Dissertation Only Programs

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by PaulC, Dec 2, 2003.

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  1. PaulC

    PaulC Member

    The US doctoral system is one that requires coursework and a dissertation. Some systems outside the US, some in SA being an example, require only a dissertation.

    We see regular questioning of rigor and pedagogy addressed to several US institutions that require coursework and dissertations. We can make biased assumptions about one system or the other, but without hard data, this would just be conjecture and opinion. Some might say that these "foreign" programs are more rigorous on their dissertations, but the data would need to be supplied in a variety of ways to support this hypothesis.

    My question is, if a 250-page dissertation from a US institution matches a 250 page dissertation from a "dissertation only" institution in quality and rigor, then how do we see the extra coursework required in the US system.

    One might ask, is the rigor of the course work relevant at all if it is leading to dissertation that is critiqued and judged by a panel of legitimate scholars anyway? If we se the rigor of course work to be a significant and important part of the doctoral process, why do we not question the lack of this component for non-US universities? What if the NCA started accrediting new for-profit universities that required dissertation only? What sort of reaction might this engender?
     
  2. Bill Grover

    Bill Grover New Member

     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 2, 2003
  3. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    Hi Paul - IMHO this is a great question and unfortunately I'm not sure that I have a great answer. My overall sense is that these two doctoral degrees (US-coursework+dissertation v. non-US-dissertation only) work out to be roughly equivalent due to the differences in the lower level university studies. I've been told that in England, for example, the undergraduate programs are more focused so that if someone is studying history then they take history courses almost exclusively. The net result is that people with BA degrees from British schools have substantially more history coursework than their American counterparts. As people progress into graduate school they take the research courses and other advanced coursework during their Masters programs. So when they enter their PhD programs, it's not a question of "Why don't they have to take these courses like I do in my American PhD program," because they've already taken them. So, that's my understanding of why these schools have "dissertation-only" doctoral programs. I've heard this basic explanation enough times and from enough different people that I'm accepting it as true. What it means for someone like myself who has gone through a US undergrad/Masters program and is now in a SA doctoral program is another subject that we could discuss on another day. 'Til then,
    Jack
     
  4. sulla

    sulla New Member

    Generally doctoral level American courses are more rigurous and focused that those found in masters programs, even if they cover the same material. And I haven't found European masters programs to offer doctoral-equivalent coursework. Masters degrees there are not designed with a phd in mind; they are seen as terminal and professional degrees. The perception of doctoral degrees are just not the same as in the US: they are less popular, seen as exclusively a research degree and with less marketability outside of academia that in the US.


    I've also heard that many of UK schools are thinking about changing their doctoral programs and include more doctorate coursework in them.

    -S
     
  5. Ike

    Ike New Member

    I totally agree. That's why I am worried about some RA doctoral courses that appear to lack rigor. NCU is a case in point.

    I concur.

    I have heard about it too.

    Ike Okonkwo, PhD
     
  6. cehi

    cehi New Member

    Jack Tracey: "Hi Paul - IMHO this is a great question and unfortunately I'm not sure that I have a great answer. My overall sense is that these two doctoral degrees (US-coursework+dissertation v. non-US-dissertation only) work out to be roughly equivalent due to the differences in the lower level university studies. I've been told that in England, for example, the undergraduate programs are more focused so that if someone is studying history then they take history courses almost exclusively. The net result is that people with BA degrees from British schools have substantially more history coursework than their American counterparts. As people progress into graduate school they take the research courses and other advanced coursework during their Masters programs. So when they enter their PhD programs, it's not a question of "Why don't they have to take these courses like I do in my American PhD program," because they've already taken them. So, that's my understanding of why these schools have "dissertation-only" doctoral programs. I've heard this basic explanation enough times and from enough different people that I'm accepting it as true. What it means for someone like myself who has gone through a US undergrad/Masters program and is now in a SA doctoral program is another subject that we could discuss on another day. 'Til then,"
    Jack



    Cehi: Jack, hmnnnn, I found myself agreeing with your assessment here. In europe, by the time you begin your Ph.D., you would be expected to must have completed the concentrated courseworks at the masters level. Thank you.
     
  7. tesch

    tesch New Member

    The following seems to be a common theme when reviewing the admission requirements for UK PhD programs (or should I say programmes).

    University of Manchester: http://www.man.ac.uk/study/pgrad/require.html

    "Normally the minimum requirement for entry onto a taught Masters programme is a UK Honours degree, or its overseas equivalent. The first degree may or may not need to be in a relevant subject and the classification of degree required will vary between programmes. In some cases, relevant experience and/or a professional or equivalent qualification may be judged sufficient to undertake the programme of choice. If needed, clarification should be sought from the departmental Postgraduate Admissions Officer or Graduate School or Faculty Office.

