If you are in a doctoral program at Ashford University, you will begin working on a doctoral dissertation after completing the core and specialization courses. The dissertation requirement applies to the Doctor of Philosophy in Education, Doctor of Philosophy in Human Services, and Doctor of Philosophy in Organizational Development and Leadership programs. The Doctor of Psychology program has the option to complete either the doctoral dissertation or an Applied Doctoral Project (ADP).
Purpose of a Dissertation
The purpose of the dissertation is to demonstrate your ability to pursue a systematic investigation of significant issues in your field of study. The dissertation also contributes to your knowledge, skills, and research expertise. You will choose a topic that addresses carefully chosen research questions that you will investigate with quantitative or qualitative research, with a meta-analysis, or with a program design or program evaluation. You will find information about prerequisites, timelines for completion, attendance requirements, and a detailed explanation of each step of the dissertation process in the Dissertation Handbook.
Doctoral Capstone & Dissertation FAQ
Immediately following the completion of your core and specialization courses, you will take a Doctoral Capstone Seminar, as well as Dissertation Planning I and Dissertation Planning II.
In this course, you will develop the advanced skills and competencies needed to draft and refine your Letter of Intent and begin working on your dissertation in Dissertation Planning II. Under the supervision of the instructor, you will identify a problem supported by a gap in literature, frame a feasible research purpose, and determine the scope for your dissertation research. Individually, you will conduct pertinent scholarly research that addresses the literature gap, frame a researchable problem in your field, and align the research purpose with that problem. You will also consider ethical issues of conducting research with human subjects, complete initial drafts of your problem and purpose statements, and formulate possible research questions to be refined in Dissertation Planning II.
In this course, you will continue refining your Letter of Intent begun in Dissertation Panning I. Under the supervision of the instructor, you will complete drafts of the entire Letter of Intent (LOI), which includes the refined problem and purpose statements, possible research questions, the importance of the study, and proposed methodology you are considering to address your research problem. The LOI will also include a brief discussion of how the results will address a knowledge gap and make an original contribution to the literature and professional practice. You will solicit faculty to serve as chair and committee members, using the draft of your LOI. You will work individually to create an annotated outline of Chapters 1 and 2 of your dissertation proposal. You will exchange discussions about your research concepts and proposed approaches to your research methodology with other students proposing similar methods (qualitative, quantitative, mixed, etc.). You will create an outline for Chapter 3. You will also create a tentative dissertation completion plan for review by your instructor.
This seminar provides you the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned in your curriculum to highly realistic case studies related to your field of specialization for the doctorate. Through an asynchronous discussion among students and the instructor, you will review, analyze, and evaluate case studies emphasizing the practice of the content in your curriculum. The course will involve the analysis and evaluation of at least three case studies. You will contemplate complex questions posed by your instructor, reply to those questions, respond to other students' analyses and evaluations, and receive faculty feedback. You will submit a final assignment on each case, involving critical thinking on the core issues presented in the case and the presentation and defense of an approach to addressing those core issues.
The Doctoral Capstone Seminar, Dissertation Planning I, and Dissertation Planning II are each designed to build on the work of the previous course. As a result, you are not able to take any combination of these courses simultaneously. These courses must be completed prior to enrolling in your first dissertation term.
Available Resources FAQ
SMARTLab is a statistics primer that is a compilation of interactive web-based course materials in basic statistics and is designed to prepare you for success in research courses and dissertation. SMARTLab is self-paced. SMARTLab consists of nine (9) lessons covering basic concepts and skills in statistics: Samples and Populations, Variables and Scales of Measurement, Charts and Graphs in Statistics, Measures of Central Tendency, Measures of Variability, Probability, Normal Distributions and Scores, Hypothesis Testing, and Correlation and Regression.
SAGE Research Methods is an innovative online tool that connects students to over 120,000 pages of SAGE research methods books, journals, and reference material with advanced search features. The tool was created to help students and researchers across the social and behavioral sciences to design research projects, understand methods or identify new methods, conduct research, and write up their findings.
Ashford University has a wide array of resources available to you throughout your doctoral journey. Resources include the Writing Center (for formatting and APA resources), SMARTLab, and Sage Research Methods online database.
Online students are not required to complete their final oral defense in person. A variety of virtual options are available (Class Live Pro, Skype, FreeConference.com, Zoom, etc.), including obtaining a telephone bridgeline number from the Dissertation and Thesis Administrator following submission of the Request for Oral Defense form.
You may request committee members from outside of the University (see the section on Committee Members from Outside the University in the Dissertation Handbook and the Approval for Non-Faculty Dissertation Committee Participation form).
If you’re having problems with research design and statistics and the Chair cannot assist, the Chair can request the assistance and review of a Research Methodologist. If the results of the review require additional support from a third-party research consultant, you will need to contract and pay for that resource independently.
Select a topic that you are interested in exploring and are willing to commit an extensive amount of time and research to follow the study through to fruition. You are strongly encouraged to discuss your topic ideas with your instructors and potential Dissertation Committee Chair to aid in this process of narrowing down your interest areas. The dissertation does not require an original research topic (although originality is often preferable) and may include a meta-analysis, qualitative or quantitative research (or a combination of both), or a program evaluation. The nature of the topic investigated will determine the length and amount of work necessary. Refer to the most recent iteration of the Ashford University Dissertation Handbook for guidelines on Research Topic Selection.
Although the timeline to completion will vary, a general guideline is to plan for at least one year to complete your dissertation. Please review the current Ashford Dissertation Handbook for a complete breakdown of the dissertation phases.
Once you have completed all prior coursework and Doctoral Capstone Seminar, and you’re ready to enroll in Dissertation Planning I & II, and subsequent dissertation courses, there are six phases described in the Dissertation Handbook to complete the dissertation process. You should start to research possible dissertation topics well before completing your coursework in order to be ready to finalize your dissertation topic by the completion of their Dissertation Planning I course.
If you do not complete your dissertation within the 45 weeks, you will need to register for an 8991 Dissertation Extension course. This one-credit course may be repeated as many times as required to complete the dissertation process. There is a 7-year limit from your first day of enrollment to finish the degree, including dissertation.
If you are unsure of faculty that you want to serve on the committee, please submit the "Request for Dissertation Candidates" form in order to gain assistance. You are encouraged to contact potential committee members to discuss your topic ideas.
The dissertation is designed to demonstrate pertinent knowledge, skills, research expertise, and possible practical application in your discipline. A dissertation is intended to enhance learning and to demonstrate your ability to design and complete an individual, original research project. As a complex and in-depth project, a dissertation is expected to include advanced research design and analysis, provide an extensive review of the professional literature, and make a significant contribution to the professional literature in the field. Refer to the most recent iteration of the Ashford University Dissertation Handbook for a complete description of acceptable types of research.
Contact your Student Advisor with questions concerning dissertation courses or scheduling. Once you have selected a Dissertation Chair, he or she will serve as the main point of contact.
You will form a Dissertation Committee comprised of Ashford University faculty to supervise your dissertation process. It is important that you select committee members with whom you work well collaboratively. In addition, it is important to establish relationships with faculty during standard coursework, discuss potential topics of study, and discuss the possibility of future Committee Chair or committee membership. The Dissertation Committee is composed of a Chair and two (2) additional committee members. The Chair must be an Ashford University faculty member. Ideally the two (2) committee members should be Ashford University faculty members, unless there is a significant reason to have a committee member from outside the University.