Nature of the Research Process
It is never too early to begin thinking about the research process. Ideally every Ph.D. student should begin to consider research areas and article writing while undertaking coursework. Students should start thinking about the process of research even if they have not selected a specific dissertation research topic. It is a good idea to conduct at least one small research project and article writing effort prior to completing coursework. This project does not need to be in the primary area of interest as long as it allows the student to experience the process of research. The professors of the academic unit can help students select and execute such a project. If a student is a GRA, it is possible that s/he may be able to work with the supervising professor on a research idea.
Selecting a Dissertation Chair and Topic
The first substantive step in the dissertation process is to discuss topics with prospective chairs. Determine which faculty members would be willing and able to serve as chair. The student should consult with the Ph.D. coordinator to determine who among the faculty would be the most appropriate person to serve as chair. Only upon agreement with the Ph.D. coordinator should the student invite a particular faculty member to chair the committee. Direct verbal commitment should be obtained.
Although it is the responsibility of the student to identify and develop a dissertation topic, faculty input is encouraged. Quite likely, the student will receive more enthusiastic support and direction if s/he is working on research that is in the realm of interest and expertise of the chair. However, it is essential that the student also be interested in the topic.
During the topic selection process, the student must consider the following:
- What is the classification of the area of research being suggested?
- What is the general objective of the research (develop and test an algorithm, exploratory fact finding, survey research, theory or model building)?
- What research techniques might be involved (computer simulation, questionnaire, structured interviews, mathematical programming, statistical analysis)?
The student must be able to identify the specific measurable objectives and scope of the research, the independent variables (or controllable variables), the dependent variables, the methods of measurement to be used in the research and the research design methodology.
Responsible Conduct in Research
Before a student begins to collect any data, s/he must make sure that all data collection, including surveys, are in compliance with the guidelines set out by the Institutional Review Board. The board’s Human Subjects Manual is accessible online. The office is located in room G-76 of Alumni Hall. The phone number is 404-413-3513.
All Ph.D. students will be required to complete an online questionnaire and attend a 5-hour session of discussion-based education in the responsible conduct in research. Please contact the Ph.D. program office for information or read more on our website. No student may be engaged in research without having first completed these requirements.
The Dissertation Committee
Your dissertation committee must include a minimum of four committee members, which consists of a chair plus a minimum of three members. The chair must be tenured and from the home department. If the chair is not tenured, the co-chair must be tenured. One member should be external (outside of your department). First, the student will discuss with the Ph.D. coordinator names of potential faculty who would be the most appropriate chair of his/her dissertation committee. Once the Ph.D. coordinator has agreed, the student can invite the faculty member to be chair of the committee. The student will work with the chair to select a minimum of three additional committee members. Should the Ph.D. coordinator disapprove of a particular committee member(s), the chair will work with the student to find a suitable replacement(s). Faculty from institutions other than Georgia State may serve as members of the committee, but at the time of the initial formation of the committee, there must be at least three Georgia State faculty members. At least three committee members must be in good standing with respect to Georgia State graduate faculty status. Co-chair arrangements are acceptable. The faculty director must approve the dissertation committees.
Dissertation committee approval is required prior to the dissertation proposal defense. Students must have an approved Ph.D. Dissertation Policy and Approval Process form on file in the Ph.D. program office.
Preparing for the Dissertation Proposal Defense
The dissertation process varies somewhat across the different programs but the following describes the typical process. Be sure to follow the guidance of the Doctoral Coordinator in your program.
The dissertation proposal defense is simply a meeting in which the student explains and defends the proposal. It is usually scheduled within one year after completion of the preliminary exam. If the committee members are in agreement that the topic is appropriate and that the student has satisfactorily outlined acceptable methods of research, then the defense is passed and the members will sign and submit the Record of Dissertation Proposal Defense to the Ph.D. program office.
Approval of the proposal signifies that the committee believes that the proposal delineates a plan of research that will likely lead to the successful completion of a dissertation that will satisfy the Ph.D.-level research requirements of the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University. If the proposal is not approved, the student may be asked to make revisions deemed necessary by the committee. Depending upon the nature of these changes, the committee may or may not require another meeting. It is a good idea for students to attend the defenses of other students prior to scheduling their own. Attendance at such an exam may help to give the student a reasonable idea of what to expect during a defense.
Scheduling the Proposal Defense
Once each committee member has reviewed and commented on at least one proposal draft, the dissertation proposal defense may be scheduled. Announcements of defenses are usually posted two weeks in advance. The student should email the Dissertation Proposal Information form to the Ph.D. program office. The Ph.D. program office will send an email announcement to all Ph.D. students and college faculty. The student should attempt to resolve any serious issues concerning the first draft before scheduling the defense.
Working with the Committee
Each committee member should receive a copy of the final proposal at least two weeks prior to the scheduled defense (including two weekends). Any shorter lead-time would be inconsiderate and deleterious to the success of the proposal effort. This “final draft” of the proposal should be as polished and complete as possible, and should contain all references, figures and charts. The student should remind committee members of the meeting time.
