As part of your degree program in Student Affairs Administration and Leadership, you will complete a dissertation. The dissertation process is embedded into the curriculum. Thus, although it is primarily independent work, you will begin designing your dissertation in key courses (SAA 930 and SAA 950) and will continue to work on it while completing your coursework.

You will work closely with a dissertation chair, and, given that you will begin this work in courses, you may develop writing support groups among your peers. These steps are intended to decrease the sense of alienation during the dissertation process and the risk of not completing.

General information about the dissertation follows.

Preparation will include:

  1. First year courses that will set the stage for topic ideas.
  2. Regular meetings with your advisor.
  3. A dissertation planning course and a seminar course.
  4. An optional 1-credit "Writers' Retreat" - SAA 931.
  5. Specific courses
    1. SAA 830 Qualitative Research Methods
    2. SAA 835 Assessment & Program Evaluation
    3. SAA 845 Quantitative Research Methods
    4. SAA 930 Dissertation Planning
    5. SAA 950 Dissertation Seminar

This tab provides a general overview of the roles and responsibilities* held by the various members of the dissertation committee, including you. Individual committees are likely to vary from one another, given student and faculty preferences and needs for working together.

The Student


You, the student, bear ultimate responsibility for your dissertation - from the initial development of the question through to the submission of the final version to the Graduate Studies Office. These responsibilities include:

  • Be familiar with dissertation policies, procedures, and deadlines.
  • Submit your own original work and, where appropriate, ensure you cite the work of others. Be familiar with policies on academic dishonesty and plagiarism.
  • Maintain contact with your dissertation chair.
  • Schedule regular meetings with the chair to discuss your progress.
  • Submit work for feedback as agreed upon by your chair and you. Be responsive to the feedback received from your chair.
  • With guidance from your chair:
    • Identify and ask individuals to serve as dissertation committee members.
    • Determine whether you need a methodologist.**
    • Develop a realistic timeline for completion of the dissertation - both at the proposal and final stages.
    • Schedule meetings, including defenses, with members of the dissertation committee.
  • Obtain and maintain human subjects research certification.
  • Secure Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval at UW-La Crosse as well as any other institutions involved in your study.
  • Follow Graduate Studies policies and procedures related to the dissertation.

The Chair


The chair is generally selected on the basis of content and/or methodology expertise. The chair holds the responsibility of guiding the student to produce doctoral level, original scholarship in the proposed topic area. The chair must be a full-time member of the SAA faculty and hold full graduate faculty status. Responsibilities include:

  • Be familiar with dissertation policies, procedures, and deadlines.
  • Advise the student from the proposal stage through the final dissertation defense.
  • Help the student establish a realistic timeline for completion of the dissertation.
  • Guide the student in selection of dissertation committee members.
  • Assist the student in developing a quality proposal and ethical research plan.
  • Provide guidance on the research proposal structure, formatting, and content.
  • Guide the student in selection of methods for data collection and analysis.***
  • Provide thorough and timely feedback throughout the dissertation process.
  • Ensure student's proposal and final dissertation are adequately prepared prior to submission to the committee.
  • Assist the student in the dissertation proposal defense process.
  • Assist the student in navigating the IRB approval process.
  • Guide the student through the data collection and analysis processes.
  • Prepare the student for the dissertation defense process.

Committee Members


All committee members share responsibility in ensuring the student produces high-quality and ethical scholarship. Committees are comprised of two to four individuals in addition to the chair. Each individual must hold a doctorate or a terminal degree in their field. A committee member, who has particular expertise in the type of study the student is pursuing (quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods), may be selected to serve as a methodologist. Committee member responsibilities include:

  • In cooperation with the chair, advise the student from the proposal stage through the final dissertation defense.
  • Provide subject matter or methodology expertise as requested by the chair or student.
  • Read drafts and provide meaningful and timely feedback at each defense stage of the process.
  • If serving as the methodologist:
    • Guide the student in the selection of methods for data collection and analysis.
    • Guide the student through the data collection and analysis process.
    • Correspond with the chair and candidate as needed for clarification/resolution of methodological issues.

