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PhD in Education: Questions & answers

Committee formation

How do I submit my Prospectus and Committee for approval? 

Once you have two individuals who commit to working on your dissertation with you, you adjust your prospectus until they feel it’s finalized.  You email each potential member a committee nomination form for them to complete and submit to the research center. Each member of your committee will attach the approved version of your prospectus to send to the research center ( along with a committee nomination form indicating they agree to serve on your committee.

When can I officially begin my dissertation?  

You can officially begin your dissertation once you complete all the course work or KAMs for your specialization area and after you have an approved Prospectus. You will write a Premise document and send it to your Specialization Coordinator or Program Director who will help you obtain a mentor.  At that point you can begin working on your Prospectus plan for your dissertation.  We expect you to finish the prospectus by the time you finish your coursework and KAMs.

How do I get a chair for my dissertation? 

You will write a Premise document that states what you want to do for your dissertation research in general.  You send the Premise to your Specialization Coordinator (SC) or Program Director (PD) for review.  The SC/PD will find a mentor for you who has a related research interest to yours.  This person will work with you as you develop your Prospectus plan for your dissertation study.  The assigned mentor usually becomes the chair of your dissertation committee if you develop a strong working relationship while writing the Prospectus.  Your mentor can be either a content expert or methodologist – you will need both for your committee.

How do I find a second member for my Dissertation Committee? 

When you and your mentor have a solid draft of your Prospectus, so you have identified a topic, gap in the research, and research questions that are grounded in current research, you will invite a second member to join your committee.  If your mentor is a content expert then you will add a methodologist; if your mentor is a methodologist, you will add a content expert from your specialization area.  You may choose someone you met at a residency or who you had as an instructor in a class.  If you need help, your mentor, Specialization Coordinator, Program Director, or Research Coordinator can give you ideas.  It is your job to invite the second member to join your committee with a letter of invitation and a draft of your Prospectus.  Only ask one person at a time, until you find the right person. Remember two things.  You will choose a content person and a methods person who have the knowledge set you need to succeed. One of those individuals must be a faculty member in your specialization to help you ensure your study represents current knowledge.

How should I choose a committee? 

You should choose each committee member based on the person’s job on the committee.  You should choose a chair who is someone with whom you’re comfortable.  Your chair should also be someone who you believe is organized and knowledgeable about the research and dissertation process and can provide you with either the content or methodology knowledge you need.  One of your committee members will have to be from your specialization to ensure you have the best guidance on available literature sources on your topic. You may want to consider that as you select your chair after you’ve identified your dissertation topic and most likely dissertation methodology.  It’s important to choose your chair carefully based on the faculty member’s ability to fill one of these roles on your committee. 

You will want your methodologist to be well-versed in the research design and methodology you plan to use.This is where timing becomes most important.Although it’s good to have members with whom you’re comfortable, it’s more important to have members who will facilitate you creating the strongest dissertation possible. Your selected methodologist, ultimately, will have to be someone approved to work in the Ph.D. program as committee methodologist using your selected methodology. If you have any questions on who’s available to serve, you can contact the Research Coordinator or your SC/PD.

How exact should my prospectus be? 

Your prospectus should be very exact.  You should have a well-identified research gap, a clear purpose, quality resources and theoretical/conceptual framework, and a solid research design, all of which are aligned properly.  You should make it as exact as possible and clear enough so your committee members can identify what you want to do in your dissertation.   When you send your Prospectus to the research center, it will be reviewed by two people: your SC and the research coordinator.  The SC will review your work to see if you have established a gap in the field that contributes new knowledge to the field.  The SC will also look to see if the content expert has the knowledge to guide your study in your field.  The research coordinator will evaluate your prospectus to see if the methodology, research questions, theory, purpose, and problem statement are aligned, and if the methodologist  you selected is approved to work with the methodology you have selected for your dissertation study.

That does not mean your research gap or methods will stay completely the same in your dissertation because you’ll be learning about your topic and about research as you write your proposal.It does mean that you begin by demonstrating through your prospectus that you understand the concept of a gap that your committee agrees is realistic and that you are able to put together an aligned plan your committee believes gives you a good start toward completing your proposal and dissertation effectively. REMEMBER: A prospectus is not a contract for your proposal and dissertation.

When should I begin interacting with my potential committee?

You should begin interacting with your potential committee when you ask if the person is willing to review your prospectus draft.  If you already have a strong relationship with your potential chair and have discussed that faculty member’s willingness to serve as your chair, you may begin discussions with your potential chair about your prospectus including how to develop it and your research study. You should follow a similar interaction pattern with your other potential committee member—first asking about availability and willingness to look at your prospectus. Then, you should interact with your other committee member when you and your chair believe your prospectus is ready for a second input.

When does my committee become my committee?

