Stuggling to Formulate a Dissertation Proposal that Will Change the World?

There is a universal theme that I have identified with preparing a dissertation proposal. Everyone I have helped as a faculty member and through this website initially pitches a proposal that embraces 2, 3 or even 4 dissertations.  When learning research everyone has ambitious ideas of what can be said and accomplished in a dissertation. Given the constraints and demands of scientific inquiry, all studies have to focus on a narrow question that can be empirically tested.

Why is it so difficult to shrink your ambition about what your dissertation proposal will say to the world? I suspect it is because people earning a Ph.D. degree want to make a large contribution to the world. You want to make a difference. In the case of science that is empirical in nature, the scientist has to take small steps that are deliberate and focused.

If your committee is giving your grief about your proposal it is probably because you have pitched a proposal to do a study that is much too ambitious, especially if you have any intention of finishing within a year or two.

What can you do about this problem?  Think of your original proposal as 3 studies. Then, decide which of the three studies you really want to make your dissertation. You can work on the other two studies after you have earned your Ph.D.  if you are so inclined.

Robert Rodgers, Ph.D.



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