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ERIC Number: EJ778677
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2007-Sep-14
Pages: 1
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
ISSN: ISSN-0009-5982
The Dissertation Mystique
Gravois, John
Chronicle of Higher Education, v54 n3 pA8 Sep 2007
Because of lofty but imprecise instructions, the Ph.D. dissertation is a decidedly uneven genre. Barbara E. Lovitts, a higher-education researcher who has studied doctoral attrition rates extensively, set out to bring academe's discussion of the dissertation into the age of feedback. She conducted focus groups with professors in 10 disciplines at nine research universities, seeking out professors with decades of experience evaluating dissertations and engaged them in discussion of the standards they use to differentiate between outstanding, very good, acceptable, and unacceptable dissertations. She compiled the results of her study into a book, "Making the Implicit Explicit: Creating Performance Expectations for the Dissertation" (Stylus Publishing, 2007). In this interview, Lovitts speaks about her work. Noting that the standard-issue requirement for a successful dissertation is that it make an "original or significant contribution to knowledge," that professors in practice appear to evaluate the dissertation as a training exercise, using it as a tool to sense that the student is capable of making original and significant contributions on their own in the future. When asked about differentiation between acceptable and an outstanding dissertations, Lovitts notes that although the outstanding dissertation was described as rare, it is the level about which they most like to talk. Although quality of writing was repeatedly noted, faculty basically view the proposal as a contract: if the proposal has been approved and executed, the degree will be awarded unless there are egregious errors. High Ph.D. attrition rates are ascribed to a disconnect between the criteria by which students are admitted to doctoral programs (being good course takers) and the criteria by which they are awarded the Ph.D. (making an original contribution to knowledge.) Speaking of assessment, standards and measurement, Lovitts notes that the dissertation embodies all the training that has taken place over the course of a student's career, and that waiting to assess a dissertation and its components is beyond the point of helpfulness to an individual student. However, suggests Lovitts, at an aggregate level, if a department or a discipline were to look across a set of dissertations, departments would begin to see their own strengths and weaknesses, and then they could capitalize on those strengths and address those weaknesses.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A