Preparing For Your Dissertation Proposal
Preparing for the dissertation proposal defense is an important milestone in the doctoral journey. Some people might view it as scary, nerve-wracking, and anxiety-inducing while others might be exuberant and excited to finally put all their time and energy out there for approval. Most people probably feel both the anxiety and excitement. Either way, it’s a very unique situation as each defense is dependent on the doctoral learner, committee, topic, and methodology. So let’s talk about what you might expect. As you know from being a doctoral researcher, the more information you have, the more knowledge you have. And more knowledge means more confidence in defending your proposal.
The proposal defense most often takes place after chapters one through three have been completed and moved forward by your chair. Generally, you will develop these three chapters, sending them back and forth with your chair, and then they go to the rest of your committee when the chair thinks you are ready for the defense. Sometimes your committee will then send feedback as well. Once everyone is satisfied that you are ready to move forward, your proposal defense will be scheduled. Times vary, so it is important to ask your chair how long you will have to present and how long will be allotted for questions. You may also receive feedback on how long to spend on each chapter. Consider also asking your chair if you can attend another student’s defense or if there are any recordings you can watch of previous defenses.
Think of a successful proposal defense like building a house — you are showing them the blueprint, and they are agreeing to buy the house that you are building. In other words, you are outlining everything you are going to do, and if you do this successfully, they will approve your final dissertation. This also means that any deviations from what you proposed should be approved by your committee, or else you are building a house that they didn’t agree to buy.
Presenting your Dissertation Proposal
You will present your proposed study using a PowerPoint slide, and then the committee will ask questions. If you received feedback on specific aspects of your study from members of your committee, you may expect that same member to ask questions about that part of your proposal. At a proposal defense, here are some general questions you might be asked:
- Why did you choose your topic?
- What do you plan to do with your research?
- If you answer, “Make some changes in my field,” or something to that effect, be prepared to go into more detail about how you’ll go about making those changes. Or just hit it right out of the gate.
- Did you consider any other research designs? If so, how did you decide the one you have proposed is the best?
- How do you feel your study fills a gap in the literature and the gap in practice?
- Do you anticipate any problems in collecting your data?
- What will you do if you if you aren’t able to recruit enough people using the approach you proposed?
Practice, Practice, Practice.
Practice, practice, practice. You don’t want to be finding your words as the whole committee is watching. Practice and time yourself numerous times before the actual defense. The defense is your chance to showcase your knowledge and your ability to carry a conversation as a doctoral level scholar. Remember that you are the expert on your study, so it’s important to present yourself as such. This includes being able to justify your decisions and, eventually, your conclusions.
One Step Closer to Your Doctoral Degree…
After you present your proposal and your committee asks questions, they will let you know if your proposal is approved “as is,” approved with revisions, or if it is not approved. Generally, if it is approved with revisions, you will not have to defend it again; however, if it is not approved, you will often have to make significant changes and then re-defend. It is rare (but not impossible) that it is not approved since you have received numerous rounds of feedback before the defense. After the proposal is approved, you are all set to collect and analyze data. For the five chapter format, this means you will apply for IRB approval (if you are using human subjects), collect and analyze the data for chapter four, and then discuss the results/findings in chapter five. After approval, you are one step closer to becoming Dr. You!