Section 5.3: Phase III – The Dissertation

Section 5.3: Phase III – The Dissertation

In the third and final phase of the doctoral process, the student develops and defends a dissertation proposal, conducts the dissertation research, and writes and defends a doctoral thesis.

 5.3.1: The Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation research is probably the most challenging and exciting aspect of a student’s graduate studies. It represents the culmination of coursework and other professional development experiences related to a particular area of specialization.  The dissertation proposal serves as the first formal step in the dissertation research. It documents a personalized plan for conducting the study, and, in addition, serves as a contract between the student and the doctoral committee regarding what is expected in the ensuing research.  Led by the thesis advisor, the doctoral committee supervises the development of the student’s proposal, conducts the proposal hearing and approves the proposal. Regular consultation with committee members is encouraged.

Developing the Proposal

Formal development of the dissertation proposal typically runs simultaneously with preparation for the comprehensive examination. However, the informal process would have begun a year or so earlier when the student started preparing for the candidacy evaluation. To begin the formal process the student should review all relevant materials s/he has developed since Candidacy (e.g., candidacy prospectus, relevant course work and final papers, pertinent conference papers and journal articles authored by the student, and so on). Having conducted the review, the student should start drafting a plan for the research.

This plan is typically reviewed by the thesis advisor several times before it goes to the other committee members. Communication between the student and the doctoral committee members is strongly recommended at this stage and throughout the rest of the dissertation process—to make optimal use of their expertise, to preclude any misunderstandings and to develop a collegial relationship. The student should consult with her/his advisor before initiating communication with other committee members.

In the Adult Education Program the dissertation proposal is typically three chapters. Chapter one introduces the research topic, and provides a rationale for the study—including a succinct problem statement. Chapter two is an in-depth examination of pertinent literature. In this second chapter, the problem statement is further articulated. Chapter three describes the research design. The written document must meet the requirements outlined in the Penn State Thesis Guide: Requirements for the Preparation of Master's and Doctoral Theses which is available from the Graduate School Thesis Office or at: http://forms.gradsch.psu.edu/thesis/thesisguide.pdf.

Thesis Registration and Fees

Upon the recommendation of the thesis advisor, the student should begin registering for thesis research when formal drafting of the dissertation proposal has begun. The D.Ed. requires a minimum of 15 credits of Thesis Research (ADTED 600 or ADTED 610, as appropriate). There are no minimum thesis credits for the Ph.D. degree. However, Ph.D. students are required to register continuously for Thesis Preparation (ADTED 601 or ADTED 611, as appropriate) from the time they begin formally writing their proposal until the Thesis is successfully defended. Thesis Preparation (ADTED601/611) carries no credits. For Ph.D. students more details regarding registration for thesis credits are found under Specific Ph.D. Requirements below in the subsection titled Continuous Registration. For D.Ed students that information is found under Specific D.Ed Requirements below in the subsection titled Registering for Thesis Research.

In addition to registering for Thesis Preparation (in the case of Ph.D. students) and Thesis Research (in the case of D.Ed. students) the student is also responsible for fulfilling other requirements concerning thesis registration and fees.  Consult the program staff assistant for details.                                                                                                                         

Scheduling and Conducting the Proposal Hearing

When the thesis advisor gives her/his approval, the student consults with the rest of the committee members and program staff assistant to schedule a two-hour proposal hearing. The student MUST submit a copy of the proposal to each doctoral committee member and the program staff assistant at least 14 days in advance of the hearing. Students should include in their proposal: a cover sheet with name, title of proposal, the date and time of the hearing, and the names of the committee members. They must also remember to request of the program staff assistant any equipment needed for the hearing.

The purpose of the proposal hearing is to evaluate the student’s preparedness and competence to carry out the dissertation research. The examination takes the form of a dialogue between the student and the doctoral committee. Before that dialogue begins, the committee chair gives the student an opportunity to provide a brief (less than 15 minutes) oral presentation of her/his work. Demonstration of a deep understanding of relevant theoretical and research literature and familiarity with the specific research methods planned to be used is expected during the hearing.  It is important that the student is well-prepared for this meeting.

The student and at least three members of the committee (including the thesis adviser or chair) must be physically present at the proposal hearing. (Thus for a five-person committee, two could participate via distance.). No more than one member may participate via telephone; a second member could participate via PicTel. The doctoral committee may, at its discretion, allow other students to attend the proposal hearing.

