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    The Doctoral Dissertation

    Purpose, Content, Structure, Assessment

Shifts in the academy and society over the last few decades have led to a world-wide conversation on rethinking educational approaches to the PhD, with a number of recent meetings, conversations, and papers focused on the future of the dissertation in particular (Council of Graduate Schools, 2016; Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Humanities, McGill University, 2013; Modern Language Association of America, 2014; Patton, 2013; Porter & Phelps, 2014; Smith, 2015). While the themes of increased flexibility with regard to format and content are gaining some traction and/or are being encouraged and implemented institutionally (e.g. UBC Public Scholars Initiative, HASTAC Futures Initiative and City University of New York) there has not been a broad attempt to examine the pedagogical or evaluative principles relevant to a potentially changing scope, or to create parameters or

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Earlier this year, the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies formed working groups to study two critical aspects of doctoral education in light of these changes: the dissertation and the comprehensive exam. The dissertation working group has written the discussion paper found here. It is intended to form the basis of a conversation across Canadian universities, and to assist with that, it includes a consultation guide at the end of the document.

We strongly encourage you to disseminate the discussion paper widely on your campus, and to consider organizing one or more consultation meetings to address the questions posed.

These include:

  • What are acceptable forms of scholarship in dissertations?
  • Must/should the dissertation represent a unified program of research, or is it acceptable to include loosely related but separate studies?
  • How should the boundaries of acceptable scholarship be determined? Who should determine these boundaries?
  • What, other than traditional scholarly text, can be included in a dissertation?
  • What standards should be used to assess the quality and rigor of non-traditional forms of scholarship of the dissertation?
  • What are the barriers to change?

All comments sent to Sally Rutherford at phd-doctorat@cags.ca will be posted on the CAGS website and will be reflected in the final report, due in 2017.