Friday, May 09, 2008

Multiple Paper Dissertations

On the books we've had a policy in place for some time for students to forgo a traditional dissertation and instead do several academic papers. What we have not had in place is a structure for how they go about doing that. I'm kind of excited that we're putting one together (Nick Eastmond has taken the lead). I think this holds some decent potential for students but there are also several dangers. By necessity a proposal that involves the methods of say two research papers is going to give far less detail than we get with a dissertation, but that said how many of us have written journal articles with that much detail?

I think this ups the ante on the proposal stage. Because there will be less detail the committee and student had better be on the same page going into the research and then the final defense. As a current state there is a draft document in place for the summer and we'll hopefully come to agreement as a faculty during our retreat this Fall.


robmba said...

What are the main points of the draft version?

Andrew Walker said...

Keep in mind this is a draft document but the main points were process related. The stuff "on the table so far" includes:

-3 papers
-2 of them have to be empirical (e.g. involve data collection and research).
-1 has to be submitted prior to your final oral dissertation defense (to a peer reviewed journal--turns out you need one of these for the regular option too).
- you have to be first author on all three

For the proposal:
- Chapter 1 consists of what amounts to a research agenda, providing a context for all three papers in the larger whole of existing work
- Each paper then gets it's own chapter, for work that is research oriented you provide the intro, lit review, purpose, research questions, methods and analysis sections during the proposal stage, but in article-ready form.
- You can include finished (even published) papers, but you take the risk that if committee members don't like it you may fail the proposal stage.
- Publication (or rejection) plays no role in the decision process for the dissertation.

robmba said...

What type of non-empirical paper would be acceptable? I was thinking all 3 would have to be empirical.

Has anyone tried submitting a paper for part of their dissertation on which they weren't the first author? I suppose that may be necessary to spell out for some people, but it almost seems too obvious.

Is the rest of the PhD handbook going to be updated, or just this little section. It's in dire need.

Andrew Walker said...

The non-empirical part is not as much of a given as you might think, there's some pushback on that from other faculty in fact.

I would say that 2/3 is reasonable in terms of the empirical requirement. You get your lit review as a stand alone article (which is reasonable given that there's a whole tier 1 journal devoted to lit reviews), then say a pilot and a full study.

The first author point is a great one, it should be a given--but we'll probably leave it in.

I think this will be a separate document. No plans that I know of to revise the PhD handbook.