I successfully defended my dissertation proposal almost two weeks ago. It was, as my friend Annie who defended a few days later concurred, both harder and easier than I had imagined. My proposal passed, but the results were: adding a committee member, expanding my lit review, and rewriting 2 of my 4 research questions. I’m not sure whether to consider that the usual “minor revisions” or actual “major revisions.” Honestly, I’m still in shock that I had to answer so few direct questions. It made me think of Han being tortured in Cloud City…
The Experience: It was just my committee and myself (I think there wasn’t enough advance notice for guests, plus it was at the end of the semester). We were in a small conference room, seated around a table, myself at the head (a hot seat if there ever was one). I presented about my topic using a flatscreen to my left (about 15 minutes), then we discussed the proposal for about an hour. I was excused from the room while the committee deliberated (I think this was about 15 minutes, hard to say because I was talking with a colleague), then they called me back in to announce I had passed with revisions. We spent another few minutes discussing the revisions to be made, then the others left and I discussed next steps with my chair for about ten minutes.
It was, overall, a positive experience, thanks to my excellent committee. It was more of a discussion of the proposal and how to improve it, rather than the traditional defense model that has more a flavor of academic hazing (proving that you’re capable of carrying out the research you propose). This was one more in a chain of doctoral education experiences in which I realize how much I still have to learn. I think this educational process is designed to give us imposter anxiety and thus lessen any research hubris we might have had… while also giving us self-confidence as independent researchers. It’s an interesting combination.
So now I’m energized to move forward–and simultaneously a bit discouraged about the amount of work that remains to be done. I think that’s pretty typical for this stage. What I’m most glad about is that now, in addition to reading prior research and editing my dissertation document, I have concrete tasks I can perform: submit IRB minimal review form, approach pilot study participants, do reliability testing.
Insights from my Proposal Defense:
- Request several “good” proposals (not just full dissertations) from your chair.
- Lit review: it’s not not just to reflect the overall concepts in your study, but should specifically build toward each research question.
- Prepare to be surprised.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to look up ideal sample sizes for test-retest reliability when piloting a survey in the social sciences.