Planning the Presentation
Follow the guidelines provided by your dissertation chair, but typically the student should plan to make a 20-minute presentation of the proposal during the defense. The proposal is not a recapitulation of the literature, but a focused discussion covering the following points:
- the general area of research and why it is important
- the objective of the research
- the independent variables
- the dependent variables – measures of performance (or perhaps the relationships being researched)
- the sample size/data base
- the research design
The student should not spend too much time on any one point. It is often helpful to prepare a powerpoint presentation and perhaps provide printed copies of important material. It is recommended that the student practice the presentation in front of fellow students or friends. The chair likely will want to see the outline prior to the presentation and may recommend going through a “dress rehearsal” prior to the defense. The dissertation proposal defense is open to all Georgia State faculty members, regardless of whether they are on the committee.
The Dissertation Proposal Defense
Overview and Conduct of the Proposal Defense
The dissertation proposal defense is held for the purpose of determining the suitability of the proposal and to provide constructive criticism of the research effort. Some chairs prefer a rather formal setting, while others prefer an informal setting for the meeting. Often the committee will want to meet for five minutes or so before the defense to discuss the protocol of the exam. During this time, the student might be asked to leave the room.
If the student has been diligent in coordinating with the committee, the proposal defense should be quite uneventful and a rewarding experience. The student should have spoken with every committee member at least once regarding the research, and thus should know their position regarding the proposal. Regular contact with the members and conscientious preparation should help the student to avoid any surprises on the day of the proposal.
The Proposal Presentation
The student should have previously rehearsed the presentation. The presentation should be clear and concise. The student should convey his/her interest in the subject matter and be able to satisfy any questions about the feasibility of the research and the ability to develop it into a successful dissertation. The student must not view this meeting as an adversarial process. Likewise, the student should avoid the temptation to automatically agree to change his/her approach or methodology based on extemporaneous questions from the committee. Any possible changes should be discussed with the chair. It is the responsibility of the chair to moderate the meeting and keep the discussion focused.
Assuming that all goes well and the proposal is approved, the chair will ask the committee members to sign the Record of Dissertation Proposal Defense to acknowledge that the examination has been successfully completed. It is the responsibility of the chair to secure committee signatures and transmit the forms to the Ph.D. program office. If the committee has serious reservations about the validity of the proposal, the student may be asked to restructure the proposal and sit for another examination. A unanimous decision is required to pass the proposal.
It is important that a student file an official application for graduation at least two semesters prior to the expected completion of the dissertation. It is relatively simple to postpone a graduation date, but it may prove impossible to apply late.
Writing the Dissertation
Following the Plan
Whereas the plan of research is structured in the proposal stage, the subsequent stage requires its implementation. Although the student will be following an approved proposal, s/he should anticipate recommendations for changes from the committee based upon findings from the research. The student should plan on regularly meeting with the chair to discuss the progress of the research and writing of the dissertation. With proper planning and coordination with the committee, the student should have minimal difficulty in meeting dissertation objectives. However, unforeseen circumstances can arise (e.g. inability to secure the necessary data) that prove fatal to the research. The student must be prepared to restructure the proposal. It is a good idea to have discussed any contingency plans with the chair before starting the research.
Committee members may or may not wish to see each chapter of the dissertation as it is completed. The student should assume nothing and speak to each member regarding this matter. It may be necessary to meet weekly with one member to discuss design or statistical testing, while other members will require far less interaction.
It is the responsibility of the student to be familiar with and follow the college’s guidelines on the procedural aspects of the dissertation. One of the two following guides should be used in writing a Ph.D. dissertation in the J. Mack Robinson College of Business:
- A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, Kate L. Turabian, University of Chicago Press, (most recent edition).
- Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C. (most recent edition).
Students should select an acceptable style early in the dissertation process and follow it exclusively. It is a good idea to ask if the chair prefers a specific style.
Basic Formatting Guidelines
a. Page size: 8.5 x 11 inches
b. Margins: One inch on each side
c. Justification: Text should be left aligned only.
d. Font: Use 11 or 12 font size. Use true type fonts (Times, Arial, etc.).
e. Tables/figures: Embed in the dissertation as close to the related text as possible. When this is not possible, refer to your style guide for alternatives.
Defending the Dissertation, The Final Oral Exam
Once the chair believes the dissertation is in final form, it should be circulated for approval to the committee. The committee members will then provide the student with oral and written comments. Once all comments have been addressed to the satisfaction of the committee, the final oral exam should be scheduled through the Ph.D. program office. The committee members should be given two weeks to review the final draft of the dissertation and the student should discuss any problems and secure a verbal approval of the dissertation draft from each member. This exam should be held no later than four weeks prior to the commencement date of the semester the student expects to graduate. The dissertation chair or the departmental Ph.D. coordinator will email the Final Oral Information form to the Ph.D. program office two weeks prior to the expected date in order to make the necessary arrangements. The associate director will be able to help make any special arrangements regarding the room and any necessary equipment. It is the student’s responsibility to check for chalk or a whiteboard marker and to bring extra blank transparencies and a pen. The Ph.D. program office will send an email announcement to all Ph.D. students and college faculty.
