The doctoral program of the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology has as its fundamental mission the teaching of scholar-practitioners. The dissertation is a key and crowning experience in cultivating the doctoral candidate’s scholarly ability and in enhancing the candidate’s ability to integrate theory, research, and practice.
In the interest of training scholar-practitioners, the doctoral program has adopted the model of the National Council of Schools and Programs in Professional Psychology. This model emphasizes the importance of students’ acquisition of competency in the following areas:
- Relationship, Assessment, Intervention
- Research and Evaluation
- Supervision and Management
- Consultation and Education
The dissertation is a multi-competency task: In the typical dissertation, a number of these competencies are developed further.
The particular competencies strengthened depend on the topic of the dissertation and the methodology used by the student. Empirical work can be quantitative, can involve assessment of groups or single case designs. Nonetheless, all projects should help the student further his or her competency in Research and Evaluation. Some projects may be empirical in nature and help the student to acquire a variety of research skills.
Other projects may be theoretical. Regardless of the nature of the project, the student will learn a variety of skills such as how to formulate a problem, to understand the problem through the use of relevant literature, to critique studies and theoretical positions in the literature, and to anticipate the next developments on the topic. All of these skills are ones that will help eventual graduates to function as local clinical scientists, able to generate and study questions in whatever practice setting they find themselves.
Several features must characterize the dissertation, features that may distinguish it from many of the students’ other scholarly projects. The dissertation must make an original contribution to the field. The dissertation is not a literature review although it entails a literature review. The dissertation involves posing a clearly defined, specific question, the answer to which can advance the discipline of psychology. If you cannot state your question succinctly, you have done insufficient conceptual work in honing the question. The dissertation is a process shaped by faculty input.
Unlike a term paper experience in which the student does the work and the faculty member provides an evaluation at the endpoint of the writing process, the faculty members offer feedback throughout the writing process and the student is expected to be responsive to the feedback. The student must expect multiple drafts before the defense and may be asked to revise the document further after the defense.
The dissertation is expected to be a polished piece of prose. The dissertation manuscript should be impeccable in terms of all aspects of writing (phrasing, sentence structure, grammar, American Psychological Association (APA) format and style).
This achievement will require much editing. Finally, the student must not only show the capacity to communicate his or her findings in written form but also orally. In the dissertation defense, students demonstrate that they can share ideas and respond ably to feedback on those ideas in a professional forum.
The dissertation is another opportunity for students to explore diversity topics. From 2005-2011, 50% of Widener dissertations highlighted prominently some aspect of diversity in its central research questions. Among the dissertations featuring diversity, the dimensions most commonly featured are the following:
- Developmental and acquired disabilities (35%)
- Gender (20%)
- Sexual orientation (13%),
- Age and generational influences (12%)
- Ethnicity (11%)
- Religion and spiritual orientation (4%)
- National origin (3%)
- Socioeconomic status (2%)
Several recent dissertations include:
- A Strengths-Based Assessment of Young Adults Raised as Children of Lesbian Adoptive Mothers: Identity Development, Peer Relationships, Stigma and Passing.
- Questionably Valid Baseline Scores on ImPACT in a Division III Athletic Population: Rates and Influential Factors.
- A Best Practices Guide in Social Skills Training for Kindergarten Teachers of Children with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- Combating Teacher Turnover: Development of a Consultation Program for School Psychologists to Assist in the Retention of Novice Teachers.
- The Effects of Rorschach Coverage on the Internet on Examinees’ Ability to “Fake Good” in a Simulated Child Custody Context.