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Collegial Cloud: Milestone 3

Picture of graduate at graduation

The Dissertation

The dissertation is an independent, scholarly work of research completed by the doctoral candidate, under the guidance of a dissertation committee. A dissertation demonstrates a candidate’s ability to undertake scholarship in his or her field through intellectual endeavor and the application of research skills. The completion of a dissertation requires a scholarly mindset involving ongoing evaluation, analysis, and synthesis of previous, relevant research as well as one’s own work. A dissertation involves exploring an important problem or issue in one’s discipline fully to answer a major and often subsidiary research questions. The problem or issue to be explored should be one that is worthy of substantial and meaningful inquiry, one that warrants investigation due to its centrality within the candidate’s field of study (for PhD candidates) or to issues of practice and application (EdD candidates). A dissertation demonstrates the ability to build theory, test ideas, and/or discover new knowledge or a potential solution in relation to the problem or issue being studied. On the average, a final dissertation manuscript ranges from 100 to 300 pages in length depending on the research questions and methodology employed. Typically, a dissertation takes 2 to 3 years to complete, although it is possible to complete dissertation research within a year.

The dissertation consists of five discrete, but interconnected chapters. The chapters include:

  • Chapter 1: Introduction;
  • Chapter 2: Literature Review;
  • Chapter 3: Methodology;
  • Chapter 4: Results; and
  • Chapter 5: Conclusions, Implications, Recommendations.

Chapters 1 through 3 constitute the dissertation proposal; essentially, a proposal is a concise plan or blueprint for conducting the remainder of one’s research. The addition of chapters 4 and 5 represent the final dissertation manuscript.

See the Proposal and Dissertation Template in the Collegial Cloud (under the “Milestone 2” tab) located on the online Blackboard platform for clarification of the expectations for each chapter. The template serves as a working outline of the typical elements of each section of the dissertation. Sections of the Template may be filled in or modified based on the candidate’s dissertation topic, methodology, and/or direction provided by his or her committee chairperson.

Dissertation Final Defense

The dissertation final defense is a public presentation by the candidate primarily to his or her committee members. While the proposal defense presented the candidate’s study plan (chapters 1, 2, and 3), the final defense is focused on the findings, analysis, and conclusions generated having conducted the research (chapters 4 and 5). The presentation is conducted virtually via Zoom. The oral defense lasts approximately 60 to 90 minutes. A dissertation defense may not be scheduled until the entire dissertation committee has determined that the dissertation is ready to be presented. A candidate and all of his or her committee members must be able to participate in the live defense. Defenses are coordinated by the dissertation chairperson and scheduled by the Coordinator of the Division of Research and Doctoral Programs. Because oral defenses are public, the candidate may invite family, friends, colleagues, and classmates to attend virtually or in person.

Committee members have the following options for the outcome of the defense: (a) pass, (b) pass with revisions, (c) pass pending further review, or (d) fail. The candidate must receive a signed ballot of approval from all three committee members to pass.

Dissertation FAQs

The CUC Dissertation

Q: What is a dissertation?

The dissertation is an independent, scholarly piece of work completed by you, the doctoral candidate, under the guidance of a dissertation committee. A dissertation demonstrates your ability to undertake scholarship in your field through intellectual endeavor and the use of research skills. A dissertation involves exploring an important problem fully to answer a research question. The problem to be explored should be one that is worthy of substantial inquiry, one that warrants investigation due to its centrality within your field of study (for PhD candidates) or to issues of practice (for EdD candidates). Dissertations demonstrate the ability to build theory, test ideas, and/or discover new knowledge about the problem being studied. They average between 100-300 pages in length and take approximately 2-3 years to complete, although it is possible to complete the dissertation in a year.

Q: What is the difference between the EdD (Doctor of Education) and the PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) degrees?

The EdD degree is a specialized professional degree in education. The focus of the EdD program of study is both professional and applied. EdD students conceptualize and conduct their dissertation research on specific practices or policies that affect their school/district/ organization. EdD students usually conduct their dissertation research within their workplace. EdD students generally plan to continue their work in the realm of professional practice. In contrast, the PhD degree focuses on research, scholarship, and scholarly writing. The PhD degree program of study emphasizes theory and research methodology; PhD students take more courses related to research. Although PhD dissertation research may have implications for practice, the emphasis is primarily theoretical; students conduct research outside of their workplaces. Traditionally, PhD students pursue academic careers in colleges and universities.

