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Wednesday, 15 October 2008

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Boyd

A FEW WORDS ABOUT DISSERTATIONS AND DISTANCE LEARNING

(Note: This presentation applies equally to "on campus" students)
The most rigorous part of the dissertation includes the

Methods Section
Study Design
Research questions and hypothesis formulation
Development of instrumentation
Describing the independent and dependent variables
Writing the data analysis plan
Performing a Power Analysis to justify the sample size and writing about it

Results Section
Performing the Data Analysis
Understanding the analysis results
Reporting the results.
When you enter this phase of the program, you are nearing the end of the journey. Given the difficulty of this phase, one often wishes they had previewed what was to come.
Many Ph.D candidates seem to hit a brick wall and feel disarmed when called upon to work on the "methods" and "results" section of their dissertation.
This is the point where many students diligently search for help calling on their advisor, peers, university assistance and even Google.
This is also the time when the student asks themselves the question" HOW MUCH HELP IS TOO MUCH".
Surely no one will deny that having your dissertation written for you is very wrong.

On the other hand, it is not unusual for doctoral students to get help on specific aspects of their dissertation.(e.g. APA formatting and editing) It also is not unusual for advisors to encourage students to seek outside help.

If you are a distance learning student it is almost essential you seek outside assistance for the methods and results section of your dissertation. The very nature of distance learning suggests the need for not only outside help but help from someone gifted in explaining highly technical concepts in understandable language by telephone and e-mail.

A word of caution: If you know you are going to use a statistical consultant to help with your "methods and "results" sections, choose that consultant early on. The ideal time to consult with a statistician is after you have a topic and have done some preliminary literature review. Otherwise you run the risk of unnecessarily complicating your study. This could result in the consultant being unable to help you, unless you are willing to start over with the problem statement, purpose of the study, research questions, instrumentation and data analysis plan.

Distance learning, and the availability of programs, has increased exponentially over the last few years with some of the most respected institutions (Columbia University, Engineering; Boston University and others) offering a Ph.D in a variety of fields. If you are enrolled in a distance learning program, or considering one, you will be interested in reviewing the reference sites listed at the bottom of this page.

As stated above, many students hit their dissertation "brick wall" when they encounter the statistics section. Frequently, a student will struggle for months with that section before they seek a consultant to help them. This often leads to additional tuition costs and missed graduation dates.

If I were to name a single reason why a PhD candidate gets off track in their program it is the statistics and their fear of statistics.

So, the question is whether or not it is ethical to get help at all. If so, how much help is too much.

I don't know if there has ever been a survey of dissertation committee members who were asked this question, however, I know many advisors take the following position when they suggest or approve outside help:

To a large extent the process is self controlling. If the student relies too much on a consultant, the product may look good, however, the student will be unable to defend his/her dissertation.

It takes a committed effort on the part of the student and the consultant (resulting in a collaborative/teaching exchange) to have the student responsible for the data and thoroughly understand the statistics. The day the student walks in front of the committee to defend, there should be no question as to his/her understanding of statistics.

When their defense is successful, the question "was the help too much" is answered.

If you are a Ph.D candidate and would like additional information, you may wish to review the referenced sites below:

Boyd

Reference sites:
http://www.statisticallysignificantconsulting.com:80/Statistically-Significant-Ethics.htm
http://www.usdla.org/
http://www.cgsnet.org/

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