Preparing the Dissertation Proposal
PhD in Cultural & Educational Policy Studies
The student should initiate the dissertation process by briefing the dissertation director on possible topics and gaining the director's reactions. The dissertation director is the first recourse for the Ph.D. student and chairs the dissertation hearings. The director guides the overall dissertation process. The next step is to write a draft of the proposal and submit it to the director in both hard copy and electronic form, using MS Word tracking enabled.
There is no minimum or maximum number of pages for the proposal, but typically it is 15 to 20 pages. It should include a cover page with the title and the student's name, information that identifies it as a proposal for a dissertation in the Graduate School of Loyola University Chicago, the names of the dissertation committee members, and a date. The proposal must by accompanied by an applicable Graduate School form, which, when signed by the committee, attests to its approval.
The committee should consist of three or four members holding the Ph.D., at least two of whom should be from the School of Education. The committee can contain a member from outside of Loyola who is a published scholar in an area related to the student's dissertation. If so, the outside scholar must be approved by both the director and the Graduate School. The proposal must also be accompanied by a draft of (though not yet submitted) IRB forms if human subjects are to be involved. The proposal should also be accompanied by a brief (no more than one page) statement on how the student’s research tool courses have informed the procedure section of the proposal. The student should gain reactions from the dissertation director before showing it to prospective committee members, who should be invited to serve on the committee only after having an opportunity to peruse the proposal. The director normally will furnish reactions to only one draft before the student prepares the final draft for committee review, so the student should carefully and often review and revise drafts before showing one to the supervisor; submission of a poorly prepared draft can delay the thesis process considerably.
The purpose of the proposal is to make clear the student's thinking about the research on a topic that he/she intends to pursue. It should be unambiguous about how the dissertation will be an original contribution to conceptualization in comparative education and to the field’s corpus of knowledge overall. It should focus on how the student will use original (e.g., survey data, ethnographic, observation) or primary (e.g., government documents, historical records, philosophical texts) source material to approach the topic. The proposal is not written in "cement;" after it is approved by the dissertation committee, the student can, and normally is expected to, make modest adjustments during the research phase. However, any major deviations from the proposal must be approved by the committee. The proposal should identify the prospective theoretical and methodological boundaries of the dissertation. What material and time restrictions would prevent the student to do more than he/she intends to do?
The proposal should contain in outline form a timeline of anticipated steps in the dissertation process, from beginning to end. It should also contain a description of sites where the student anticipates gathering her/his material. Examples of sites are archives containing special documentary information, places where a survey is to be conducted, and specific schools in which empirical observations are to be made. If the dissertation is to rely mainly on archival material, the proposal should identify the archives that are to be researched. If the dissertation is to rely on ethnographic or survey methods, the proposal should describe the research population and the locale(s) in which the research is to take place.
The proposal should be organized in sections (not chapters!) and, if appropriate, subsections, with appropriate headings and, subheadings. The first section should be an introduction (inasmuch as the introduction is always first, no heading for this section is necessary) that clearly defines or identifies the general topic, issue, or area of concern, and thereby establishes a well-reasoned context for reviewing the relevant literature. It should explain the topic’s scope and why the student has chosen the topic. Finally, it should lay out the organization pattern of the proposal overall.
The second section, often entitled “Theoretical Framework”, would describe relevant trends in published research on the topic and conflicts in theory, methodology, conclusions, and/or gaps in scholarship. It should explain the topic’s scope and why the student has chosen the topic. Finally, it should lay out the organizational pattern of the proposal overall.
The third section should consist of a thesis or a set of hypotheses, propositions, or questions that the student intends to pursue. It should draw directly upon the previous two sections, so that the basis for addressing the thesis, hypotheses, propositions, or questions is clear.
The fourth section should focus on a procedure of the methods to be used to address the proposed thesis, hypotheses, propositions, or questions. If the dissertation proposes to test hypotheses, this section should describe the quantitative methods to be used for that purpose. If the dissertation proposes to address a thesis or a set of propositions or questions, it should describe the qualitative analytical procedure to be used. A dissertation may rely on mixed methods, including both quantitative and qualitative approaches. If human subjects are involved, the student should outline in this section how he/she intends to satisfy IRB requirements.
The fifth section should describe the proposed dissertation’s limitations. That is, what are the theoretical and methodological boundaries? What material and time restrictions would prevent the student to do more that he/she intends to do?
The sixth section should be a tentative timeline for the dissertation in outline form. It should show the overall anticipated beginning and ending dates as well as the beginning and ending dates for each phase of the dissertation the student intends to complete.
The seventh section should describe the proposed research sites. For example, if the dissertation is to rely mainly on archival material, the proposal should identify the archives that are to be researched. If the dissertation is to rely on ethnographic or survey methods, the proposal should describe the research population and the locale(s) in which the research is to take place.
The final section should include a bibliography. When primary sources are to be used extensively, the bibliography should clearly differentiate the primary from the secondary sources the student intends to examine.