Category Archives: Prospectus

Forming a Dissertation Support Group

Around the time I started writing my prospectus, I formed my Dissertation Support Group (DSG). I formed the group with two other graduate students that were in my year. We chose each other based not on shared academic interests but a shared attitude toward our work. We were all committed to find the joy in the dissertation writing process, and none of us wanted to spend our time together complaining about our work.

The format of our discussions has changed, but during that prospectus-writing time, we took turns every meeting looking at a different person’s writing—anything from a few pages to a completed draft. The feedback I got from my group was so encouraging and helpful, and it was very reassuring and inspiring to watch other people’s growth so closely.

I highly recommend finding a DSG of your own, but choose your group carefully. Don’t necessarily pick your best friends or people in your area of expertise. Pick people who you feel affinities with, work-wise—we found each other through our Qualifying Exam study groups. Also, don’t feel the need to invite everyone in. We’ve several times had to kindly explain to friends that we don’t have room in our group for them. We have a small number and it works for us, so we protect it. I think a group of six or seven would prevent everyone from knowing each other’s work intimately, which is a huge part of what I value in my DSG.

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Beginning A Prospectus

The best way that I got started on my prospectus was to follow the guidelines on a handout by Peg Syverson, a professor at UT. The handout listed six parts to a prospectus, which I think could be used in almost any field:

  1. Statement of the Problem
  2. Review of Literature
  3. Methodology
  4. Sources of Data
  5. Outline of Chapters
  6. Implications of the Project

I was taking a couple of classes at the time, so I used to wake up on Friday mornings (when nothing else too urgent was happening) and write one section quickly, to the best of my ability. It would take me a couple of hours. My first draft of the prospectus was 16 pages—so about 2.5 pages per section. Some sections were very short—I just wrote until I ran out of gas. In six weeks, I had a first draft, which I then polished up and showed to my advisers. (That took a few more weeks–in this planning stage, intimidation tends to make one work slow.)

After talking to my advisers, I understood that my “Review of Literature” section was not anything like what it was supposed to be. They also gave substantial critiques of my “Methodology” section. I ended up rewriting almost the entire thing, making substantial content changes in every section. But that first draft really helped me focus on the weak areas of my plan. It also gave me a ton of confidence to have something written.