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Doctoral Candidacy & The Dissertation

Topical Overview

  1. Selection of Dissertation Topic
  2. Selection of Dissertation Chairperson
  3. Dissertation Committee
  4. Responsibilities of the Doctoral Student
  5. Qualifying Examination
  6. Dissertation Proposal
  7. Dissertation Proposal Timeline 
  8. Dissertation Defense (defense of the completed dissertation)
  9. Dissertation Defense Timeline
  10. Application for Graduation
  11. Completion Checklist

A. Selection of Dissertation Topic

A dissertation must be on a topic within the field of higher education and must indicate that the writer possesses the ability and creativity to perform independent, constructive thinking and research. When completed, the dissertation will be judged largely in terms of the ability of the writer to review the literature and state a researchable thesis or theoretical position; to formulate a problem; to plan a method of research or development; to develop a solution or materials; and summarize, draw and explicate conclusions. The quality of the writing and presentation of the results will also be important factors in the evaluation. The accepted style manual for the College of Education is the current APA manual and the ECU's Manual of Basic Requirements for Theses and Dissertations available from the Graduate School Website.

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B. Selection of Dissertation Chairperson

The chairperson should be selected by the student when the student has focused on an area of research and can identify faculty with expertise in that area. The chairperson selected should be a faculty member in the higher education leadership program who has interests and/ or expertise in the dissertation topic of the student. Until that time, all faculty support the student's progress toward the dissertation through course work and individual conferences. The chairperson should be selected by the time a student completes LEED 8440 – Applied Research in Educational Leadership (the dissertation proposal course).

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C. Dissertation Committee

The dissertation committee will be composed of a minimum of four qualified faculty with signatory authority and with the following additional conditions met:

  • At least two of the members must be from the LEED department.
  • The committee chair must be from the candidate's home (either K-12 or HE) program area.
  • The methodologist and remaining members will be selected in consultation with the committee chair based on demonstrated expertise and relevance to the dissertation topic.
  • All signatory members will have approved Graduate Faculty status per COE and Graduate School qualifications, with only one signatory member allowed to have Graduate Teaching Faculty status.
  • Members external to the LEED department are encouraged and believed to enhance the rigor of – and add perspectives to – students' research. Such faculty (including fixed-term or part-time faculty) with demonstrated relevant expertise may serve on, but not chair a dissertation, under the foregoing conditions. With approval of the dissertation committee, membership may be approved with a letter of request from the Graduate Program Director to the Dean of the Graduate School outlining relevant credentials.
  • In the case of a 5-member committee, the majority of members must be from LEED under the foregoing conditions.
  • Ad hoc readers, external to the College and/or University, may serve without Graduate Faculty status given relevant expertise and/or experience in the dissertation topic.

Do consult with your chair to ensure that all committee members are qualified. The Dissertation Committee Form should be signed by each committee member. One copy will be given to the committee chairperson and another given to the LEED Office for placement in the student's file; a copy of the form is forwarded to the Graduate School for notification purposes. When input is needed in the dissertation process, the chairperson will decide whether to call a committee meeting, discuss with committee members, or direct the student to meet with committee members individually. When providing any member of the dissertation committee with written material, a student should always allow a two-week period (minimum) for review and feedback. Defense drafts of the dissertation proposal and the completed dissertation should be provided to the committee at least two weeks before the scheduled date of the defense.

Responsibilities of the Chairperson

  • Establish procedures for working together
  • Develop a tentative timeline with the student
  • Work with student to focus on the area of interest, explore related theory and research, and develop a preliminary literature review
  • Work with student and methodologist to articulate the problem statement and the significance of the proposed study
  • Discuss dissertation committee service practices with committee members outside of the College of Education
  • Monitor progress
  • Assist student with completion of IRB Training Modules
  • Determine when the student is ready for proposal and dissertation defenses, and work together to set dates
  • Ensure the publication of the final defense date

Responsibilities of Committee Members

  • Review dissertation proposals and final products carefully and in their entirety
  • Provide feedback and raise concerns
  • Prepare substantive questions for both the proposal and dissertation defenses
  • Share editorial concerns by noting them on the defense draft
  • At any time, share significant concerns with the chair

Responsibilities of the Methodologist

  • Serves as a resource to the student and the chairperson by helping the student conceptualize the methodology, describe it accurately in the proposal and dissertation, carry out the study and report and analyze the results. A methodologist is not necessary to form a committee, but in most cases strongly recommended.

