Graduate Programs in Health and Human Performance

Dissertation Requirements


A. Dissertation Topic Selection
B. Proposal and Proposal Meeting
C. Dissertation- Data Collection
D. Dissertation Format
E. Dissertation - Committee Membership
F. Role of Dissertation Committee Members
G. Institutional Review Board Approval (IRB)
H. Dissertation Credits
I. Dissertation Defense


A. Dissertation Topic Selection

The formal dissertation process of topic selection begins by selecting a dissertation advisor who serves as the chairperson of the student's dissertation committee. The dissertation committee chairperson must hold doctoral faculty status at MTSU. The dissertation topic represents a consensus between students and their advisor that reflect joint interests, experiences, and background between the parties, and the willingness of both parties to produce a scholarly study that represents an extension of existing knowledge and is likely to be published in a refereed, scientific journal. Next, the student forms a dissertation committee, consisting of two additional faculty members who have obtained graduate faculty member status at MTSU (described later). These individuals include one member of the Health and Human Performance Department, and a member whose campus department affiliation is outside of the department. Each committee member is a person who will provide the student with expert consultation and feedback throughout the research development and writing process. When the topic is determined, the student writes a proposal in the form of the dissertation's first three chapters. When the advisor agrees the proposal is ready to be formally presented for committee approval, the student then sets a proposal meeting date and formally presents his or her study to the committee.

B. Proposal and Proposal Meeting

The proposal meeting occurs after approval of advancement to candidacy and successful completion of written examinations. Prior to collection of data pertaining to the dissertation research the candidate must submit and the dissertation committee must approve a proposal (also called the prospectus). In order to enable a Ph.D. candidate to complete the dissertation in a timely fashion, development of the proposal and the proposal meeting may occur at any time following advancement to candidacy.

The purpose of a proposal meeting is for the student to obtain formal, signed consent by dissertation committee to formally begin the study based on an oral description of the planned research. The student's presentation consists of describing a reduced version of the dissertation's first three chapters. The proposal should include the following: This includes the research problem, brief review of relevant literature that provides background of the topic and supports a need for the study, purpose of the study, hypotheses, limitations and delimitations, description of the sample, instrumentation and materials for data collection, data collection procedures, and planned statistical analyses.

The meeting is open to all department and university faculty and students. All persons in attendance have the opportunity to provide the student with feedback, make recommendations, or to ask questions. However, the committee is given the first opportunity to respond to the student's presentation. In general, the proposal meeting time is as long as needed; however, due to time restrictions for room availability, generally the meeting is completed within one hour. After the question period, the committee meets privately to determine their decision to pass the proposal and allow the student to move toward initiating the study (which may include revisions in the planned study), or to reject the proposal, which would require the student to revise the study and hold a second proposal meeting.

The final copy of the dissertation proposal must be provided to all members of the committee at least one week - preferably two weeks - prior to the proposal meeting. It is expected that the oral presentation is approximately 45 - 50 minutes, with 10 - 15 minutes for discussion and questions.

The proposal should have been reviewed by all committee members prior to submitting a final copy, which is due in the HHP Graduate Program Office at least one week prior to the proposal meeting. The Committee Chair confirms the meeting date and time, the location and notifies faculty of the proposal meeting at least one week in advance of the proposed date. A copy of the proposal is to be delivered to the HHP Graduate Program Office one week in advance of the proposal meeting . A copy of the proposal will remain in the HHP Graduate Program Office for review by any member of the faculty one week prior to the proposal meeting.

The proposal is formally presented to a meeting of the dissertation committee and any other interested faculty and students who may wish to observe, or provide input or comment. Following the presentation, the dissertation committee will inform the candidate of its decision on the proposal.

If the proposal is passed, any required changes to the proposal will be communicated clearly by the dissertation advisor on the Thesis/Dissertation Proposal Approval Form, based upon modifications suggested by the committee. Each member of the student's committee will sign a form, obtained from the department's graduate program office that indicates their approval of the study, with recommended changes. At this time, the student may then complete the required online IRB form and work with the MTSU Compliance Office. This form ensures that the proposed study is conducted in an ethical manner and that the student has completed the online course ensuring the student's understanding of proper procedures for conducting research. Only when the Compliance Office formally (in writing) approves the study may the student begin data collection (described, again, later).

C. Dissertation- Data Collection

The dissertation must include data that is original and obtained by the student after the dissertation topic has been approved by the DAC. Use of archival data or other data sets already in existence must be approved by the DAC and IRB. Analysis of available data may be acceptable under extenuating circumstances with the approval of the Dissertation Committee and the DAC.

Note: Manuals, curricula and literature reviews may be considered part of the research process and may be included in the development of the dissertation. However, these do not stand alone as a Ph.D. dissertation.

D. Dissertation Format

The department follows the writing style of the American Psychological Association Publication Manual (APA) (6th ed.) for the dissertation format. There will be five complete chapters (Introduction, Literature Review, Methods, Results, and Discussion). In addition, under certain circumstances, the student's dissertation committee may require completion and submission of a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal. As required by the APA Publication Manual, the student is first author of any joint authorships of the dissertation submitted for journal review, unless the student volunteers to be second author.

With prior approval from the dissertation committee chair a student may follow a manuscript format as noted by the College of Graduate Studies.

