Students may choose either a traditional academic dissertation format or a non-traditional, three-paper dissertation format. Both formats require a dissertation committee, completion of 12 hours of dissertation credits, and a dissertation as a final product. Although the formal designation of the dissertation director/committee chair and committee members cannot occur until candidacy papers are submitted to the Graduate School, the anticipated chair and the presumptive committee are to review dissertation plans as early as practical in the student's program. The decision of which dissertation alternative to pursue is foremost on the presumptive committee's agenda.
Selection of Dissertation Committee
A committee of three (or more) persons, chosen by the student with assistance from the dissertation director, guides the student in dissertation research. The dissertation director/committee chair must hold Graduate Faculty membership with PhD Mentorship status and be a member of the faculty of the School of Nursing. Other committee members must be members of the Graduate Faculty or be individually approved by the Graduate Dean to serve on the committee. Prospective committee members should be considered on the basis of their likely contribution to the research and their complementarity.
Memorandum of Agreement
The committee should specifically arrive at a "memorandum of agreement" which sets out the decision and rationale for the dissertation type. For students choosing the alternative three-paper model, the nature, structure, and content of all three papers should be delineated. For a traditional dissertation, the problem, methodologies, and relevant literatures should be noted and characterized. This memorandum anticipates the more fully developed formal presentation of the dissertation plans that are the subject of the oral examination and the dissertation proposal that is to be approved by the dissertation committee. In either case, no presumption of approval of dissertation plans is appropriate until this memorandum is negotiated. In particular, for the non-traditional, three-article, dissertation, none of the research articles can be submitted for publication until agreement about the memorandum is achieved.
Defense of Dissertation Proposal
The student makes an oral presentation of the dissertation proposal to committee members and interested others and addresses questions regarding the proposal. While a dissertation prospectus is completed for the Graduate School, most students using the traditional academic dissertation format find it helpful to write a traditional proposal as well that, with updating, can be converted into the first two or three chapters of the dissertation.
Advancement to Candidacy
A student who has successfully passed written and oral preliminary examinations applies for advancement to candidacy (for the PhD degree) after defending the dissertation proposal, completing the dissertation prospectus, and receiving appropriate oversight committee approval to conduct the proposed research (Institutional Review Board [IRB] for research on human subjects; Animal Care Committee for research on animal subjects). The Doctoral Candidacy Advisor in the Graduate School provides the student with a candidacy packet and assists in this process. A student who has been advanced to candidacy is entitled to identify him/herself as PhD(c).
Structure of Traditional Dissertation
The traditional dissertation format normally includes four or five or more chapters. The first chapter provides a statement of the problem, its background and significance, hypotheses to be tested, and an overview of the remaining chapters. Chapter two provides an analytic literature review that thoroughly reviews and critiques what is known, clearly specifies what is not known, and then explains which of the identified gaps in the literature will be filled by the proposed research and how this will be accomplished. Chapters one and two may be combined into a single chapter. The third chapter gives a detailed presentation and justification of the design of the proposed study and the research methods and analytic procedures to be used to conduct the investigation. Chapter four presents the results of the research study in considerable detail. Chapter five discusses the implications of those results, draws the appropriate conclusions, and lays out an agenda for future research on the issues addressed in the dissertation.
Normally the chair of the dissertation committee works most closely with the student during the dissertation process. After the student has drafted each of the dissertation chapters, the dissertation committee chair reviews them and provides detailed feedback to the student, identifying those elements of the chapters that need revision. When the dissertation committee chair has approved all of the draft chapters, the complete draft is then circulated to the other members of the dissertation committee. It is also permissible for the chapters to be circulated to the other members of the committee as the committee chair approves each chapter.
Structure of the Non-traditional Dissertation
The non-traditional dissertation format is somewhat different. The body of the nontraditional format consists of at least three thematically related original article-length manuscripts. The student must be the first (or sole) author on at least two of these manuscripts, but may be the second author on one manuscript. Two of the manuscripts must have been fully accepted for publication in journals meeting the criteria described below, and the third must be under review in a journal meeting those criteria before the dissertation defense can be scheduled. There is no single means of identifying the impact of journals in nursing or in some related areas in which the students may publish their work since few nursing journals appear in either the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) or the Science Citation Index (SCI). Instead, the most recent listing of Key and Electronic Nursing Journals: Characteristics and Database Coverage made available through the Nursing and Allied Health Resources Section of the Medical Library Association will be used to determine research coverage, reputation, and citations of most nursing journals (Allen, 2002). Journals in related disciplines will be evaluated on the basis of SSCI or SCI information, when available, and discipline specific information otherwise. A total score of 5 or higher [a] on the Key and Electronic Nursing Journals: Characteristics and Database Coverage or an impact factor of 0.40 [b] or greater if the journal is listed in SSCI or SCI will be sufficient to qualify the journal on the basis of likely impact. Of course, relevance of the journal will need to be decided by the dissertation committee chair and members. Journals that are either unlisted in the relevant databases or do not meet the impact criteria described above may be approved if the student receives the full support and recommendation of the dissertation committee chair and members to petition for approval. This is most likely to occur in the case of newly published journals. The dissertation committee chair will provide evidence of committee support and a description of the publication plans to the Director and the Doctoral Program Committee for review in order to receive an exception.
[a] The point value reflects research content of journal, reputation in terms of inclusion in key library collection recommendations, and citations from the Medical Library Association citation study. Major multi-purpose research journals and specialty journals with some research focus score 5 or higher.
[b] Of the approximately 272 journals listed in the Key, only 29 had reported Impact Factors ranging from 0.00 to 1.20. An impact factor of 0.40 or higher was chosen.
All of the members of the dissertation committee must approve of and sign for the non-traditional dissertation before it can be accepted. The non-traditional dissertation defense cannot occur until the minimum of two articles have been fully accepted for publication in approved journals, and the third manuscript is under review, subject to the review of the dissertation committee.
The non-traditional dissertation format normally includes at least five chapters. The first chapter states the problem, its background and significance, the hypotheses to be tested, the rationale and justification for how the three manuscripts are thematically related, and gives an overview of the remaining chapters. Chapters two, three, and four are the article-length manuscripts themselves. Chapter five discusses the implications of those results, draws the appropriate conclusions, and lays out an agenda for future research on the issues addressed in the dissertation.
Graduate School publicizes the defense date, dissertation abstract and candidate's vita auctoris throughout the University community. The event typically consists of a 30 minute presentation of the dissertation by the candidate, followed by 30 minutes of questioning from the committee, and 15 minutes of questioning from the audience before the committee retires to decide on the acceptability of the dissertation.
Completing the Doctoral Program
The date of acceptance by the Graduate School of the final, corrected copy of the dissertation is the date of program completion. See the Graduate School Application for Degree form, to be filed early in the semester of intended program completion and the Exit Questionnaire.