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A mixed method study on students' experiences in the selection of a dissertation topic

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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

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.

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  • 2013

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Thesis launch: students begin the undergraduate honors thesis process

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Honors colleges have offered an academically rigorous option for growing numbers of diverse students. This study took place at a large, public university that required undergraduate students to complete a

Honors colleges have offered an academically rigorous option for growing numbers of diverse students. This study took place at a large, public university that required undergraduate students to complete a thesis to graduate from the honors college. In 2017, 97% of students who began the honors thesis prior to senior year completed it. Thus, the aim of this study was to help more students begin the honors thesis process early.

Thesis Launch was a six-week intervention that was designed to provide support for students in the critical early steps of thesis work such as brainstorming topics, examining professors’ research interests, reaching out to professors, preparing for meetings with potential thesis committee members, and writing a thesis prospectus. Thesis Launch offered web-based resources, weekly emails and text message reminders, and was supplemented by in-person advising options.

A mixed methods action research study was conducted to examine: (a) students’ perceptions of barriers that prevented beginning thesis work; (b) self-efficacy towards thesis work; (c) how to scale the intervention using technology; and (d) whether participants began the thesis early. Quantitative data was collected via pre- and post-intervention surveys, journals, and prospectus submissions. Qualitative data came from student interviews, journals, and open-ended questions on the surveys.

Quantitative data showed that after students participated in Thesis Launch, they had higher self-efficacy to work with professors, perceived fewer barriers to thesis work, and greater proportions of students began thesis work early. The qualitative data were complementary and showed that participants overcame barriers to thesis initiation, built self-efficacy, preferred an online intervention, and began thesis work early. Findings also showed that a primarily technology-based intervention was preferred by students and showed promise for scaling to a larger audience.

Thesis Launch provided a framework for students to begin work on the honors thesis and have mastery experiences to build self-efficacy. Strategies that fostered “small wins” and reflective efforts also assisted in this aim. Participants accomplished tasks tied to thesis work and customized their personal thesis timelines based on work begun during Thesis Launch. Finally, a discussion of limitations, implications for practice and research, and personal reflection was included.

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  • 2019