Immediately following the hearing the doctoral committee meets to formally assess the proposal and a vote is cast. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing.  If the student does not pass, the committee determines whether another proposal hearing may be scheduled. A student shall not be allowed more than one retake of the proposal hearing. The program staff assistant will communicate the results to the student. In the event of a failure, two options are available: a) retaking the proposal hearing, or b) withdrawal from the program. If the decision is that the student withdraws from the program, alternative steps that may help the student achieve her/his academic and professional goals will be discussed prior to adjournment. 

Creating and Submitting the Final Draft Proposal

After the proposal is approved by the doctoral committee, the student must make any necessary revisions and submit it in final form to the Adult Education Program office. If the proposed research involves human subjects, the student must apply for approval by the University's Office for the Protection of Human Subjects before beginning data collection. Without this approval, the student’s research will not be accepted. The student should work with her/his thesis advisor to complete the approval process.

Time Limitation

A doctoral student is required to complete the program, including acceptance of the doctoral thesis, within eight years from the date of successful completion of the candidacy evaluation and within six years of successful completion of the comprehensive examination. On the recommendation of the Professor-in-Charge extensions may be granted by the Director of Graduate Enrollment Services in appropriate circumstances. Graduate Enrollment Services in appropriate circumstances. (See Appendix B for the program’s Reinstatement and Extension of Time-to-Degree policies).

5.3.2: Conducting and Writing the Dissertation

Conducting the Research

Conducting and writing a dissertation typically takes between one and two full years—depending on the student’s expertise and efforts, and the types of research methods employed. Archival (library) research typically takes a shorter time than field research. Qualitative research typically takes longer than quantitative research. The Adult Education Program wholeheartedly endorses mixed-methods research, when it is done well; however, such studies can take considerably more time and resources than either a straightforward qualitative or quantitative study.

The student accomplishes the research according to the plan set forth in the proposal. Major changes require approval of the doctoral committee and the University's Office for the Protection of Human Subjects if the study involves human subjects.

While conducting the study the student should be in regular communication with her/his Thesis advisor and other committee members, as the thesis advisor deems necessary. Typically, students prepare multiple drafts of the Thesis for submission to their thesis advisors.

The thesis advisor must ensure that the final draft includes all appropriate parts, is prepared according to an acceptable style, and is ready to be submitted to the other committee members.  The student is responsible for the content and style.  In addition, the student should know the rules and deadlines of the Graduate School concerning thesis preparation which are detailed in the Penn State Thesis Guide: Requirements for the Preparation of Master's and Doctoral Theses which is available from the Graduate School Thesis Office or online at: http://forms.gradsch.psu.edu/thesis/thesisguide.pdf

Preparing the Final Draft of the Thesis

Both the thesis adviser and the student are responsible for ensuring the completion of a draft of the Thesis and for adequate consultation with members of the thesis committee well in advance of the oral examination. Major revisions to the Thesis must be completed before the examination. The dissertation should be in its final draft, with appropriate notes, bibliography, tables, etc., at the time of the oral examination; both the content and style must be correct and polished by the time this final draft of the Thesis is in the hands of the committee.

5.3.3: Final Oral Examination (Dissertation Defense)

Purpose

The final examination for Adult Education doctoral students (both Ph.D. and D.Ed.) is an oral examination administered and evaluated by the candidate’s entire doctoral committee. The meeting is chaired by the student’s doctoral committee chair. The exam consists of a short (less than 15 minutes) oral presentation of the doctoral candidate’s Thesis and a period of questions and responses. These questions (and the dialogue that ensues) relate in large part to the dissertation, but may cover the entire field of Adult Education, because a major purpose of the examination is also to assess the student’s general scholarly attainments. The portion of the examination in which the Thesis is presented is open to the public, and other students are encouraged to attend.

Scheduling the Final Oral Examination

The length of the exam is two hours and it may be scheduled any time during the semester. However, the examination may not be scheduled until at least 90 days have elapsed after the comprehensive examination was passed. The director of Graduate Enrollment Services may grant a waiver of the 90 days in appropriate cases. The examination is officially scheduled by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, on the recommendation of the Professor-in-Charge of the Adult Education Program. Two weeks’ notice is required by the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services for scheduling the examination. The doctoral candidate is responsible for scheduling the examination. S/he must do so on the advice of the thesis advisor.

