A mixed method study on students' experiences in the selection of a dissertation topic
The current research examines the influence of disciplines, advisors, committees, language, culture, and previous experiences in students' search and selection of dissertation topics, as well as whether and how students react to those influences during this process. Invention has been an area of research for rhetoricians for centuries, but most modern research focuses exclusively on the pre-writing process in first composition classrooms (Young, 1976). The current research collected survey and interview data from second- and third-year Ph.D. students in natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities at a large research university in the United States. 80 second- and third-year Ph.D. students completed an online survey; 11 students and four of their advisors participated in a semi-structured interview. The results demonstrate that the majority of students spent over three months in the selection of dissertation topics, and the humanities students tended to spend longer time in this process than social sciences or humanities students. Additionally, students have much in common in their perception of the criteria they would use in the selection of dissertation topics, and those criteria are similar to what previous researchers (Isaac, Koenigsknecht, Malaney, & Karras, 1989; Kozma, 1997; Sessions, 1971) have identified. However, when it comes to the actual selection experiences, the interviews show that students do not necessarily apply those criteria rationally. Moreover, disciplines appear to have an overarching effect on students' topic selection. Natural sciences advisors appeared to have more direct involvement in students' topic choice than advisors in social sciences or humanities. The linguistic and cultural backgrounds of the eleven doctoral participants were not found influential in their selection of dissertation topics. Finally, although Ph.D. advisors generally have a good understanding of students' academic progress, their knowledge of the students' personal and professional concerns may differ, and the latter knowledge is crucial in their advising on students' dissertation topic choice. The current study suggests invention in the scholar and researcher level is significantly different from that of first-year composition classrooms. The successful invention of dissertation topics is indispensable of the influence of disciplines, programs as well as the intellectual and practical support students can receive.