It is important to have a very clear description of your topic or area of interest and why it is important enough to warrant a PhD dissertation. In order to do this you need to become thoroughly familiar with the literature on that topic. The sooner you start reading the relevant material the better. That means reading outside of class so that by the time you get to the dissertation you will already be somewhat of an expert on what others have found in their research related to your topic. In other words, from Day 1 of your Foundations course you need to READ, READ, READ and take good notes on what you read. You will not write about everything you read, but you will not know what to write about and what to leave out until you get the end of the process.
Residencies and the research sequence (RSCH courses) will help you prepare to write your prospectus which is a proposal to write a dissertation proposal. It is never too early to start jotting down ideas in each of the sections of the formal prospectus document which can be found by clicking on the link below; however, at some point you will need to generate a well-written, scholarly prospectus. Residency 1 will help you identify and learn how to use many of the sources Walden has developed to help you succeed.
During Residencies 2 - 4 you will work on your prospectus and we have a course in our program called Writing a Quality Dissertation (HUMN 8550) which will help you write either an annotated outline for your prospectus, or, if you prefer, a draft of the formal document. Please keep in mind, however, that even if you write the full draft and you earn an A in the course it does not count as approval of your prospectus. Only your own committee and program director/research coordinator can formally approve a prospectus.
Your prospectus will probably change as you work directly with a chair and a second committee member and as you find, read, analyze, and synthesize additional relevant literature. However, if you start with a good draft, based on sound knowledge of the literature, you will be able to come down running when you form your committee. It will also make it easier to find a committee if your draft prospectus is well thought out and well written.
Your chair will be your primary contact person and mentor during the entire dissertation process, so it is a good idea to find your chair first; however, it does not always work that way. You will meet faculty members at residencies and have them in classes and you might decide you want to work with one of them as your chair. Sometimes the person you ask will not be able to chair, but would be willing to serve as the second committee member. However, we still recommend you find the chair before formally requesting the second member. Also, just because someone agrees to serve does not mean they will be able to do so. The program director and/or research coordinator have to balance faculty workloads so we sometimes have to deny a request.
Some students use the prospectus to help find a chair. Some prefer to use a shorter document called the premise. The premise includes a section from the prospectus called the Problem Statement and a brief description of the type of study they want to conduct. A premise is typically 1 - 2 pages in length while a prospectus is typically 8 – 10 pages. You will generate a premise during the early part of HUMN 8550 on the way to developing a prospectus. A guide to writing the premise and the prospectus can be found by clicking on the link above.
In the Human Services program, both the chair and the second committee member need to approve the formal prospectus before it can go to the program director or research coordinator for final approval. The chair and second member will work together to help you generate a high quality document. Please talk with your chair about how and when to bring the second committee member into the process. Different chairs approach the dissertation process differently and your chair will direct the entire process.
Sometimes this will result in finding a chair or even a second member, but sometimes it will not. If you don’t have a chair lined up by the end of that course, you should contact the program director (William.firstname.lastname@example.org) and send him the most recent copy of your prospectus or, if you prefer, your premise. He will either help you identify potential chairs or he will ask the research coordinator to help. A strong, well thought out, and well written draft prospectus speeds up this process. Think of your premise and/or draft prospectus as an advertisement for the kind of student you will be. If it is poorly written, not based on extensive knowledge of the literature, or not well thought out, it makes it harder to find someone who will chair. The quarter after HUMN 8550 most students take an advanced research course (RSCH 8250, RSCH 8350, or RSCH 8450) and the quarter after that they enter the first quarter of dissertation. That typically gives students enough time to find a chair.
Either your chair or your second member must be a content expert and the other one must be a methods expert. Your chair can be either content or methods, but more often than not, the chair is the content expert on the committee. Also, keep in mind, the content of your dissertation should relate in some way to your specialization.