Style of the Examination
The manner in which the examination is conducted will be decided by the student and the chair. Typically, a 20- to 30-minute presentation is made. Instead of explaining all details, a student should concentrate on the following points:
- What was the objective of the research?
- What research methods were used?
- What were the major findings, and were the objectives realized?
- What conclusions were reached?
- How does this study expand or differ from earlier research?
- What are the implications for further research?
The student should start with a simple outline of the general relationship of this research to other similar research, or a diagram depicting the relationship of the major variables in the research. The student should be prepared to define the boundaries or limitations of the research.
Typically, the candidate and audience will be asked to leave the room so that the committee may deliberate at the conclusion of the presentation and questions session. Assuming that everything goes well, the committee will give their collective vote of approval to the dissertation and will sign the Final Oral Pass Sheet that has been provided to the chair by the Ph.D. program office. This sheet, along with the Acceptance Sheet, must be submitted to the associate director. A unanimous decision is required to pass the final oral examination.
The preceding description is general and each program within RCB has its own requirements. It is essential that the student follow the guidelines as communicated by his or her dissertation chair and by the Doctoral Coordinator for the program.
The Dissertation’s Final Form
The final copy of the dissertation will be submitted electronically to the university library and to UMI-Proquest following the directions provided by the Ph.D. program office. Students also should pay close attention to pagination of their dissertation. All dissertations must be in the correct PDF format. Students must embed fonts in order to have the dissertation display correctly. Information concerning this and other formatting topics can be found at the UMI-Proquest site or through the Adobe Acrobat support site. UMI-Proquest allows students to convert their Word document dissertation to PDF at the time of transmission. Graduating students will receive access to the Proquest site through the Ph.D. program office.
The dissertation will comprise preliminaries, main body and reference materials. The page order should be followed exactly as it appears below.
Permission to Borrow
As is our policy on all electronic documents, no signature will be displayed.
The title page must include the full title of the dissertation and the candidate’s full legal name.
Copyright protection is not required, although it is recommended. The copyright notice is placed in the center of a blank page. If the dissertation is not to be copyrighted, a blank page is inserted immediately following the title page.
This sheet will not contain signatures, only the names of the dean and the members of the committee.
The candidate is requested not to include dedications in the dissertation.
Preface or Acknowledgments
Neither is required. They may be combined as a single composition of not more than two pages or be written as two separate compositions. The preface should include brief comments concerning the general nature, problems, scope and objectives of the research. The acknowledgments single out help rendered by members of the dissertation committee, and acknowledge others who have assisted the candidate. The date and the author’s signature should appear at the conclusion of the preface, if included. The Preface or Acknowledgments is the first page to be numbered (page iv). Beginning with the title page, the pages are paginated in the process, although they are not numbered on the page.
Table of Contents
The format of this table must conform with the requirements of the style manual selected.
List of Tables, Figures, Illustrations, Maps, Drawings
Separate pages are used for each type of list. The list of tables is presented first, followed by the other lists, if they apply.
The abstract will be published in Dissertation Abstracts and cannot exceed 350 words. It should include a statement of the problem, procedure or methods, results and conclusions. Most current word processing programs automatically will count words. Alternately, to check the 350-word limit, use the following methods:
- Maximum 2450 typewritten characters per abstract. Count number of characters (including spaces and punctuation) in a line of average length and multiply by the number of lines.
- In an average abstract, there will be about 70 characters per line with a maximum of 35 lines.
Main Body of the Dissertation
Usually the first section of the text is an introductory chapter or chapters; it may be entitled “Introduction,” and subsequent chapter designations will be introduced at the beginning of the major report. Pages of the main body should be numbered using arabic numbers in the upper right-hand corner, except on the first page of each chapter where the number is centered at the bottom of the page. The following information should be presented in the introduction:
- The purpose of the study, including a concise statement of the problem(s).
- The importance or significance of the project and perhaps the candidate’s reasons for interest in it.
- The scope and limitations of the study.
- References to the most important previous studies and contributions concerning the subject. The student may wish to contrast his/her research with that already accomplished by others.
- A general plan of presentation for the rest of the dissertation.
- General information, including the main data sources used, the procedures and techniques involved, and other technical aspects of handling the material.
Main Body of Text
This main body is divided by chapters; each chapter begins a new page. Chapters are numbered with Roman numerals and are given distinct titles. Subtitles are acceptable and recommended.
The conclusion gives a clear and comprehensive summary of the previous chapters. The significant findings and the author’s conclusions based on those findings are presented. Suggestions and recommendations for additional research should be made.
The references are the last section of the dissertation’s general format and consist of the appendices, the bibliography and the vita.
Each appendix is identified with a capital letter, and must bear a title. Reference to the appendices is indicated by the letter rather than the page of the dissertation on which the appendix is located.
Following the appendices is the list of references.
The last page(s) of the dissertation is a biographical sketch of the author of two pages or less. Written in the third person in prose, the vita includes the writer’s full name, date and place of birth, schools and colleges attended, degrees held, major research and publications, various types of work and military experience, and a permanent address.