Guide to Completing the Dissertation


This site is intended to help doctoral candidates in the UCA Department of Psychology and Counseling navigate the steps of their dissertation as well as provide helpful resources and links. Variation in the details below may occur as a function of the dissertation topic itself, the student, the dissertation chair and committee, and other aspects of the process. This information should be considered along with UCA’s Thesis and Dissertation Preparation Guide available on the UCA Graduate School website. Students are responsible for initiating all the major steps of this process.

#1: Pre-Proposal

1. Access your resources:

2. Enroll in Dissertation Research Seminar (PSY 74V1)

  • PSY 74V1 is a one-hour course which you will take for three consecutive sessions (fall, spring, and summer). This course will help you develop and research possible dissertation topics. There are numerous sources for ideas including: Faculty interests listed on the departmental website, topics and issues that emerge from coursework, perusal of journal articles and dissertation abstracts, discussions with faculty members, previous and current professional experiences. In addition to being researchable, the topic should be important to the field.

3. Identify your dissertation chair and have this approved by the program’s director, then develop your topic and research question(s).

  • Counseling Program only: The chair or co-chair must be a member of the Counseling Psychology Core.

4. Choose a dissertation committee

  • Discuss potential committee members with your chair (4 from within Department; 1 from outside Department). You can view a List of Previous Outside Department Committee Members (not an exhaustive list) and a List of Previous Dissertations in the Department of Psychology and Counseling. 
  • Potential members should be provided a brief prospectus on your project so they can make an informed decision about membership.
  • Complete the Committee Selection Form and turn it into your program director.
  • Each committee is to include at least two of the core faculty members in their program in its membership. (School Psychology Program only: Should the student request that the Department Chair serve as the dissertation chair, the Director of the School Psychology Program will be responsible for approving the remaining committee membership.)

5. Enroll in PSYC 9310 (Dissertation Research)

  • See your program sequence of courses and consult with your Dissertation Chair to determine the most appropriate semesters to enroll in PSYC 9310.
  • Consult with your Dissertation Chair to complete a Semester Work Agreement form for each semester of PSYC 9310.

6. Finish writing your proposal

  • Students have the option of formatting their dissertation using the traditional or alternative format. You will work with your chair to decide which format you will use. For further information, see the UCA Dissertation Guide for an explanation of the two forms and see the attached Traditional vs Alternative Dissertation document. In addition, an example of an alternative-format dissertation can be found here or by searching: Mikeal, C. W. (2016). A dismantling study of the partners for change outcome management system.
  • For formatting specifics—see the Graduate School Dissertation and Thesis page

7. Obtain approval from your Dissertation Chair (and possibly other committee members) to schedule a dissertation proposal meeting.


#2: Proposal Defense Meeting

1. Make Preparations for the Proposal Meeting

  • Work with committee members to set a proposal date and time. Preferred time frames for proposal meetings include fall and spring semester, at least a month prior to the end of the semester.
  • Work with the department administrative assistant to secure a room for the meeting.
  • Provide all committee members with a copy of the proposal.
  • The proposal should be given to committee members at least two weeks in advance of the scheduled proposal meeting. Committees should provide feedback within one week. You then have one week to address any concerns or questions prior to the meeting. 
  • Consider inviting other graduate students to the meeting in order to assist you in taking notes and to allow the non-proposing students an opportunity to observe and learn more about the proposal meeting process.

2. Hold Proposal Meeting

  • NOTE:
    • For Counseling Psychology students – proposal must be approved prior to applying for internship.
    • For School Psychology students – proposal must be approved prior to going on internship.
  • The proposal meeting consists of the student delivering a 30-40 presentation of their dissertation and then answering questions from committee members (defend the proposal). The meeting is designed to clarify dissertation plans and procedures as deemed necessary by the student and committee members. At the conclusion of the meeting, committee members vote on the proposal and share the decision with the student. In most cases of approval, revisions to the proposals will be required. These should be listed on the Report of Dissertation Proposal Defense Form.

3. Complete Report of Dissertation Proposal Defense Form with your committee chair.

  • After review and approval, have each committee member sign the form. After all signatures have been completed, submit copies to each committee member and the original returns to the committee chair.

