The Role and Nature of the Doctoral Dissertation
The Department considers, as does the Graduate College, that an advanced degree is more than an extension of an undergraduate program. Each program of study is designed to meet the needs of a student. Since many graduates enter careers that require informal or formal teaching, the ability to organize information and communicate knowledge and skills to others is critical.
A graduate degree is not awarded simply on the basis of amassing a given number of credits, or spending a stipulated interval at the University. Similarly, memorization of facts is insufficient to the task at hand. Although comprehension of a fundamental body of knowledge in your chosen area is essential, it is more important to demonstrate ability to use knowledge for solution of problems in your discipline and to demonstrate the ability to synthesize a comprehensible and testable hypothesis or model from isolated bits of knowledge. This then serves as the basis for literature review and experimentation. Finally, prior knowledge and new facts must be drawn together and communicated in a written thesis, which is defended orally.
Obviously, the depth and breadth of knowledge expected of a Ph.D. student is greater than that expected of a M.S. student. In general, it is expected that a student will acquire and demonstrate knowledge common to all scientists, knowledge common to all scientists in your discipline, and knowledge common to all scientists in your area of concentration and area of special interest to you. You will be expected to demonstrate an ability to apply knowledge to solve problems. You will also be expected to demonstrate the ability to think, identify differences between knowledge and reality, integrate and synthesize knowledge, and formulate experimental designs to test apparent differences. You must demonstrate the ability to communicate both orally and in writing.
It seems to be accepted in higher education that the PhD degree and the dissertation go hand in hand, but just what the dissertation is seems less clear. Michael Grossman, Associate Dean of the UI Graduate College, when commenting about the dissertation, noted "We know certain things about a dissertation. Its role is to demonstrate a student's research competence by demonstrating original thinking and contributing significantly to the field. But the nature of the dissertation depends - on the department, on the nature of the project and on the doctoral committee."
The following is a summary of a study by the Council of Graduate Schools on "The role and nature of the doctoral dissertation."
Responsibility for maintaining the standards for doctoral research and dissertation is largely delegated by the Dean of the Graduate College to the doctoral committee supervising each dissertation. In practice, therefore, the role and nature of the doctoral dissertation is determined to a great extent by each doctoral committee as it interprets and applies the norms of its discipline.
An appropriate PhD dissertation project should demonstrate original thinking by the student and contribute significantly to the body of knowledge in the student's discipline, The dissertation also demonstrates a student's research competence in a specific field.
The dissertation should be a formal, written exposition of a student's doctoral research project and should display a high level of scholarship.
One may ask how originality is defined in view of the fact that the research is typically carried out in the laboratory of, and under the direction of the major/research advisor. In this regard, whereas the idea and approach for the project need not be the student's, it must be original in the sense that the project must be on a previously unexplored topic, or it must re-examine a topic in a new way. The student must demonstrate during the final oral examination that at least some of the project represents an original contribution by the student.
Students are not allowed to use work done in collaboration with others as all of the dissertation. This is because part of the dissertation should demonstrate the student's originality. Students are allowed to use work done in collaboration with others as part of the dissertation. During the final oral examination, the student should be prepared to define what part of that work represents his or her effort, and to what extent.
Several students may obtain the PhD using portions of the same research for the dissertation, with each writing a separate document from a different perspective. The extent to which this is permissible depends in large part on the final examination committee.
A dissertation with several authors can not be submitted. The doctoral dissertation should reflect the efforts of a single student.
Questions frequently arise regarding the inclusion of previously published work within the dissertation. The Graduate College understands that a student may publish some of the findings that will later be incorporated in the dissertation. If this is done, an appropriated acknowledgment of the earlier publication should be included in the dissertation. The Graduate College encourages such publication, but the dissertation may not be published in its entirety before all degree requirements have been met.
The dissertation may consist largely of reprints, but these may not merely be stapled together. For the dissertation to have a uniform look, the publications have to be rewritten for the dissertation, although this may consist largely of format changes.
Dissertations that contain prior publications should include a general introduction that describes the theme of the dissertation and explains the focus of each publication, and a general discussion that interprets the results of each publication in light of the overall theme. Each publication should contribute in some way to the overall theme of the dissertation. There is no restriction on what kind of previously published material can be used, only that an appropriate acknowledgment be included.
The University of Illinois requires that each final doctoral examination be oral and public. To fulfill the statutory responsibility of safeguarding the standards of graduate work, the dean of the Graduate College appoints doctoral committees at departmental request to administer the examination.