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Doctoral Dissertation Proposal

Guide for the Perplexed:

Preparing Your Dissertation Proposal

After you pass comps and spend a few weeks celebrating, relaxing, and decompressing, it’s time to start working on your dissertation proposal! Hopefully your dissertation area comps exam has given you some ideas about where to begin and how to proceed. If not, you can explore alternative avenues with your mentor.

Connecting with Mentors and Readers

It’s a good idea to be in touch with your dissertation mentor before the spring semester ends. In most cases, the mentor is the examiner for your dissertation area comps exam, but you might decide to change mentors if you have chosen a different direction for your dissertation. When meeting with your mentor, consider talking through an outline of your thinking and an early version of the statement of your thesis. Set expectations about communication over the summer as you begin drafting, especially if your mentor will be travelling.

If you have a relatively clear sense of your intended direction and the faculty members you hope to enlist as readers, connect with them before the summer as well. Keep the following considerations in mind when choosing readers in consultation with your mentor:

·         Select readers who have expertise in the central topics of your project, particularly if they are more familiar with particular relevant topics or methodologies than your mentor.

·         If you draw upon another discipline within theology, include a reader who can guide you in this area. For example, if you’re writing a dissertation in systematic theology but draw substantively on history, seek a reader who can help you with historical methodology.

·         Be in touch with potential readers about their interest and willingness to serve as readers. If they are not in the position to be able to serve as a reader, or if they think somebody else might be a better fit, they can give you recommendations about other faculty members to engage.

By selecting and talking to your mentor and readers before the summer, you’ll have a better idea of the parameters of your proposal so you can begin working in earnest. Aim to have a solid draft to your mentor by the middle of the summer. That way, you have plenty of time to make adjustments as needed.

Writing and Submitting Your Proposal

The Red Book lists the following components as necessary for the proposal (p. 17):

1)      A brief statement of the problem to be studied and the background or antecedents of the issue which lead the candidate to propose a study of this particular area.

2)     A statement of the thesis.

3)     A description of the method(s) to be used, and of the logical order in which the research is expected to unfold.

4)     An outline of the contents of the dissertation in chapter form or other sequential units.

5)     The specific contribution that this study is expected to make to the field of theology.

6)     Testimony to the originality of the precise research thesis being proposed.

Although there is not a required length, proposals generally consist of 25-35 pages of text and 6-10 pages of bibliography.

As you write, keep the following tips in mind:

·         Make sure that the components listed by the Red Book are easy to find in your proposal. Consider organizing sections of the proposal around these required components. For example, set apart a section to specifically address the contribution your study will make to the field so that the Committee can find this information easily.

·         Be transparent about the decisions you make. For example, explain why you decided to choose certain interlocuters over others while acknowledging alternative possibilities you could have chosen.

·         Although most students submit during one of the deadlines in the fall, some have found it helpful to take extra time to research and to submit in the spring. You can find the deadlines for the year at this link. There is a trade-off to delaying. If you need to clarify core parts of your thinking, it might make sense to submit later so that you can begin writing with a greater sense of focus. On the other hand, submitting later may further delay your overall timeline. Aim for a quality product that showcases your thinking, but don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the submitted and approved! Also, most dissertations do not follow their proposals perfectly, so don’t delay too long on submitting a plan that is bound to change.

Ater you have incorporated feedback from your mentors and readers and received their approval, complete the Approval of Dissertation Proposal Form which is available in the department office.

Waiting for Your Decision

Ideally, you’ll be able to start writing before receiving your decision from the Committee. Keep in mind that many students find this easier said than done. For that reason, be intentional about writing parts of your first chapter that are unlikely to be affected by revision suggestions from the Committee. Use this time to experiment with different writing schedules and routines to see what working rhythm best for you. That way, you can hit the ground running when you receive your decision.

Receiving Your Decision

The Doctoral Committee may act on a dissertation proposal in one of four ways:

1)      Accept without change. You are good to go! Full speed ahead.

2)     Provisionally accept, with revisions to be carried out under the supervision of the mentor. This is still good news! The Committee has a few questions that they want you to keep in mind as you work, but you can make your revisions without submitting your proposal again. Once you have made necessary revisions and gotten approval from your mentor and readers, all you need to do is email it to Sue Perciasepe in the office. No further forms or signatures are required.

3)     Send back for specified revision, with the proposal resubmitted to the Doctoral Committee. You are on the right track, but you might need to make some changes to the core of your argument or approach. Sit down with your mentor to talk through changes. You will need to resubmit your proposal using a new submission form.

4)     Reject the proposal entirely. Take a deep breath. It’ll be OK! Talk with your mentor about alternative proposal ideas. Read the Committee’s comments to determine what they think works about your proposal to determine if you can retain components or topics of your idea that are important to you while crafting a new proposal idea.