#3: Data Collection and Writing

1. Obtain IRB Approval

  • Complete and submit IRB application for the study. You will complete the IRB Application and submit to the departmental IRB Chair. After department IRB Chair approves application, it goes to the Department Chair for signature. Department Chair forwards application to UCA IRB for review. After UCA IRB approval, data collection can begin.

2. Complete data collection, data analysis, and writing.

  • The student is responsible for all arrangements and details associated with conducting their dissertation study including (but not limited to) securing the necessary research settings(s), subjects, observers, data collectors, and so forth. This includes any financial costs incurred in order to carry out the dissertation and approvals (e.g., IRB, informed consents of all participating individuals and/or groups). For information regarding possible financial assistance related to grant funding for dissertation research, please see the University Research Council website.
  • The student is also responsible for saving dissertation data and, in collaboration with the Committee Chair, ensuring for proper storage of the data within the department (e.g., locked/secure filing cabinet). Committee members may request restricted access to the raw data in order to perform their role on the committee. Some data may require additional de-identification procedures prior to such access to protect client confidentiality, which is also the joint responsibility of the student and Committee Chair.

3. Complete written dissertation document.

4. Obtain approval from Dissertation Chair (and possibly other members) to schedule a defense meeting.


#4: Defense Meeting

1. Schedule dissertation meeting.

  • Dissertation defense meeting must be held 4 or more weeks prior to your graduation date
  • Work with committee to agree on a date and time. Preferred time frames for proposal meetings include fall and spring semester, at least a month prior to the end of the semester.
  • Notify the department administrative assistant at least 30 days prior to the proposed dissertation defense date. The assistant and the student will work together to reserve a room with appropriate technology.
  • At least two weeks prior to the meeting, the student must provide a copy of their dissertation document to each of the five members of the dissertation committee. Within one week, the committee members will provide feedback to the student. The student then has one week to address any concerns or questions.
  • At this time, student may send draft of dissertation document to Graduate School in 238 Torreyson for formatting review.
  • Create and send announcement of dissertation defense meeting via email to the Department Chair, Graduate Dean, College of Health and Behavioral Sciences Dean, and College of Education Dean, for dissemination to campus community.
    • In creating your announcements, you can use one of two styles.

2. Hold Dissertation Defense Meeting

  • The dissertation defense is a public event in which the Ph.D. candidate gives a formal 30-40-minute presentation (overview of study, summary of results, discussion, and implications) without interruption. After the presentation and a brief break, the dissertation committee will question the candidate. When the committee has completed its questioning of the candidate, they will discuss the candidate’s performance in private. Following deliberations, committee members vote to “approve” or “not approve” the defense. In most cases of approval, revisions to the documents are required. A written list of required revisions should be developed and agreed to by the committee.

3. Paperwork Process after Successful Defense

  • After the dissertation has been successfully defended and the student has completed all needed changes to the document, the dissertation chair will digitally sign the “Thesis/Dissertation Committee Approval Form.” Once the entire committee has digitally signed this form, the student will be provided with an electronic copy. 
  • The student will print and include the digitally signed Approval form with the hardcopy dissertation submitted to the Graduate School. The Graduate School will then review the document for formatting compliance. 
  • After the student is notified that the document is in compliance with formatting requirements, submit to the Graduate School: one unbound original on acid-free archival paper with original signatures of the dissertation committee on the Signature Page and original signature of the student on the Permission to Use page; and one unbound copy of the dissertation with original signatures of the dissertation committee on the Signature Page and original signature of the student on the Thesis/Dissertation Permission page. The documents are to be submitted in an appropriately-sized envelope that will accommodate both copies of the dissertation. The dissertation must be accompanied by the signed Routing Form. Final verification that all requirements have been met will be given by the Graduate Dean who will notify the student and committee chair. The original on acid-free bond paper and its copy will be forwarded to the library where it will be bound. One copy will be archived and one will be placed in Torreyson Library for public use. This step must be completed at least 3 week prior to graduation.
  • In addition to any copies the student wants for him/herself, provide one bound copy of the completed dissertation to the Department of Psychology & Counseling and one bound copy to the committee chairperson. The student may choose, out of professional courtesy, to provide copies to each of the dissertation committee members.
    After Graduate School approval, follow emailed instructions to upload the final copy to Proquest.

“A good dissertation is a done dissertation” — Ancient grad student proverb
“It always seems impossible until it’s done” — Nelson Mandela