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The PhD dissertation proposal

Spinal column shown through a semi-transparent person

Well we’ve finally arrived, for real this time, to my proposal timeframe. There are a lot of things that need to happen between now and when I defend my proposal, but thankfully most of those things are started or almost finished. The one thing that isn’t started… well that would be my actual proposal. Be not afraid! I’m going to have the draft done today, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

It’s been a journey! It feels like only a century ago that I started my PhD, but it’s *only* been not quite four full years. My goal since starting this program was to do it in five years. That is the average time it takes to complete a PhD and average was fine with me! I did my Masters in one year, so I wanted to take my time and learn as much as I could while I was in the program. And oh boy have I learned some stuff. But now that we’re in the (hopefully) final year, there’s still a mountain of things that need to get done.

Technically there are two major steps I need to take before I’m a PhD holder. The first is my proposal defense and the second is my PhD defense. Simple! But not really, there are all sorts of rules that need to be followed and things that need to get done. First I need a committee (mostly done). I also need to obtain an IRB for my research (also mostly done). Since I already knew my topic, I did it out of order, but I also need to write a proposal (not a single word has been written). Then I can schedule my defense and start my data collection once my committee approves the work.

I’m hopeful that the IRB and committee forming will be concluded this upcoming week, which means I can focus on my proposal. Since this is a big step, let’s review what goes into my proposal (at least what my program requires).

Turns out there aren’t a lot of requirements for my program. There are no formatting guidelines (there are a ton for my dissertation though!), no page minimum/maximum, and no real guidance about the document itself. The only requirement the school places on me for the proposal defense is that I send it to all my committee members at LEAST two weeks before my scheduled defense. That’s the only requirement, so I’m writing my proposal in comic sans. Not really, but I thought about it.

Since there’s no limitations or guidelines you would think it would be a minor formality, easy to do, blah, blah, blah. No, it’s not. It’s the guide for my degree, so it needs to be through, detailed, and accurate. For reference I got a copy of previous student (who’s been awarded his PhD) proposal to help me figure out how to write mine and his was 24 pages long, not including the references. Basically it’s going to be long.

My saving grace is that I’ve written six major grant proposals and four PhD fellowship proposals all with regards to this project so a good chunk of what I need to do for my proposal is already written amongst the ten main documents. There are other minor proposals I’ve written and things that would aid in this process as well, but those ten documents are very formal so I feel that they would provide the best chance of having usable information for my proposal.

The plan today is to write the whole thing. That’s probably overly ambitious, but I’ve written so many damned proposals already, I feel like this will go quickly. That’s the only good thing that’s come out of not getting awarded funding for so long. My last proposal, the grant I wrote that got funded (here) will probably have the bulk of the stuff I need to write my main proposal. I’m holding out hope a lot of this will be copy and paste, or at least paraphrase since I’ll be doing exactly what was written in the grant proposal.

Once I have a draft I’m going to send it off to hospital-PI for first review since I trust his opinion. Even though most/all of the technical stuff will be outside his expertise, he has a lot of knowledge on the spinal cord and in general the neurology side of things. Once he gives a thumbs up, then school-PI will have the chance to review and we will hopefully move quickly to scheduling my defense.

Expect a bunch of posts leading up to that because there’s a lot of things to do to get ready, slides for example! Plus it’s a big (and scary) step toward my degree. I’m going to be anxious the whole way, but it will be good I think. Ideally my proposal defense will happen at the end of this month or early next month. Part of that depends on how quickly I can get my committee amended, part of it is time requirements for everyone involved, and part of it is school-PI and how quickly he approves my proposal document.

Anyway, one thing at a time, right? So I should get writing since there’s not a whole lot of hours left in the day. Wish me luck, I’m going to need it!

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