 

* This document is adapted from the University of Tennessee - Chattanooga's Learning and Leadership Department and Indiana State University.

** A methodologist is a committee member who has particular expertise in the type of study the student is pursuing (quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods).

*** This function may also be addressed by a methodologist on the committee.

This page provides a general overview of the timing of that work, mapped out by each semester. Check actual deadlines each semester.

Year One - Summer/Fall


  • As you begin your course work, use this time to mull over ideas for what you'd like to explore with your dissertation.
  • Use your courses to explore (and become proficient with):
    • Search mechanisms (e.g., EbscoHost, Google Scholar, etc.)
    • Reference management tools (e.g., Zotero, EndNote, etc.)
    • APA style
    • Student affairs / higher education literature

Year One - Fall/Spring


  • Meet with your advisor to begin discussing possible dissertation ideas
  • Use SAA 830 Qualitative Methods and SAA 845 Quantitative Methods to explore topics and methods

Year Two - Summer


  • Enroll in SAA 930 - Dissertation Planning
    • Establish your dissertation chair (who will then also serve as your new program advisor)
    • Complete your literature review
  • Participate in SAA 931 SAAL Writer's Retreat, if possible
  • Begin thinking about potential committee members

Year Two - Fall


  • Enroll in SAA 950 Dissertation Seminar
    • Develop your research question
    • Complete your dissertation proposal (ideally, the first 3 chapters of your dissertation)
    • Complete committee selection
  • Work closely with your chair to
    • Secure regular feedback on the proposal, as it's developing
    • Schedule your proposal defense (once you have permission from your chair)
      • Ideally completed by the end of the fall semester or the beginning of the spring semester
      • Some proposals/proposal defenses may take longer
  • Complete human subjects training certification (through IRB)
  • Begin document preparation for IRB

Year Two - Spring


  • Submit research proposal to IRB
    • mid-February for a late February decision
    • mid-March for a late March decision
    • early April for a mid- April decision
  • After securing IRB approval, begin data collection as appropriate for your study
  • Maintain close working contact with your chair

Year Three - Summer


  • Maintain close working contact with your chair
  • Continue data collection, as appropriate
  • Begin data analysis, as appropriate
  • Participate in SAAL Writer's Retreat, if you're interested

Yeah Three - Fall


  • Enroll in SAA 990 Dissertation I
    • Independent work with your dissertation chair
  • Complete analysis
  • Draft initial versions of the final dissertation (one of the following)
  • Option 1
    • Chapter 1 - Introduction and Statement of Positionality
    • Chapter 2 - Literature Review
    • Chapter 3 - Methods
    • Chapter 4 - Results/Discussion
    • Chapter 5 - Interpretation / Implications (written or oral)
  • Option 2
    • Chapter 1 - Introduction and Statement of Positionality
    • Chapter 2 - Literature Review
    • Chapter 3 - Methods
    • Chapter 4 - Results/Discussion
    • Practical Piece - Intervention plan; presentation; journal article; etc.
  • Chapters are written, with the possible exception of Chapter 5 (Option 1)
  • Practical pieces may be written or oral
  • Decisions about (a) which option to pursue and (b) whether to complete the final work in written or oral format are made by the student and chair, based on a set of questions to determine the appropriate approach.

Year Three - Spring


  • Enroll in SAA 995 Dissertation II
    • Independent work with your dissertation chair
  • Finalize entire dissertation
  • With approval from your chair
    • Submit entire dissertation to your committee (two weeks prior to defense)
    • Schedule dissertation defense for no later than April 10th
    • Complete dissertation defense with entire committee
    • Make final revisions to dissertation, based on feedback from the committee
    • Submit final decision
      • To Graduate Studies - due late April
      • To ProQuest for binding (see policies)
  • Join your SAAL Cohort and the SAA community for Commencement Weekend!

