SSE Talks – Is the Dissertation Process Broken? – John MacLean


As I have attempted to complete PhD work, it has become apparent that there are a large number of candidates that are PhD (abd) (All But Dissertation). In examining individual cases, the reasons for many appear unfair. Even in those who have completed the process and been awarded a PhD, the answer to the title question has been a resounding “Yes!” Many candidates are beset with endless rewrites, mentor changes, subject changes, and other delays that seem to have no apparent valid reasons. Many of these result in unwarranted repeated tuition payments. The PhD programs are filled with numerous research papers and comprehensive exams that require significant research activities. By the time one gets to the dissertation, the candidate is well versed in research activity.

However, today’s world is all about teams. In fact, many research funding organizations require a team approach with detailed credentials of all team members in order to get funding. The PhD process with current dissertation requirements does not prepare the candidate for team oriented research projects. There are ethical questions about this process; 1) Is it ethical to require a process that is antiquated and ill suited to the needs of the 21st Century, and 2) Is it ethical to require such credentials for employment in Universities, especially public institutions? My informal conversations with a large number of PhD’s and PhD candidates, indicate there is a significant problem.

I presented my preliminary findings at the Eleventh Annual Conference by the Faculty early this year at Utah Valley University. However, my paper could not be published with the proceedings as the IRB process was incomplete. It now is, and I am starting to interview individuals to validate the preliminary findings.

To date, it appears that many individuals with excellent talents are being eliminated from the research activity pool for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability. This kind of discrimination is reminiscent of the treatment many of the SSE members have received from mainstream science. It is important for SSE to do what we can to reverse the trend.

Recorded at the 29th annual SSE Conference in 2010 in Boulder, Colorado, USA.

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Published on May 5, 2011