Final Oral Examination Checklist

To schedule the examination the candidate must do the following:

  1. Ensure that s/he is registered and in good standing for the semester in which the final oral examination is taken
  2. Ensure that at least 90 days have elapsed between passing the comprehensive examination and the proposed final oral examination date
  3. Make sure that all other requirements for the degree have been satisfied
  4. Gain the thesis advisor’s approval of the thesis draft
  5. Negotiate, with ALL doctoral committee members, an examination date that is appropriate to ALL
  6. Notify the program staff assistant at least four weeks prior to the proposed examination date, and
  7. Arrange for each committee member to receive a copy of the final thesis at least 14 days prior to the proposed examination date.

 

Conducting and Evaluating the Final Oral Examination

The student and at least three members of the doctoral committee (including the thesis adviser or chair) must be physically present at the final oral examination. (Thus for a five-person committee, two could participate via distance.) No more than one member may participate via telephone; a second member could participate via PicTel. The examination request and a request for exceptions must be submitted to the director of Graduate Enrollment Services for approval at least three weeks prior to the date of the exam. Special arrangements, i.e., requirements for meeting participation via distance, should be communicated to the student and the doctoral committee members well in advance of the examination.

If a committee member is unable to attend the final oral defense, the member may sign as a special signatory. The program staff assistant at University Park submits (on behalf of the Professor-in-Charge the Adult program) a revised committee appointment form to the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services, 114 Kern Building, removing the faculty member as a regular committee member and moving the member to a special signatory. (Harrisburg should afford ample time for this to occur.).

If there are then not enough members serving on the committee (i.e., four or more active members of the Graduate Faculty) another Penn State Graduate Faculty member will need to replace that member to constitute a legitimate doctoral committee. (Substitutes are not permitted.) These changes and approvals shall occur before the actual examination takes place.

Immediately following the oral examination the doctoral committee meets to formally evaluate the candidate’s work and a vote is cast. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing the oral examination (3 out of 4 for a four-member committee; 4 out of 5 for a five-member committee; 4 out of 6 for a six-member committee, and so on). If the student fails, it is the responsibility of the doctoral committee to determine whether another examination may be taken. A candidate shall not be allowed more than one retake of the final oral exam. The candidate’s program staff assistant will communicate the results to her/him and to the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services. In the event of a failure, two options are available: a) retaking the examination, or b) withdrawal from the program. The final dissertation must be signed by each committee members and follow the Thesis Guide offered by the Graduate School before submitting it to the Graduate School. (A Thesis Guide is available at www.gradsch.psu.edu/enroll/thesis.html).

5.3.4: Final Dissertation Document

After passing the final oral examination, doctoral students must make the necessary corrections or revisions suggested by the committee members, and prepare the Thesis in final form. Students must allow enough time to make revisions in order to meet the deadlines of the Adult Education Program and the Graduate School. (See Graduate School Calendar at: http://www.gradsch.psu.edu/calendar/gradcal.html Students must present their final Thesis to the Adult Education Program office at University Park for signature no later than three weeks before the deadline set by the Graduate School.

All signatures of the committee members must be present on the appropriate page in proper form when the Thesis is presented to the Adult Education Program office. Once signed, the student delivers the dissertation to the Thesis Office at University Park. In addition:

  1. It is customary for the student to give a library-bound copy to the thesis advisor and committee members who wish to have one. However, if cost is a factor, the student may provide a spiral or velour bound copy to committee members. The thesis advisor should receive a library-bound copy.
  2. The Capital College Library has been designated as a repository for Doctoral Dissertations written at Penn State Harrisburg. The following procedures are to be followed: Pay the binding fee at the Bursar’s Office to cover one copy for the Capital College Library;  Deliver to the Capital College Library (Circulation Desk) one unbound, fully signed copy of the Thesis along with the receipt from the Bursar’s Office. A copy of the receipt from the Bursar’s Office must be presented to the dissertation advisor before graduation.
  3. Follow the instructions from the Graduate School Thesis Office at University Park for the submission of one copy for the Pattee Library.