The dissertation proposal and the speciality exam serve different purposes and should be viewed as separate activities, even though often executed concurrently. The dissertation proposal marks the beginning of the doctoral research and sets the tone for the dissertation itself. Its intent is
- for the student to isolate and formulate a particular problem or a small set of particular, related problems whose solution is important to the research community and whose solution is significant enough to merit being called doctoral research;
- for the student to assimilate background information to demonstrate understanding of the research that has been done on the problem(s) and how to proceed;
- for the Advisory Committee to decide if the student has done the first two items sufficiently well;
- for the Advisory Committee to make suggestions as to
- additional background information which should be considered
- how the research problem(s) should be modified, and/or
- how the proposed methods of investigation should be modified; and
- for the Advisory Committee to verify that if proposed research goes as planned results will be worthy of doctoral designation.
While the student may have a wealth of material to cover prior to actually beginning doctoral research, the advisor and other Advisory Committee members can help make the task of assembling and assimilating the appropriate background do-able, exciting, and rewarding.
The dissertation proposal involves preparing a written document and presenting it orally in a public forum. The written document should include as much detail as possible including
- background material;
- a well defined research problem;
- a plan for solving the research problem; and
- criteria for determining that the problem has been adequately solved.
In addition to items listed above, students are encouraged to provide a timeline for completion of the research and dissertation and an outline of proposed dissertation chapters.
The date and time of the proposal is announced at least two weeks in advance. The final version of the written proposal must be given to all Advisory Committee members at least two weeks in advance of the oral presentation. In addition, at least one copy of the proposal must be available in the department office of the advisor and at least one copy in the department office of the CSE Program Director a minimum of two weeks in advance.
Advisory Committee Decision
After the dissertation proposal is presented, the Advisory Committee decides if the student is prepared to proceed with the dissertation research project. A 75-percent vote is required for the student to pass the proposal. However, it is in the student’s best interest to work with the Advisory Committee on the written proposal until everyone on the committee feels comfortable approving the next step. This ensures that the entire committee is favorable from the beginning, reducing the chance for concerns to arise about the root concept of the research as the process develops.
Ideally the student keeps the Advisory Committee informed on progress throughout the process. For example after obtaining most of the information needed for the dissertation proposal the student could provide a short outline of research plans to the committee, asking for feedback. After the written proposal is given to the committee the student should ask for a meeting with each member in about a week to ten days to gather more comments and answer questions. Maintaining close ties avoids major surprises and offers a path for continuous improvement.
Following the proposal defense, the Advisory Committee may recommend changes and/or ask for additions to be made to the dissertation proposal. Depending on the magnitude of the recommendations, the committee may
- require a second public dissertation proposal presentation;
- ask the student to make the changes/additions in writing and submit them to the committee for approval;
- or may simply ask the student to make note of their suggestions.
After passing the dissertation proposal, the student must follow the timeline to submit results.