Your committee unofficially becomes your committee when you receive notification of approval of your committee by the Center for Research Support. However, your committee officially becomes your committee on the first day of the quarter following the committee’s approval of your prospectus in MyDR.  If your mentor becomes your chair, then you should be in your chair’s EDUC 8900-9001 or 8800-9002 Research Forum.  If you select a new chair, then you will be in your chair’s EDUC 8900-9001 or 8800-9002 Research Forum at the beginning of the next quarter.

What if potential committee members decide not to be on my committee?

Potential members may choose not to be members of your committee. This sometimes occurs because potential members determine they cannot meet your needs as a member of your committee or because they have too many other commitments to serve on another committee. If that occurs and you need suggestions for other potential committee members, you may ask your potential chair, the specialization coordinator/program director (content member), or the research coordinator (content or methodology member) for suggestions on other committee members.

Dissertation prospectus

When do I write my prospectus?

You complete the prospectus when you decide you’re ready to declare your intent to begin your dissertation. Generally, doctoral students write their prospectus while they are taking their last six classes or writing their two advanced KAMs, finalizing it in the last quarter of course/KAM work.


Should I plan to spend a quarter just completing the prospectus? 

No, you should plan to write your prospectus while you are taking your last courses or writing your last KAM.   It is best to complete all core research courses (RSCH 8100, 8200, 8300) before completing the prospectus.  This will ensure you have a clear understanding of the research process to formulate a strong research study plan and of your content area so that you can identify a clear content research gap.


What do I need to decide to complete the prospectus?

In the prospectus, you need to have a clear picture of the research problem (research gap) you’re going to research, the purpose of your study, some relevant literature, a theoretical framework (quantitative study) or conceptual framework (qualitative study or mixed methods study) for your study, and a workable conception of a design for your study that will be able to fulfill that purpose. You should plan to be as thorough and exacting about the information you put into your prospectus as possible. Planning time at this stage can make the rest of your dissertation process go much more smoothly. However, if any of these parts of your abstract end up differing from your proposal as a result of learning more during your proposal preparation, that’s fine.  Please use the Prospectus Guide as an outline for your prospectus.

What is the prospectus used for?

The prospectus has several purposes.

  1. First, it’s a planning document for you.
  2. Second, it’s an opportunity for you to interact with potential committee members surrounding your dissertation study plans so you can both determine whether you’re compatible at working together.
  3. Third, it will help ensure you have a clear research gap and study plan before you put too much time into examining the literature or developing a plan that might not be feasible.
  4. Fourth, it is used by the Ph.D. Research Coordinator to review your committee selection and your plan and make sure you have the support you need to successfully complete your dissertation.

How much time should I put into writing the prospectus?

This is a difficult question to answer as each person is different.  You will need to put in the time it takes to write a successful plan for your dissertation study.  This is not a long document, only 6-10 pages in length, so the expectation is that you can finish it in one to two quarters while you are taking other coursework. You will work on the prospectus until your potential committee decides it’s ready to be submitted to the Research Center to declare your intent to conduct your dissertation study.  After your committee and prospectus are approved, you will begin work on your proposal and not put additional work into honing the prospectus. 

After my dissertation committee is approved and prospectus is filed, should I continue to work on the prospectus? 

No, you should begin to work on your dissertation proposal. At that point, your prospectus has achieved its purpose.  Even if you change the focus of your study, you will not write a new prospectus. 

How do I complete the prospectus?

Before you write your prospectus information, you research your topic enough to identify a research gap – a relevant area that has not yet been researched in your field. You consider what part of that gap you’d like to address in your research. You consider what conceptual or theoretical framework can guide your research. You consider how you can best achieve your purpose using the environment in which you’ll need to conduct your study:  the design, population and sample/participants, and data sources you might use. Finally, you consider whether the gap, purpose, framework, and design are aligned. We recommend using the Historical Alignment Tool for this purpose.  Do they make sense, and is your research design the best choice for your gap and purpose? Then you write a draft of that information into the prospectus format and work with your committee to finalize your prospectus.

What role does my potential committee play in my prospectus? 

Each member of your committee has a different role. Your potential chair may be your mentor or someone else you have met. That potential chair acts as the coordinator and overseer of the development of your prospectus, as well as fills either the content or methodologist role on your committee. You will create a draft of that prospectus and send it to your potential chair in your Research Forum. After that, you and the potential chair will work on the prospectus until the potential chair determines it is ready to send to your potential second committee member. Your potential chair will review it as either the content or methodology member, as well, examine the appropriate aspects of the prospectus for readiness.

The committee content member will consider whether your research gap, theoretical or conceptual framework, purpose, and sample literature look solid and are aligned, and will give you feedback on any adjustments or corrections you need in those sections of your prospectus. The committee methodologist will review the research design and its alignment to your research purpose and your population and sample/participants, data sources, and any additional information you need to share about the design, and give you feedback on any adjustments or corrections you need in those sections of your prospectus, copying the potential chair at the same time.