Change of Committee Chairperson or Committee member

If there is a need to make a change to the committee membership, the student must contact the program coordinator or chairperson of the LEED Department to discuss and implement changes.

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D. Responsibilities of the Doctoral Student 

The EdD program culminates in a dissertation and a public defense as well as ultimate publication of the dissertation. By definition, a dissertation is an extensive independent research project conducted by the student with support from a faculty committee. The objective is for the student to independently identify a research topic, conduct a literature review, develop an appropriate methodology, collect data and effectively analyze and discuss the findings.

Because the dissertation is intended to allow the student to conduct independent research with the support of a faculty committee, the student should view all committee members as sources for guidance, direction and feedback. However, the student should not expect the methodologist, or any other committee member, to be prescriptive. Rather than relying on committee members to "tell" the student how to conceptualize the study, implement the study and describe the results, the student is expected to be a self-directed learner and take the initiative in identifying appropriate strategies, seeking feedback, engaging in thoughtful discussion, and seeking approval of the dissertation.

Toward that end, the following reminders will guide the student during the dissertation stage of the EdD program:

  • Consult with the chair of the dissertation committee on a regular basis
  • Contact other members of the dissertation committee, or schedule committee meetings only with the approval of the chair
  • When uncertainty arise in the research process bring possible solutions as well as the questions to the attention of your chair
  • Although you will provide numerous drafts of your dissertation chapters to your chair and committee members, be sure each draft is your best work to date
  • Allow members of the committee at least two weeks time to review drafts and provide feedback
  • Provide members of the committee with copies of your defense draft at least two weeks prior to the scheduled proposal and dissertation defense dates
  • No changes should be made to the defense draft from the time it goes to the committee until after the defense date
  • Setting target dates for completing the dissertation is helpful, but the actual completion date will be determined by the quality of the student's work, not the target dates
  • While the committee will provide feedback and comments regarding the conceptual issues, organization, methodology, etc., the student is responsible for all editing. The final document must comply with effective writing standards, current APA manual, and the Graduate School's guidelines for the dissertation.
  • Be patient and flexible. The development of a dissertation is not a linear process and often involves numerous revisions to the various chapters.
  • Celebrate! It is important to recognize the achievement of both a successful proposal defense and a final dissertation defense.(It is also important to celebrate the achievement of other targets along the way!)

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E. Qualifying Examination

Upon completion of coursework, students will be required to successfully complete a qualifying examination. The examination measures student content knowledge, research aptitude, and readiness for dissertation study. Students will be given the opportunity to retake any section of the examination within one year, should the student not meet the first examination with success. Failure to successfully complete upon a second opportunity will result student termination from the program.

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F. Dissertation Proposal

It is important for the doctoral candidate to be familiar with the theory and research in the area of interest in order to identify researchable problems and opportunities to contribute to the field. Throughout the program, course assignments provide opportunities to explore areas of interest. Early in the program, it is helpful for candidates to develop a system for collecting and organizing resources related to possible areas of interest for the dissertation research. Ideally, during the research courses, candidates will become more focused in an area of interest. In most cases, the proposal is expected to be a draft of the first three chapters of a traditional five-chapter dissertation. Successful completion of the qualifying examination and dissertation proposal defense advances a student to doctoral candidacy.

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G. Dissertation Proposal Timeline

One month prior to proposal

  • Institutional Review Board (IRB) Certification
    The ECU University and Medical Center Institutional Review Board is charged with protecting the rights and welfare of human subjects. Certification is required before submission of your research project for IRB approval. Information on IRB may be found on their website which links to Policies and Procedures, Forms, and Documents.
  • With approval from the committee chairperson the student schedules a proposal defense date with the committee, reserves a room and any required technological equipment through the LEED Office. Student must also fill out the Dissertation Approval Form and submit to the program coordinator.

2 Weeks Prior

  • Student submits dissertation proposal to all committee members. Electronic or paper copies of the proposal are sent to committee members and the LEED office at least two weeks before the proposal hearing. The student should develop a proposal presentation and send a draft to chair for input.

Day of Proposal Hearing

  • ALL members of the Committee must be present at the dissertation proposal meeting and sign the form reporting the decision of the committee. If the student is successful in the defense of the dissertation proposal, the student may move forward with their research.
  • The approved dissertation proposal becomes the basis for the student's dissertation and may be revised only with approval of the dissertation committee and the student.
  • If the student is unsuccessful in the dissertation proposal a second defense is scheduled. Failure of the second dissertation proposal defense is final and the student is immediately terminated from the program.

