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Research and Thesis

Attributes of Ph.D. Thesis Research

Research for the Ph.D. should aim to be original, valid, and important. The terms are variously interpreted, so the following statements are presented for clarity.

  1. Original Research

    This is the outcome of scholarly inquiry, investigation, or experimentation having as its objective the revision of existing concepts, development of new concepts, or development of new or improved techniques in some specialty area. Such research should be acceptable for publication in a refereed scientific journal. Therefore, original research makes a contribution to scientific knowledge.

  2. Valid Research

    Valid research is that which has proper experimental designs, utilizes appropriate techniques, and is adequately described.

  3. Important Research

    Important research contributes to a significant advance of scientific knowledge. Such research is designed to illuminate areas of controversy or areas that seem significant and lack information based on a thorough literature review and interpretation.

    Ph.D. students may have to be satisfied with research of less importance than they would like. The short time span of their programs may limit the impact of their results. However, Ph.D. theses of the highest quality should result when students, thesis advisors, and advisory committees collaborate in choosing suitable problems, reliable techniques, and appropriate experimental designs and when students apply high levels of originality, creativity, and resourcefulness to their research.

Thesis Problem

The thesis advisor and the student should begin to identify an appropriate problem early in the student's first semester of residence.

Thesis Research and Coursework Proposal - Presentation and Approval

  1. Thesis research

    Thesis research should be conducted concurrently with coursework. Subsequent to the candidacy exam, a literature review will be initiated and a written research outline (including hypothesis, objectives, and procedures) will be prepared for presentation and approval of an advisory committee meeting. This should be initiated as soon as possible in the degree program and completed before the student initiates the thesis research. A copy of the proposal should be delivered to each member of the committee at least one week before the scheduled meeting.

    The advisory committee will suggest changes to be considered by the student and the thesis advisor. If a new draft of the research proposal is required, it will be completed within one month of the original meeting. Subsequent revisions of the proposal may be made, by consulting committee members individually. Copies of each revision should be distributed to committee members for their concurrence.

  2. Subject Matter Strengths / Weaknesses

    A discussion of the student’s strengths and weaknesses in subject matter areas relevant to the proposed research and candidate’s professional goals should also comprise part of this meeting.

  3. Coursework Plan

    In preparation for this subject matter evaluation, the student in consultation with the thesis advisor will assemble a preliminary plan of coursework. A copy of the coursework plan will be supplied to each committee member before the meeting date. Committee members from other departments will be informed of the departmental Ph.D. requirements. (Students and their advisors may wish to use form “L. Summary of Graduate Coursework for Ph.D. Degree” in preparing the plan, as the form will be required at the end of the program).

    Committee members can ask specific questions to determine the student’s preparation for the proposed thesis research and graduate study program. The committee members will make recommendations to be addressed by the student and the thesis advisor. No evaluation of performance in terms of pass or fail will be made. However, the student, thesis advisor, and the advisory committee must agree upon the disposition of all recommendations.

Written Progress Report for Annual Meetings

Annual meetings of the advisory committee will be scheduled to review the progress of the thesis research. A written progress report will be prepared by the student with the guidance of the thesis advisor for submission to the committee at the meetings.

Thesis Format

The finished research will be assembled in approved thesis form (refer to http://gradschool.psu.edu/index.cfm/current-students/thesis-and-dissertation-information/).