 

Proposal Defense

You will work closely with your chair to develop your dissertation proposal. Your committee chair will determine when your proposal is ready to be defended and will offer guidance on how they would like you to share the proposal with your committee. Some details include:

  • The proposal defense is a meeting of your full committee that should be scheduled for 2 hours. You will be responsible for identifying a meeting time that works for all of your committee members.
  • The defense will take place online (via WebEx or similar virtual format). Your chair will be responsible for organizing the online meeting and ensuring that all committee members have access/can use the virtual format.
  • The defense will begin with a 15-20-minute presentation by you to the committee. You will outline your dissertation proposal at this time.
  • The committee members will then ask questions, discuss concerns, and offer suggestions. In general, your chair will know in advance of the proposal defense meeting if committee members have major concerns. In that case, they will work with you prior to the meeting to ensure that you are prepared to address these concerns.
  • After discussion concludes, you will be asked to leave the virtual room so that the committee can deliberate on your proposal. The committee will decide whether to (a) approve your proposal, (b) approve your proposal with specific qualifications, or (c) not approve your proposal.
  • You will be invited back into the room and informed of the committee's decision.
  • If your proposal is approved with qualifications, you will need to address those items prior to moving forward with your research.
  • Once your proposal is approved, your committee chair will work with you to complete the Approval of Dissertation Proposal form and collect the necessary signatures.

Institutional Review Board (IRB)

Once your proposal is approved by your committee, you will need to work with your chair to submit your research proposal to the UWL Institutional Review Board (IRB). You may not collect any data prior to receiving approval from IRB. Visit the UWL IRB site for details on proposals, deadlines, and processes. It is important to note that the IRB only meets a few times each semester; so, you will want to be prepared to meet their deadlines.

Dissertation Defense

As with the proposal, your committee chair will determine when your dissertation is ready to be defended and will offer guidance in how to share it with other members of the committee. Although much of the dissertation defense mirrors the proposal defense, there are slight distinctions between them. The dissertation defense details, outlined here, should be read closely.

  • The dissertation defense is a meeting of the student's fully committee that should be scheduled for 2 hours. The student is responsible for identifying a meeting time that works for all committee members.
  • The defense will take place online (via WebEx or similar virtual format). The chair is responsible for organizing the online meeting and ensuring that all committee members have access to and can use the virtual meeting format.
  • The dissertation defense is a public meeting, meaning that anyone may attend by joining remotely. To that end, the dissertation defense must be publicly advertised - and the access link made available - for at least two weeks prior to the defense. Students will work with their committee chair, the SAA Administrative Department Assistant, and Graduate Studies to secure public notification of the defense.
  • The defense will begin with a 15-20-minute presentation by the student to the committee. This presentation should provide an overview of the dissertation, focusing specifically on the research study, results, and implications.
  • The committee members will then ask questions, pose challenges, discuss concerns, and offer suggestions. In general, the chair will know in advance of the defense meeting if committee members have major concerns. In that case, the chair will work with the student prior to the meeting to ensure they are prepared to address such concerns.
  • After discussion concludes, the student will be asked to leave the virtual room so that the committee can deliberate on the dissertation. The committee will decide whether to (a) approve the dissertation, (b) approve the dissertation with specific qualifications, or (c) not approve the dissertation.
  • The student will be invited back into the room and informed of the committee's decision.

Final Submission

Passing the defense does not indicate that the dissertation process is complete. The defense usually results in recommended revisions to final documents, potentially including reanalysis of data or significant rewriting. You should be prepared to make changes and should schedule enough time to do so before they plan to graduate (two weeks is typically not enough time). If the dissertation is approved with qualifications, you will need to address those items prior to submitting the final version to Graduate Studies.

To ensure a successful final submission of the dissertation to Graduate Studies, you will need to do the following:

  • Be familiar with the dissertation and thesis guidelines specified by the UWL Graduate Council.
  • Be familiar with the deadlines specified by Graduate Studies and ensure there is ample time to meet them.
  • Follow the "Thesis Completion Checklist" located on the Graduate Studies website.
  • Work with your committee chair to ensure the committee's recommendations are sufficiently addressed.
  • Complete the Thesis Editor Review process. This step may take several weeks and will require you to diligently monitor your email for contact from the Thesis Editor.
  • Once you have approval from the Director of Graduate Studies, proceed with the document binding steps outlined in the checklist.