Immediately after acceptance of proposal

  • After successful completion of the dissertation proposal, the student in conjunction with the committee chairperson must complete the IRB processing via the e-Pirate website. This processing via e-Pirate ensures that all required elements of IRB approval and appropriate signatures arecomplete and accurate.

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H. Dissertation Defense (defense of the completed dissertation)

The dissertation is defended in a public meeting. In the defense, the committee is concerned with the success with which the candidate executed the approved study and the ability of the student to explain and interpret the results of the study. The student must be registered at East Carolina University during the semester in which the dissertation defense is completed. If registration is for the defense of dissertation only, the student must register for an appropriate course (see the appropriate program coordinator). The dissertation defense must be scheduled within an academic term. In order for a student to graduate in a given semester, the dissertation must be submitted at least 10 days (Saturday and Sunday excluded) prior to the last day of classes of the student's final semester, and it must be submitted to the Graduate School by the deadline stated in the Graduate Catalog.

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I. Dissertation Defense Timeline 

At Least One month prior to defense

  • With the chairperson, schedule the defense date and reserve a conference room through the LEED department.To be approved for graduation and receipt of the EdD degree, the student must successfully complete and defend the dissertation. By defense date, the dissertation contents should be complete and carefully edited.The manuscript should meet the requirements of the ECU Manual for Theses and Dissertations and the latest APA Manual.

At Least 2 weeks prior to defense

  • The candidate is to provide copies of the dissertation to committee members and the LEED office at least two weeks before the defense date, prepare a defense presentation and send draft to Chair for input.
  • With information provided by student and dissertation chair, the LEED department administrative staff will prepare and disseminate an official notice of defense to the academic community.

Day of defense

  • ALL members of the committee or replacements approved by the LEED Department must be present at the dissertation defense and must sign the form reporting the results of the review. If you intend to produce a bound, paper copy of your dissertation, bring sufficient number of copies of the signature page on 100%, 20 lb white rag paper to the defense for committee signatures. Otherwise follow directions for electronic submission of theses and dissertations. Should the student's performance on the dissertation defense be unsatisfactory, the committee may request a second defense after one full semester has elapsed. Failure on the second defense is final.

Day after defense

  • The student is also responsible to obtain the Doctoral Progress Tracking Form from the LEED department office. After obtaining the appropriate signatures, the doctoral student returns the Doctoral Tracking Form to the LEED Office.
  • Student is to submit an electronic final copy of the dissertation defense to graduate school. Students should follow procedures for electronic submissions of theses and dissertations.

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J. Application for Graduation 

Students must be registered in the semester they plan to graduate. Once the student and the committee chairperson have determined that all the degree requirements for the doctorate will be completed during a specific semester, the student should file an Application for Graduation in the Registrar's Office. The specific deadline for submitting the Application for Graduation is established each year by the Registrar's Office, but it is usually no later than the beginning of the semester that the degree requirements will be completed. The student must apply for graduation by the deadline posted on the ECU Academic Calendar. Having applied, if the student does not graduate, the application rolls over to the next semester.

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K. Completion Checklist

After the doctoral candidate has successfully defended the dissertation, the following steps should be completed:

  • Complete changes requested by committee and work with Chairperson to gain final committee approval for the dissertation
  • Make an appointment with the Dean of the Graduate School for a review of your dissertation.See the Graduate Catalog for the last day for submitting dissertations to the Graduate School for graduation during a given semester.(These deadlines are in April, July, and November.)
  • Complete changes requested by the Dean of the Graduate School and receive the Dissertation Acknowledgement Form (see Appendix)
  • Complete and submit the IRB Closure Form (see Appendix) if your study is not "exempt"
  • Complete and submit the Dissertation Survey Form. The form is available from the LEED Office.
  • Complete and submit the Publishing Your Dissertation Form (available from the LEED Office)
  • Paper copies are NO LONGER REQUIRED for the Graduate School.Complete instructions and guidelines for preparation and submission of electronic theses and dissertations may be found in The Manual of Basic Requirements for Theses and Dissertations and The Guide to Electronic Submission.
  • Provide a digital copy of the dissertation to the LEED Department.
  • Completing the doctoral program deserves celebration, and both the College of Education and East Carolina University recognize doctoral graduates individually by making the hooding an important part of graduation ceremonies. Students are strongly encouraged to attend both the College of Education Graduate Recognition Ceremony and the University Graduation Ceremony. Spring graduates march in May, and summer and fall graduates march in December. Consult the university's commencement site for details.