E. Dissertation - Committee Membership

As indicated earlier, the student is responsible for nominating a dissertation advisor, who is a doctoral faculty member and serves as the committee chairperson. In collaboration with the chair, and partially based on the dissertation topic, the student then invites two other committee members (explained below).

  • Chair. Doctoral Faculty member, HHP Department.

  • Members. 2-4 additional faculty serve on the committee - one of whom is required to be from outside the department and one from the HHP Graduate Faculty.

  • Additional members (from outside the department or the university) may be selected for specific expertise. Outside committee appointments must have the approval of the Dean of Graduate Studies, the HHP Graduate Director, and the Dissertation Committee Chair.Outside committee members must have Graduate Faculty status granted by the Graduate Council of the College of Graduate Studies. To obtain the optimal benefit of strong professional advising, students are urged to select committee members and dissertation topics in which faculty have moderate familiarity and/or expertise.

Note: A dissertation committee form will be completed and submitted to the HHP Graduate Program Director and a copy submitted to the College of Graduate Studies. Changes in committee membership are to be submitted on the Change in Dissertation Advisory Committee Form. The form will be sent to the College of Graduate Studies and a copy will be placed in the student's file in the HHP Graduate Program Office.

F. Role of Dissertation Committee Members

Dissertation committee members function as a unit, with each member providing expertise on various parts of the dissertation study. Students and faculty should be clear about the roles that each member will have. The committee should agree on the study design and the overall format of the dissertation. Once meetings are held with committee members to discuss the overall research plan, the student will write Chapters 1, 2 & 3 (Introduction, Literature Review and Methods, respectively) for review by committee members at least one week prior to the proposal meeting.

  • Committee Chair. This person approves all aspects of the dissertation process including: topic selection; proposal development; IRB proposal (the chair will sign the IRB form), provide final approval of all completed work; and notify faculty of proposal and defense dates. The chair also signs all required forms related to the dissertation process.

  • Second Committee Member. This member provides in-depth expertise; reviews draft work, and available for consultation.

  • Additional Committee Members. Review drafts; share expertise on statistical aspects of the study, and available for consultation.

All committee members must attend proposal meetings and dissertation defense meetings. If members must be absent due to geographic considerations, or illness, either the meeting is rescheduled or the absent member's comments and questions are addressed during the meeting. The dissertation committee chair determines if the meeting may occur in the absence of any members.

Note- Committee members read and review all drafts and copies of the dissertation. Their primary role is to ensure that the student submits a dissertation that has scientific integrity, scholarly, and publishable in a refereed scientific journal. STUDENTS ARE EXPECTED TO SUBMIT DRAFTS AND PROPOSALS THAT HAVE BEEN REVIEWED AND CORRECTED FOR PROPER NARRATIVE AND SPELLING, GRAMMAR, AND FORMAT PRIOR TO COMMITTEE REVIEW.

Changing Dissertation Committee Chair or committee members. If a student (or a faculty member): (a) wishes to change the structure of the committee as was originally set, (b) change the dissertation topic, or (c) report the student's unsatisfactory progress toward completing the dissertation, then the matter is taken to the HHP Graduate Program Director. Changes to dissertation committees, once established, must be reported to the College of Graduate Studies on the Change in Dissertation Advisory Committee Form.

G. Institutional Review Board Approval (IRB)

As indicated earlier, prior to collection of pilot data and/or dissertation data, but after the proposal has been officially approved by the student's committee, approval from MTSU's IRB must be obtained. In addition, the student may have to gain consent from school, agency or hospital administrators which are releasing data or granting permission for participants to enter a study. Prior IRB approval is mandatory on all dissertation research before data are collected, but after the study has been proposed and approved by the student's dissertation committee. Finally, as indicated earlier, all researchers at MTSU must complete the Human Participants Protection Education for Research Teams online course. The certificate that accompanies completion of the course is submitted along with the IRB.

H. Dissertation Credits

The student must register for at least one dissertation credit every semester after successful completion of departmental written preliminary examinations. The student cannot register for these credits until the semester following successful completion of the examinations. The student must continue to register for a minimum of 1 hour of credit each semester thereafter (until graduation).

I. Dissertation Defense

After completion of the dissertation and all other prescribed work for the degree, candidates will be given a final oral examination dealing primarily with the dissertation and its relation to the candidate's major field of study. The College of Graduate Studies will publish the dissertation title, date, time and location of the defense at least two weeks prior to the defense. A copy of the dissertation is to be delivered to the HHP Graduate Program Office two weeks in advance of the defense meeting for review by any member of the faculty. The defense is open to all members of the University community who may wish to attend. The dissertation defense is administered by the advisory/dissertation committee according to program guidelines. Successful defense of the dissertation must be confirmed in writing by all members of the advisory/dissertation committee. This examination will be conducted by the student's dissertation committee. All committee members are expected to be in attendance at this meeting. This meeting constitutes the oral examination.

After the student's defense is completed, visitors are asked to leave the room and the committee confers as to whether the student has successfully "passed"; the defense. Corrections and suggested changes are outlined by the committee members and given to the student in writing by the student's dissertation advisor (committee chair). After the student makes final corrections and submits the corrected version to each committee member all members sign the approval page.