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Dissertation Proposal

After passing the General Exam, the HCDE PhD student is expected to develop, with supervision from their dissertation committee chair(s), a proposal characterizing the work they intend to do for their dissertation.

While researching and writing the dissertation proposal, students should register for HCDE 800 credits. Registration is not required during the quarter students present their proposal. The written proposal will be shared with the anticipated doctoral reading committee and will be formally defended in a public presentation, followed by a private discussion. The committee will then provide the student with a recommendation on how to proceed with the proposed research. The student is encouraged to review the information provided by the Graduate School describing the relationship of the supervisory committee and the reading committee. The Graduate School Representative (GSR) is not required to attend the proposal presentation, but should be invited by the student and/or the committee chair. 

While the GSR is not required to attend, the department strongly recommends involving the GSR to support continuity for the student and committee in the process between the proposal and final exam.

The Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal represents a vehicle for the student to communicate their ideas about their anticipated research and provides a basis for the committee to evaluate and respond to the proposed research.

To this end, the proposal should address five main topics:

  • What makes this a worthwhile project, and the nature and scope of the problem, background, and significance.
  • What existing work, if any, has already been conducted that will be included in the dissertation.
  • What new work, intellectual framing, and/or analyses are planned, possibly including specific aims, methodological and analytical approach, design rationale, theoretical framework(s), and anticipated claims.
  • What is the anticipated timeline for the research and completion of the dissertation.
  • What chapters are anticipated for the dissertation.

If parts or all of the proposed research are part of a larger research project, it is also valuable for the proposal to contextualize how the student's proposed research is situated relative to the larger project.

Proposals might also address where resources for the research will come from and contingency plans for any resources that are not yet secured.

The proposal should be around 15-20 single-spaced pages (or 30-40) pages double-spaced). This length was chosen to provide sufficient space for the student to describe the project in a way that permits the committee to provide meaningful feedback, while also permitting the student to prepare the proposal early enough to have the feedback inform the project. However, there is flexibility in this format and the student should check with their supervisory committee if another format makes more sense for their case. Students should share drafts of the proposal with their committee chair(s), and potentially other members of the committee, to incorporate feedback before sharing a complete document in advance of the proposal.

To ensure a high quality discussion, the student should distribute the dissertation proposal to the supervisory committee at least 2 weeks prior to the discussion date (see below).

Dissertation Proposal Presentation: Public Presentation Followed by Private Discussion

The student will formally present the dissertation proposal to the Supervisory Committee at a publicly-held proposal lasting approximately 40-50 minutes, followed by a public question and answer period.

The goals of the public presentation and question period are (1) to promote a robust dialog about the dissertation research from all interested parties, (2) create transparency in the research process, and (3) to develop experience in sharing the research with a broad audience who has not been engaged in the work.

After the public presentation, the committee chair(s) will dismiss everyone except for the student and the supervisory committee for a private discussion for an additional hour. The goal of this discussion will be three-fold:

  1. Provide the committee with additional opportunity to understand the research being proposed.
  2. Provide an opportunity for the committee to advance the research ideas and plan in collaboration with the student.
  3. Provide a basis for making the recommendation discussed below.

There may be situations in which it is best for a student to present a private supplement (or rely on the proposal document) to their committee, with additional details beyond the public proposal. For example, when presenting preliminary findings from research with community partners, students may need to share more details with their committee, for feedback, than is appropriate to share publicly. No petition or waiver is required to share more with the committee than shared in the public presentation.

Committee members should check in with each other privately about any concerns or priorities for the dissertation proposal, either before the proposal presentation or after the public question & answer period but before the committee's discussion with the candidate.

Scheduling and Communicating the Dissertation Proposal Meeting

The student must send the dissertation proposal document, title, and abstract to their committee chair(s) 3 weeks prior to their scheduled dissertation proposal date. They should copy the Director of Academic services on this message and confirm the exam's date and time. This event is not scheduled through the Graduate School, however, unlike the General and Final Exams. If this timeline is not met, the student and committee must reschedule the exam.

If the committee chair(s) approve(s), they will forward the title, abstract, date/time and location to the Communications Manager for advertising the proposal at least 2 weeks prior to the proposal date. The dissertation proposal is shared with the community by the Communications Manager. If the committee chair(s) has not responded to the request to approve the proposal at least two weeks prior to the proposal date, the student should work with the PhD Program Chair and Director of Academic Services to determine next steps, which may include rescheduling the exam.

Students and their committee chair(s) should coordinate around this timeline in advance, e.g., to plan for any extra time for busy periods at work or vacations or time away from from work.

Students may request a waiver of the public presentation for their proposal in extenuating circumstances by communicating with their Committee Chair and the PhD Chair. They will work together with the student on developing an alternate plan to fulfill the goals of the proposal.

Supervisory Committee  Recommendation Concerning the Proposal

Based on the written proposal and discussion of the proposal, the committee will provide one of the following recommendations:

  1. The committee recommends that the student proceed with the proposed research.
  2. The committee recommends that the student proceed with the research while giving attention to specific concerns raised by the committee. These concerns will be provided to the student via a written summary after the proposal presentation and discussion.
  3. The committee recommends that the student reconceptualize the project, or consider another project. They must re-submit a new proposal document and reschedule the proposal private meeting with the supervisory committee at a later date, with the public presentation preceding it being optional.

The chair of the supervisory committee will submit a Proposal Defense form with the committee’s decision and signatures to the Director of Academic Services.

Summary of Key Dates

When Who What
Whenever you make a change to your committee Student Notify Director of Academic Services to update MyGrad.
As soon as you have a proposal date scheduled and after you have a committee Student Notify Director of Academic Services of the date and location.
In the lead up to 3 weeks before the proposal Student Develop and write the proposal document, iterating with the committee chair(s) and, potentially, other committee members to incorporate feedback.
At least three weeks before the proposal Student Send a complete proposal to the committee chair(s) for approval to proceed with proposal defense. Copy the Director of Academic Services and confirm the date and location of the exam.
At least two weeks before the proposal Committee chair(s) Communicate approval to proceed with the proposal to the student, or discuss any required changes or postponement.
  • Send proposal title, abstract, and location and time to HCDE Communications Manager to promote the proposal defense
  • Send full proposal to the entire committee, including the GSR
Proposal defense Committee chair(s) Ensure the Proposal Defense Form is signed by the committee and returned to the Director of Academic Services.
Between the proposal defense and a deadline agreed upon by the committee Student and committee
  • Complete any revisions as agreed upon through the proposal meeting and subsequent discussions.
  • Send revisions to committee, iterate, and re-discuss as-needed.