The National Science Foundation recognizes the EdD and PhD as equivalent. Many college and university professors hold an EdD degree. Both degrees are open to different methodologies (quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods). Completion of both degrees requires sound scholarly work and a considerable investment of effort and time. Academic job prospects after obtaining either an EdD or PhD depend on the specific needs of college and university departments, rather than the types of degree or research emphasis.

Q: What is the three article dissertation?

The three article dissertation consists of three separate papers published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. You must be the sole author or the second author. The three papers can be read and understood independently but should be on a related topic. The structure of the three article dissertation is: 1) Introduction; 2) Article one; 3) Article two; 4) Article three; 5) Conclusions and implications for future research and/or practice. You must secure all copyright permissions and original IRB approvals before finalizing the proposal and formatting the dissertation.

For HHP students, please see the documents in Milestone 2.

No additional stipulations exist specific to other programs.

Q: When can I start my dissertation?

Although there are many aspects of your coursework and the comprehensive exam that connect to the dissertation, you cannot formally begin your dissertation until the following steps have been accomplished:

  1. Successfully pass the Comprehensive Exam
  2. Admission to Doctoral Candidacy
  3. Approval of the pre-proposal by the Division of Research and Doctoral Programs
  4. Formation of the dissertation committee

Please see “Comprehensive Exam FAQ” under the “Milestone 1” tab for details about items 1 and 2. Please see “CUC Dissertation Committee FAQ” under the “Milestone 2” tab for details related to item 4.

You are strongly encouraged, however, to begin thinking about and identifying a potential research topic and problem to be addressed in your dissertation at an early stage of your engagement in doctoral coursework. Doing so will enable you to locate and read relevant scholarly literature (peer reviewed studies) on an ongoing basis, refine your thinking, and as a result make more immediate dissertation progress, when the steps enumerated above have been achieved.

Notice that you can begin the data collection process for your dissertation research upon the CUC Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval.

Q: What does the dissertation entail?

The dissertation consists of five discrete but interconnected chapters. These chapters include:

  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Literature Review
  • Chapter 3: Methodology
  • Chapter 4: Results
  • Chapter 5: Conclusions, Implications, Recommendations

Please see the Proposal and Dissertation Template on the Collegial Cloud (under the “Milestone 2” tab) for clarification of the expectations for each chapter. This template serves as a working outline of the typical elements of each section of the dissertation. It may be modified based on your dissertation topic, methodology, and direction provided by the chairperson. Chapters 1, 2 and 3 must be written before holding a dissertation proposal defense with your dissertation committee and before data collection may begin.

Q: What is the dissertation proposal?

The dissertation proposal includes Chapters 1, 2, and 3, including all instruments, consent forms, and appendixes. You will work directly with your dissertation committee chairperson for the structure, review process, and distribution of each dissertation proposal chapter to your committee members. You are strongly encouraged, however, to begin thinking about and identifying a potential research topic and problem to be addressed in your dissertation at an early stage of your engagement in doctoral coursework. Doing so will enable you to locate and read relevant scholarly literature on an ongoing basis, refine your thinking, and as a result make more immediate dissertation progress when the steps enumerated above have been achieved.

Q: What is the dissertation proposal defense?

The dissertation proposal defense is a private presentation completed by the candidate to his/her committee members. This presentation is completed virtually via Zoom. The defense lasts approximately 90 minutes. A dissertation proposal defense may not be scheduled until the entire dissertation committee has determined that the dissertation proposal is ready to be presented. You and all of your committee members must be able to participate in the live defense. Defenses are coordinated by your dissertation chairperson and scheduled by the Coordinator of the Division of Research and Doctoral Programs at least two weeks in advance. While proposal defenses are private, the final defense is public and you may therefore invite family, friends, colleagues, and classmates to attend virtually. 

Committee members have the following options for the outcome of your defense: 1) APPROVE, 2) APPROVE WITH REVISIONS, or 3) FAIL. You must receive a signed ballot of approval from two out of three of your committee members in order to move forward on your dissertation. Candidates may not submit the dissertation proposal to the Institution Review Board (IRB) or begin the research until the proposal is APPROVED. If you are approved with revisions, you must make those revisions before submitting your proposal to the IRB. If a candidate fails the defense, he/she must repeat the dissertation proposal defense before moving forward with the dissertation. 

Please see “Milestone 3 Documents” for a detailed explanation of the procedures and how to prepare for the defense.

