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In assessing your readiness to undertake a doctoral degree, the following guidelines will be used. Please prepare a proposal of 2,000-4,000 words (maximum) in length. Try to provide as much information as possible under each heading. However, do not worry if your ideas and understandings are not fully developed at this stage. The key purpose of the proposal is to find out ‘where you are at’ in your thinking.
In this first section of your proposal, your potential supervisors will be looking for evidence that you have clearly identified and justified the topic of your proposed enquiry, for example, ‘Boys’ academic achievement in primary schools in New Zealand’.
You will need to discuss the context or background to the study for the reader:
Given our present knowledge of the topic area as a whole, where does your proposed research fit within this, i.e. what is the relationship between the topic and your particular focus? Of all the possible choices of study or intervention for ‘doing’ research on this topic, what have you chosen to examine in more detail, and why? Equally, what are you not studying or attempting to change and why not? What sorts of findings or changes in practice will your research hope to produce? How will your research improve our deeper understanding of educational practice? What are the key concepts and theories that help shape the focus of your enquiry of this topic?
Phil Carspecken suggests that all social science researchers are interested in the same basic things: social action and its patterns, subjective experiences and conditions influencing action and experience. How does the focus of your enquiry address these three aspects of social and educational practice?
In light of your chosen topic and focus, what are the research questions, issues
or problems you wish to investigate in your study?
To what extent is it feasible to address these specific questions? Will you be seeking definitive answers or preliminary insights or evidence of change? Have you phrased your questions appropriately for the kind of study you wish to undertake?
How clearly have you conceptualised the possible patterns of social practice and human relationships that generate these particular research questions or forms of enquiry? How clearly have you marked the boundaries of the study?
Does your justification of your proposal engage with ethical issues in both broad and narrow senses of the term? Have you identified potential problems and worked through these so that you might conduct your enquiry in an ethical manner?
First, do your proposed research topic, focus and questions produce a worthwhile answer to the question, ‘So what?’ In other words, is your proposed study worthwhile? Will it make a positive difference to people’s lives and, if so, how? What are the benefits of participation for the educational community, groups and individuals in which you will undertake your study? What novel theoretical or social-scientific insights might be gained from your research?
Second, have you applied the conventional ethical principles for the conduct of social and educational research to your proposed study?
Third, have you considered the specific requirements of the Massey University code of ethical conduct for research involving human participants: http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/research/research-ethics/human-ethics/code/code.cfm.
Approaches to educational and social science enquiry vary considerably according to traditions (orthodoxies, preferences and disciplinary requirements).
In terms of the way you wish to investigate your particular topic and focus, which are the key studies that have already been undertaken? In these, what approach has been taken to the research? What, therefore, is the tradition of conducting disciplined enquiry in this field? What are the strengths and limitations of these individual studies and the tradition overall? How has the tradition of enquiry developed over time and what major changes or departures or disagreements have there been? Are there other research traditions that could usefully be drawn on for your enquiry?
How does your proposed study fit within the accepted tradition of enquiry? Do you share similar assumptions about knowledge, truth, experience and the social world as others working in the same research tradition? If you are taking a different view, can you justify it?
In terms of breathing life into your study, what research methods are appropriate to help you address one or more of the basic questions you wish to investigate: ‘What is happening?, ‘Has there been a change?’, ‘Is there a difference between groups?’, ‘Have these differences persisted over time?’, ‘Why the difference?’ (Bouma).
What is your sample? Who are the intended research participants? Why this sample and not another?
What kind of data are you going to collect? To what extent are you seeking evidence about variety or frequency of action and experience? To what extent are you looking for similarities or differences? Are you looking for rich descriptions of actual experiences, tabulated summaries of reported data or a mixture of the two? Is your choice appropriately justified? Does it ‘match" the kinds of research questions you have set yourself?
What are the implications of this for the method or methods you adopt for this study? What are the strengths and limitations of your chosen method(s)? Have you demonstrated a good conceptual fit between your research questions and the method(s) you intend to use?
What instruments or tools will you use to gather data? Have you shown the link between each research question and the data gathering tool(s) you will use?
If you are gathering quantitative data, are you aware of the strengths and weaknesses (e.g ‘validity’, ‘reliability’, ‘generalisability’) of the various instruments or tools you intend to use?
If you are gathering qualitative data, to what extent have you considered your own position as an ‘imperfect’ human being in relation to the tradition, method and instruments to be used in your study?
Are you sufficiently cautious in the way you intend to put into practice your proposed enquiry?
In this section, your supervisor and other readers will be looking for evidence that you have considered various options for presenting and analysing your data.
What decisions have you made, are these justified, and are they appropriate for the focus of your enquiry? How have you attempted to ensure that the data you present offer an authentic representation and empathetic analysis of your participants’ intentions, actions and experiences?
To what extent is your approach to the data determined by your assumptions as a researcher, or those of the participants? Is this appropriate for the research tradition within which you are working and the kinds of questions or issues you are addressing?
To what extent and how will the reader be able to make her own interpretation of the data you are presenting? Will you present sufficient data for the reader to challenge your analysis?
Finally, how good is the ‘aesthetic’ of your intended approach to the gathering, presentation and analysis of data in this study? Is the study design both functional and elegant?
Please ensure that your proposal also contains the following information and statement:
YOUR ACADEMIC REFEREES:
In submitting this proposal, I confirm that except where appropriate attributions are made, the thoughts, words and arguments it contains are entirely my own work.
Page authorised by Director, Institute of Education
Last updated on Wednesday 23 May 2012