Current Students

Dissertation Proposal

After passing the General Exam, the 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 must register for HCDE 800 credits. 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. Unlike the General Exam and Dissertation Defense, the GSR can attend remotely for the proposal presentation.


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.

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. To ensure a high quality discussion, the student should distribute the dissertation proposal to the supervisory committee at least 3 weeks prior to the discussion date.

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 defense lasting approximately 40-50 minutes, followed by a public question and answer period.

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 1 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 a venue 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.

The committee will be in charge of the private discussion and will use the time to raise questions about the research. The student will be responsible for answering questions raised by the committee.

The student should work with their chair to schedule this event and find a location. The student must send the proposal document, title, and abstract to their committee chair(s) 3 weeks prior to their scheduled proposal defense date. If the committee chair(s) approve(s), they will forward the title, abstract, date/time and location to the Communications Manager for advertising the defense at least 2 weeks prior to the defense date. This event is not scheduled through the Graduate School, however, unlike the General and Final Exams.

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:

The committee recommends that the student proceed with the proposed research.

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.

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.