Q: Once my proposal is approved by the dissertation committee, when do I begin my research?

You are required by federal legislation to submit an IRB (Institutional Review Board) application to the Concordia University IRB Office (via IRBnet.com) and any other district or local IRBs such as the Chicago Board of Education or the New York Board of Education. Details about the IRB process can be found on the Collegial Cloud (under the “Milestone 2” tab). Only upon written approval from all IRBs may you begin your data collection.

Q: How long does it take to complete research for the dissertation?

It varies tremendously. Doctoral candidates work at their own pace and are largely self-directed during this experience. There are no due dates, no assignments, and no deadlines as you develop into an independent scholar under the direction of your dissertation committee.

The amount of time required to collect data is dependent on factors such as sample recruitment, data collection schedules inherent in the design of the research, as well as the type and amount of data to be collected. The amount of time required to analyze data is even more variable. Data analysis strategies depend on the quality, type, and amount of data; the candidate’s skill and willingness to learn data analysis techniques; and the involvement of the dissertation committee. External consultants may be used for data analysis, but these are at the expense of the candidate.

The average length of time to complete a dissertation in the field of education and/or leadership is 2 years. It is possible to complete the dissertation in a year. The Graduate Catalog specifies that the dissertation must be completed within 10 years of the entry date of enrollment in the doctoral program. 

Q: What do I register for while I am working on my dissertation?

All doctoral students must maintain continuous enrollment each semester (16 weeks) to be considered a student at CUC, to continue working with your dissertation committee, and to have access to Blackboard and CUC email. Students are required to be enrolled in all three semesters (Fall, Spring, and Summer) while working on the dissertation in pursuit of the doctoral degree.

The dissertation sequence includes the following: DISS 7010, DISS 7020, and DISS 7030. These are registration placeholders to keep you enrolled as a student at CUC while you are working on your dissertation proposal/dissertation. These registration sequences count as 3 semester hours each, which means that you will continue to be eligible for financial aid. However, these are not academic courses. Think of them more as an independent study with your dissertation committee.

Once all program credit hours have been earned (including DISS 7010, DISS 7020, and DISS 7030), doctoral students must register for DISS 8000: Dissertation Supervision repeatedly until you have completed your dissertation. 

No credit is given for DISS 8000. Students are billed a fee to maintain your student status and to continue working on your dissertation with your committee. Remember, all doctoral candidates must maintain continuous enrollment. The Division of Research and Doctoral Programs notifies all chairpersons of any candidates who are not registered at the start of each semester. Dissertation committee members are prohibited from working with doctoral candidates who are not registered. Additionally, if you fail to register for one of the dissertation sequences you will have a financial hold placed on your account and will be required to back-pay missed terms before re-engaging with your dissertation committee. 

Q: What happens after my final dissertation defense?

You will receive a copy of your final defense ballot along with instructions for uploading your dissertation to ProQuest for publishing. Before uploading, however, you MUST make any revisions requested by your committee and submit your dissertation for professional copy editing. For more information on Concordia-approved copy editors, please contact Doctoral Programs at doctoralprograms@cuchicago.edu.

The timing of your final defense affects when you will be eligible to graduate. Please see the deadlines below – they are the same every year. If you are unsure if you will be able to meet them, please contact your dissertation committee members, who should be able to help you determine a realistic timeline for your study.

Graduation Deadlines

Spring

  • Submit graduation application via CUConnect by March 1st
  • Your chairperson must contact the Coordinator of Doctoral Programs to schedule your final defense by March 10th
  • Complete final defense by April 1st

Summer

  • Submit graduation application via CUConnect by June 1st
  • Your chairperson must contact the Coordinator of Doctoral Programs to schedule your final defense by July 1st
  • Complete final defense by July 15th

Fall

  • Submit graduation application via CUConnect by October 1st
  • Your chairperson must contact the Coordinator of Doctoral Programs to schedule your final defense by October 7th
  • Complete final defense by November 1st

Prepared by the Division of Research and Doctoral Programs

Sample Dissertations

Examples of dissertations are provided solely as examples of general processes and procedures. The content of each dissertation is a unique construction. Topics vary widely from field to field and within each discipline. Consequently, problem statements, research questions, theoretical or conceptual frameworks, the volume of literature available for review, the details of methodology and research procedures, and data analyses also are unique. For these reasons, the examples should not be reviewed as content recommendations. For specific guidance in preparation for an oral defense, doctoral candidates should consult with their CUC committee chair