Communication with your second member is done using your Walden email.You will respond to their feedback and finalize your prospectus by doing iterations until they determine your prospectus is completed.Please note that emails can get lost in cyberspace. If you do not hear from a faculty member in more than 4 days, please contact that faculty member to ensure the messages have not been lost in cyberspace.

How a committee works

What is the role of the chair?

The chair oversees the dissertation process for the student, guiding the student through the development of the prospectus, the proposal, and the final dissertation in preparation for sending each portion to the committee for feedback and approval. The chair also arranges and leads the proposal and dissertation defenses and interacts with the URR and other University bodies to coordinate the documentation and completion of the student’s dissertation work.  The chair can be either the content expert or methodologist on the committee.

What is the role of the content member?

The content member works closely with the student as chapters 1 and 2 of the proposal are written to help the student develop the strongest and most current content knowledge available on the topic.  It is the content member’s responsibility to make sure that the topic is narrowed enough to address in a research study and that the student has identified a real and realistic problem statement, purpose, and conceptual or theoretical framework for the dissertation. The content member reviews chapter 3 to ensure the work of the students and methodologist align with chapters 1 and 2.  The content member also examines chapters 4 and 5 of the final dissertation to ensure that the information shared is clear and related well to the current body of literature in the field.  This member also reviews the study for social change implications and the way this study added new knowledge to the specialization field. 

What is the role of the methodologist? 

The methodologist is primarily responsible for directing the student as chapter 3 is written to ensure that the different parts of the research design and methodology align with the research questions. Both committee members are responsible for aspects of chapter 4.  The methodologist ensures that the data are reported accurately and appropriately. The methodologist examines chapters 1, 2, and 3 of the proposal and chapters 4 and 5 of the full dissertation to determine alignment between the problem, purpose, research questions, and research design, as well as to ensure completeness and workability of the design and of the analysis and reporting of the research itself.

What is the role of the URR?

The URR is a member of your committee with a specific role. Appointed for your committee rather than selected by you, the URR serves as a consultant if needed by your other committee members. The URR also serves as additional “eyes” after your other members have worked with you extensively to develop your proposal or dissertation. With a fresh perspective, your URR can identify concerns your other members may have gotten too close to see. The URR will work with your other committee members at key points as requested by your chair, to review the proposal before your oral defense, and to review the dissertation before and after your final dissertation defense.

Do I work directly with my URR?

No, your committee members interact with your URR. You do not. That makes the process faster and easier for everyone involved.  This also allows the URR to keep a fresh perspective to catch any aspects of your study that need to be adjusted that other members might miss because of their closeness to your work.

Who do I work with for what parts of my dissertation?

You work with your chair on overall direction of the dissertation and development of each component. You work with your content and methods members on those specific aspects of your proposal and full dissertation that relate to their areas of expertise.

How much interaction should I have with each member?

That’s a hard question to answer. A dissertation is your chance to apply the knowledge, both content and research, that you have learned to improve and prove your abilities before being awarded your degree. You should work as independently as possible, but also remember your committee is there for guidance and critique.  A good rule of thumb is to research your topic and ask questions about what you’ve found and whether you’re on the right track.  Listen to your committee members and ask questions when needed, and you’ll find that middle ground where you’re both independent and being guided well.  We suggest turning in drafts of your work at least monthly to your chair for review. 

Who has the final say in decisions about my dissertation proposal or final dissertation?

That’s an interesting question. Your chair and URR together will consult about any concerns the URR has and, ultimately, improve your dissertation through rewrites and negotiations as appropriate. However, your chair is still in charge of direction of your dissertation through the various stages it takes to complete it and is the person to whom you should turn for questions and guidance in the process. 

What if I get conflicting information from different committee members?

Research is a process that can take many directions, and committee members can disagree. If this occurs, speak with your chair for clarification of directions. If your chair believes it would be helpful, your chair will discuss the confusion with the other committee members and get clarification so the answer you receive is clear and unified.

Can I have a conference call with everyone if I have questions? 

You can have a conference call with your content and methods person if you request it. Conference calls with your URR are not a normal part of the process, so that the URR maintains the special role designated to that position. However, if the chair, second committee member, and URR are willing, permission can be requested from the URR’s supervisor to hold a conference call.  If permission is given, then the URR could be included in a conference call with you to clarify your research plan and products.

Should my correspondence be by email, or can it be by telephone?

You can speak with your committee members in any way you wish. However, to maintain clarity and transparency in the process, whenever you receive an email or speak with your second member, it’s good practice to cc your chair on the email.   If the chair is not cc’d, then you can either forward the email from the second member or send an email to your chair summarizing the conversation and guidance from the second member. That way, when your chair receives versions of your work or when you have a question about your work, the chair knows the guidance you’ve received and provide the most informed answers possible.  It’s also good to email a committee member confirming what was said after any telephone or Skype conversations that occur to make sure there is agreement in the messaging.