Recipe for a Dissertation

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    What are the necessary ingredients for a successful dissertation? It takes much planning and determination, along with a healthy sprinkle of enthusiasm.

    Now that I have passed the doctoral candidacy exam, it is time for me to start the dissertation process. The candidacy milestone formally marks the start of the research phase of my PhD journey. Designing a dissertation from scratch to finish is an immense undertaking and an enormous opportunity for personal and professional growth. Similar to scaling a majestic mountain peak and finally reaching the summit, it will take careful planning, organization, hard work, determination, endurance, and perseverance. The courses I have taken in the PhD program have given me the appropriate background in my research area and the preparation necessary to conduct my proposed investigation. I am in the process of narrowing and defining my research topic and making sure it is practical and “do-able.” The topic needs to be something I am passionate about, captivating enough to carry me over the long haul. The topic should also make a significant and unique contribution to nursing. In addition to the research topic, I am developing three or four clear, concise research questions that I would like answered about my topic.

    So what is a dissertation? A doctoral dissertation is defined as a formal document that demonstrates the candidate’s ability to “conduct research that makes an original contribution to theory or practice” (Roberts, 2010, p. 18). A dissertation is a significant scholarly work that requires proficiency in at least one rigorous research method, is based on one or more theoretical frameworks, and includes an extensive review of relevant literature. Typically this involves crafting a research design for independent study, choosing suitable instrument(s), gathering data, analyzing these data, interpreting the findings, discussing their significance and implications, and indicating important areas for further research. Final dissertation manuscripts are usually 200 to 300 pages long and can take two years or longer to complete.

    Before starting my research and dissertation, I need to choose a dissertation advisory committee chair. The chairperson and I will then work on my dissertation proposal development and the selection of at least three members who will make up my dissertation committee. Committee members are required to be graduate faculty at my university. I need to thoughtfully choose each committee member, keeping in mind his or her expertise and potential for personal support throughout the long, arduous process of completing a dissertation.

    The proposal is an overview of my study, usually a draft of the first three chapters of the dissertation. A well-drafted dissertation proposal should include background information about the research topic, a clear statement of the problem, research questions, a review of pertinent literature, and a description of the methods and techniques that will be used to investigate the problem. The completed proposal will be presented to my dissertation committee for suggestions for refinement and ultimate approval.

    The typical dissertation consists of five sections or chapters:
    • Chapter 1: Introduction: Background and significance of the problem, problem statement, research question, theoretical or conceptual framework, operational definitions, and summary
    • Chapter 2: Review and synthesis of the literature
    • Chapter 3: Methodology: Design, instruments, procedure, data analysis, and protection of human subjects.
    • Chapter 4: Results: A summary of the findings
    • Chapter 5: Discussion, conclusions, and implications
    This, then, is my next few years in a nutshell. Now that I have a rough plan of what I want to do, it’s time to get started!

    Reference

    Roberts, C. M. (2010). The dissertation journey: A practical and comprehensive guide to planning, writing, and defending your dissertation (2nd ed.). Thousands Oak, CA: Corwin.
    Last edit by VickyRN on May 29, '11
    lefrench123, tyvin, RNCMSN, and 6 others like this.

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    About VickyRN

    VickyRN is a certified nurse educator (NLN) and certified gerontology nurse (ANCC). Her research interests include: the special health and social needs of the vulnerable older adult population; registered nurse staffing and resident outcomes in intermediate care nursing facilities; and, innovations in avoiding institutionalization of frail elderly clients by providing long-term care services and supports in the community. She is faculty in a large baccalaureate nursing program in North Carolina.

    VickyRN has '16' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Gerontological, cardiac, med-surg, peds'. From 'Under the shadow of His wings...'; Joined Mar '01; Posts: 12,044; Likes: 6,439.

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    9 Comments so far...

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    Hi - I am very interested in your post about the PhD process. I just recently completed a Master's and had a streak of PhD fever for awhile, encouraged by a high GPA final, but would have no idea what I'd be getting myself into if not for your post. I had no idea what I was getting myself into for the MA program, thus would prepare myself better if I do go on to advanced studies. I have been very struck by the research process (love it!) as I feel I gained a lot more in the MA program than what my undergrad prepared me for. I am taking a permanent position as a Nurse Educator this fall & I will see if the university I'll be at would support me in further studies, but otherwise, I just hope to be able to apply research skills in joint projects of some sort and continue to fan the flame, so to speak. I will look into the reference you mentioned. Good luck with your venture and keep us posted.
    Jilly
    VickyRN likes this.
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    Good luck, and keep me updated. I just finished the BSN (after being an ADN for eight years) and dread my post graduate work. This will make me count my blessings. Sounds to me like you will do fantastic, what's your chosen topic?
    VickyRN likes this.
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    In the middle of my MSN practicuum. That is plenty of work with job, family, school, and taking care of myself to survive it all....every once and awhile I will get PhD urges, but just like baby urges a visit to my syllabus and practicum timeline takes care of that for now.

    Good luck. Keep us all posted!
    VickyRN likes this.
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    Quote from gypsyd8
    Good luck, and keep me updated. I just finished the BSN (after being an ADN for eight years) and dread my post graduate work. This will make me count my blessings. Sounds to me like you will do fantastic, what's your chosen topic?
    Thanks for asking. My passion is gerontology. I would like to investigate caregiving within certain ethnic groups in my area and am currently narrowing and defining my research topic.
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    I just LOVED that old sweet spirit that was Mattie Stepanek!!! Such wisdom at a young age!!
    As for you Ms. VickyRN, what can I say....I will be eating up everything that you can share on here with the hope that one day...sooner rather than later, I will have the courage to take that one step into the realm of PhD-ism!! Congratulations and thank you for sharing-
    VickyRN likes this.
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    Ms. Vicky,
    Kudos to you. I gather that in short you are saying that it is not too late for me? I am 56, today and not a day goes by that I do not think of returning to school. There are several reasons that can be listed here but bottom line they are excuses for not doing it. Wait, I think I just answered my own question.

    You're an inspiration.

    Amy
    VickyRN and tyvin like this.
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    Hello RNCMSN,
    I am also closing in on a doctoral degree (EdD), choosing this path instead of the PhD since I have a deep interest in education. I would encourage you to look at a variety of programs and choose the doctoral path that most closely meets your needs. While I love my program and am thrilled with everything I am learning (yes, even stats), I would encourage anyone considering pursuit of a doctorate to evaluate the time requirements you currently have. These programs are intense and demand a lot of your time. I am able to complete mine as my child has grown and moved out of the home so my time is my own. Several of my colleagues have small children and this journey has been very difficult for them. Many of them speak frequently of feelings of guilt at the time committment to the program instead of the family. Is it worth it? Absolutely! But you must be able to resign yourself to missing out on some time with family and friends.
    VickyRN likes this.
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    Thank you for posting. I actually did this format when I did my thesis in my Masters Degree. Yes, I did come from a country where all Masters in Nursing have to defend a study (at least in our time). When I Immigrated here in the US to my surprise, only Doctoral students have to do the work that I did on my post graduate work.

    Good Luck and wish you the best!
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    Quote from ksrn4321
    Hello RNCMSN,
    I am also closing in on a doctoral degree (EdD), choosing this path instead of the PhD since I have a deep interest in education. I would encourage you to look at a variety of programs and choose the doctoral path that most closely meets your needs.
    I went through a long phase where I compared programs, and did my pros and cons. Since I am interested in leadership, I finally found a program that is a DNP in nurse executive leadership. That was my answer. I can't wait to start my doctoral journey.


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