This is the first in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.
We are grateful for this post from Farina King, Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern State University.
Dissertation research often caters to, or is influenced by the graduate program that the student is pursuing. I have studied under two different graduate history programs, and both approached their dissertation requirements differently. Some graduate programs require that students submit a dissertation prospectus or proposal upon the completion of their comprehensive exams, whereas other programs allow students to prepare and submit their dissertation prospecti within a couple months to a year after they complete their comprehensive exams. As in any graduate program, dissertation research should begin with writing a strong prospectus.
In both graduate programs that I studied under, they both ensured that the selected dissertation committee reviewed and approved the prospectus once the comprehensive exams were accepted. Programs may uphold different requirements of the prospectus, but common components include: abstract, thesis, description, literature review, organization, schedule, contributions, and budget. Before and while I prepared my dissertation prospectus for Arizona State University, where I entered doctoral candidacy, I also sought doctoral research funding. Organizations and programs that offer grant, scholarship, and fellowship opportunities often base their applications on the prospectus format.
Whether it is for your academic program, university, or some other doctoral funding entity, you must demonstrate that you have a feasible plan of research; you are qualified to develop and complete this research; and your research and work is relevant (to that specific audience/group). I am sharing my experiences with you, which may be unique or similar to what you are facing. For me, I had to define my methodologies, and plan and organize my approach and research framework. I had already gained an understanding of not only the historiography and many existing works, related to my area of interest, but I also paid attention to and studied the approaches and funding that supported other scholars. I read “Acknowledgements” closely in dissertations, books, and publications, for example, to learn and recognize how scholars completed their works and who supported them.
As scholars, we never complete a project alone, although we are given credit with one author under the title of our works. We rely on teams and support in various ways and capacities to expand and finish our projects such as dissertations. Working on doctoral research also demands self-discipline, organization, preparedness, and energy and effort. I was excited to identify and explore archives, and I was especially passionate to launch an oral history project specifically for my dissertation. As a part of the planning, there are many stages and levels to consider that range from daily commitments of time to long-range goals. By the time that I was preparing my prospectus and identified and pursued funding opportunities, I knew that I was beginning to shape a book. In my mind, I was working on the first drafts of a book, rather than a dissertation. I had to balance the short-term, everyday components of doctoral research with the larger aspirations that extended beyond my doctoral program and degree.
Cultivate and surround yourself with the team and support, including family, friends, colleagues, funding organizations, and institutions to name a few, that will sustain and uplift you through the sometime murky and frustrating process of doctoral research and writing that will grow from it. I was fortunate to have had the constant companionship of my husband and children, who had faith in me and my project whether they fully understood it or not; and they showed me that closed doors also pointed to opened ones. I also had an incredible dissertation adviser and mentors in my doctoral committee at Arizona State University, who painstakingly read through my prospectus drafts, met with me in person and via telecommunications, and had faith in me and my work. Because my work relied on Navajo communities and the Navajo Nation, I had to follow the guidelines and requirements of the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board, which taught me how to best serve my people as a Dine? scholar. I had to develop numerous kinds of dissertation proposals, budgets, and schedules, but they all emphasized why I was doing that work; why it mattered; who I was serving through it; and what it could become beyond the dissertation as something more than a check box to attain a doctoral degree. Daunting as some of this may sound, my doctoral research led me to many amazing experiences that I treasure, since they not only shaped me as a scholar but as a person.