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PhD in Education: Get Started


As you begin thinking about your dissertation topic, you will work with your mentor to formalize a research topic and research questions.  To receive your mentor you will write a Premise document that will be used by your Specialization Coordinator to help find an appropriate mentor.  You will receive your mentor when you have completed your first three research courses and when you only have six courses or two KAMs to complete.  Our expectation is that you will write your prospectus outlining your dissertation topic with your mentor before you finish your course work and KAMs.

When you and your mentor think you have a solid topic and research questions that are grounded in current research, you will invite a second member to join your committee.  Your committee will have two members initially: a chair and a second.  These two faculty members will represent your content area and your methodology.  Either the content expert or the methodologist can serve as your chair, with the other being the second member of your committee. 

You and your mentor can identify an appropriate methodologist in one of several ways…

When your committee and prospectus have been approved, you will be clear to take the advanced methods course in the methodology you have selected for your dissertation.  At this point, you are ready to begin writing chapters 1 and 2.

Time Line

Quarter Plan

Each quarter you will post your Quarter Plan in your Research Forum.  Your Quarter Plan will be a timeline you create based on your life needs.  The times listed below are not prescriptions, but suggestions of how long each part of the dissertation generally takes.  These times will vary for individual students based on their responsibilities away from their doctoral work.  Please work with your mentor to determine a reasonable pace for our doctoral work based on your personal needs and commitments.

Time Line and Academic Goals

  Advanced Research Course (circle):   RSCH 8250 or 8350 or 8450

  Prospectus Development:  (one quarter)

  Prospectus Completion, Committee Formation, and Prospectus Approval: (time varies)

  Proposal Chapter 1: (one quarter)  NOTE: some students work on chapter 2 before writing chapter 1 to establish the research gap; please discuss this with your mentor

  Proposal Chapter 2: (2 quarters)

  Proposal Chapter 3: (one quarter)

  Committee Approval of Proposal: (Chapters 1-3) ( 4-6 weeks)

  URR Approval of Proposal: (2-4 weeks)

  Proposal Oral:  (one week for scheduling/oral)

  IRB  Submission and/or Approval: (one month)

  Data Collection: (4 -6 weeks)

  Data Analysis: (4-6 weeks)

  Dissertation Chapters 1, 2, and 3 changed to past tense (1 week)

  Dissertation Chapter 4: (6-12 weeks)

  Dissertation Chapter 5: (6-12 weeks)

  Committee Approval of Dissertation: (2 weeks)

  URR Approval of Dissertation: (2-4 weeks)

  Form and Style Review: (2 weeks)

  Dissertation Defense: (one week for scheduling/defense)

  URR Review of Dissertation: (two weeks)

  CAO Approval of Abstract: (up to 2 weeks)

  Submission to ProQuest: (2-3 days)

  Graduation Check: (2-3 days)

Course Work

It is never too early to start thinking about your dissertation. There are many things you can do throughout your coursework to prepare for the dissertation, particularly reading as many research studies as possible on the topics you are most interested in. This will help you find out the kind of research that has already been done so you can plan to contribute new knowledge with your own research. Remember that a PhD is a steward of the discipline who contributes new knowledge to your specialization field.

Prepare for your dissertation by building a solid foundation. The Academic Skills Center can help you


Other ideas to help you find a solid dissertation topic might be:

  • Start a list of researchers in your field as you encounter them in your readings and class discussions.
  • Determine the major theorists in your field.  As you read dissertations and research studies, make a note of the theorists that tend to be used most frequently in the areas you are interested in.  These theorists may be the ones you want to use for your own dissertation study. Use the Literature Review Matrix and Citelighter to take notes on the articles you read so that you can more easily identify useful articles later, as well as how they can be used.
  • Join professional organizations in your field and review their resources and website regularly
  • Develop relationships with faculty and consider potential committee members for your dissertation
  • Develop your writing skills, understanding that dissertation and professional writing involves an iterative process of multiple revisions.
  • Develop your research skills
  • Begin preparing your dissertation premise which identifies the areas you think you want to conduct research


Consider taking the Literature Review Workshop (optional):  With the help of the writing faculty member, students will spend 6 weeks advancing their Literature Review through tailored one-on-one writing instruction and supportive group work with their peers. Students will get to know the required components of the Literature Review and have the opportunity to learn how to address common writing issues, such as effective use of summary and synthesis, applying correct use of APA and source citations, and articulating search strategies.

  • Download the Premise Guide and complete your Premise.  
  • Submit your Premise to your Specialization Coordinator
  • Your Specialization Coordinator will find a mentor for you based on the information you provide in the Premise.
  • Send your premise to your mentor to begin your conversation about the topic you want to pursue for your dissertation.



  • Work with your mentor to develop your ideas for your dissertation.
  • You will develop a problem statement, which articulates the issue along with the gap in the literature and how the proposed study is pertinent to your specialization field and education. You will establish a purpose statement, related research questions, theory, and a proposed methodology that are appropriate for your study.
  • Use the Historical Alignment Tool as a focus of your conversations, so you align your topic, research questions, theory, and methodology. 
  • Finalize your prospectus, such that it meets all the quality indicators on the Prospectus Dissertation Rubric, and submit to your committee for review.
  • Send your committee members Committee Nomination Forms to complete. Each member will send their Committee Nomination Form along with an approved Prospectus to The Prospectus will be forwarded to the research coordinator for approval of the methodology/methodologist and to your specialization coordinator for approval of the research gap/content expert.

Develop Your Dissertation Proposal (chapters 1-3)

  • Consider taking the Proposal Workshop (optional): With the assistance of the writing faculty member, students will spend 6 weeks advancing their Proposal through tailored one-on-one writing instruction and supportive group work with their peers. They will get to know the required components of the Proposal and have an opportunity to learn how to address common writing issues, such as APA, citing and referencing sources, clarity and concision, and writer’s block.  We encourage you to work closely with your committee while you take this course.
  • Writing your Proposal can be approached many ways.  There are suggestions for you in the Q&A section below.  Depending on your learning style, you may choose to begin with Chapter 1, 2, or 3.  There is no right way so discuss this with your mentor as you begin to research and write.
  • You will write the Proposal using an iterative fashion, submitting multiple drafts of your work to your mentor and receiving substantive feedback on your work.  This is a natural part of professional writing.