  • when you're in orals, you have to be strong in your convictions--you're going to be an administrator in higher education
    • can you handle pressure?
    • ultimately, the faculty's objective is to see you succeed--but they have to push you


  • discussion of our third (and final) reflection papers


  • you deal with the enormity of the dissertation by breaking it down into discrete tasks


  • if you're doing a qualitative dissertation, you need to find a committee chair that is experienced in qualitative research (or very friendly to it)


  • if you can't get a copy of someone's dissertation, email the author and request an electronic copy--they are usually happy to provide you with it

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