    In order to be accepted to undertake a PhD programme of research, candidates will normally have a good UK Honours degree or its overseas equivalent, and often also a Masters, or evidence of training in research and/or experience of research amounting to one year. Candidates without such experience are usually required to undertake research training in the first year of study. The area of proposed research might dictate the necessity of a professional qualification or experience in the field. Again, if clarification is needed it should be sought from the departmental Postgraduate Admissions Officer or Graduate School or Faculty Office."

    When doing research for my dissertation, I read numerous UK masters level thesis papers and found many of them demonstrated a depth of literature review, research methods and contribution of new knowledge consistent with that found in a number of PhD dissertations from other parts of the world.

    Accordingly, I would venture to say that dissertation only PhD programs in the UK expect students to possess a solid research background prior to admission. Definitely something much greater than a Bachelor degree and a B GPA.

    Tom
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 2, 2003
  8. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    Well so there's this side to the story and then there's the other side as described by Sulla and Ike. I'm not prepared to say that anyone's wrong here as I have virtually no independent knowledge on this subject. I'm just repeating things I've heard. I think that it might be a case where there's a range of rigor that exists in doctoral programs. Some programs go "above and beyond" and some may fall short. I think we've all heard of poor dissertations coming out of decent schools and good dissertations coming out of schools that are not so good. Each school, along with it's products, probably needs to be considered separately.
    Jack
     
  9. tesch

    tesch New Member

    Agreed...

    To make my point more clear, however, is that I think it is an unrealistic expectation to suggest that one can begin meaningful PhD level research and a dissertation without first obtaining solid research skills and foundation. That should be obtain through a solid research focused masters program with a thesis, or through substantive doctoral level coursework that is taken subsequent to completing a taught subject area masters program or professional degree.

    I would think the most well-rounded and comprehensive option is the latter of the two. Conversely, it seems a bit of a leap for someone to jump directly into a dissertation without obtaining a solid research foundation. It could probably be done through additional independent study, but unfortunately, the learner would likely be well versed only with areas research and methods associate with his or her particular study. Accordingly, this could prove a significant limitation in terms of both interpreting and conducting other research.

    I’m no subject matter expert in this area, so this is just my two-cents from having passed once through the gauntlet.

    Tom
     
  10. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    This makes sense to me. I would hope that someone applying to a dissertation-only doctoral program without these qualifications would, at best, be given some provisional enrollment status pending completion of this sort of coursework.
    Jack
     
  11. Craig Hargis

    Craig Hargis New Member

    Great question. Based only on my own experience at one university (UCR) in one program, English, I don't think the additional coursework mattered much. The doctoral seminars were no more difficult than the masters (in fact we often had MA people in the prosems). By that point, writing the 20-25 page paper (usually the only assignment) and attending the seminar once a week became pretty mechanical. It was essentially just doing the MA over again (twice), and I don't know how useful that was. Most people did not mind because we all had 6 years of support and TAships which were pretty good. The situation was fun, but I don't know how necessary it was. The US system of comprehensive exams has not been mentioned and is another thing entirely. Mine were very comprehensive and HARD. Studying for comps was intense and I did "get something" out of it. I think comps and dissetation with optional corse work would be a great sysyem. The language requirements, by the way, were a joke.
     
  12. MarkIsrael@aol.com

    [email protected] New Member

    PaulC writes:

    > My question is, if a 250-page dissertation
    > from a US institution matches a 250 page
    > dissertation from a "dissertation only"
    > institution in quality and rigor, then how do we
    > see the extra coursework required in the US
    > system.


    Isn't this a "round-head" vs "pointy-head" question? A young British physicist who did his thesis on superstrings might be a "pointy-head" who knows little about other advanced topics in physics. An young American physicist who did a similar thesis might be a "round-head" who knows a bit more.

    But, of course, the British physicist can still become a lecturer teaching a variety of physics courses. (My father was a physics professor teaching a variety of physics courses, without ever having taken a physics course at all! His degrees were in mathematics.) Those who have reached a certain level of mastery can master related subjects without having to be spoonfed.

    > What if the NCA started accrediting new
    > for-profit universities that require
    > dissertation only? What sort of reaction might
    > this engender?


    Too much of a departure from the American tradition? People who hire Ph.D.s know the general differences between the American and European systems, but isolated exceptions to what's expected of the American system might invite confusion.
     
  13. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    The points made by Mark are pretty much the way I've thought of this myself. Of course, this doesn't mean that you can't continue to argue that one is better than the other but it seems clear that you quickly move out of the argument regarding which kind of PhD is better and move into the argument of which kind of educational system is better. The ironic piece for me is that I actually prefer the more liberal arts approach because I like interdisciplinary studies yet I'm in a British style doctoral program. It's just the way the ball bounced for me.
    Jack
     

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