The Dissertation Proposal

The Proposal should be prepared in accordance with UTC formatting/APA style guidelines and should include a committee page similar to the committee page for the Dissertation, as shown in the Thesis and Dissertation Standards (link: Thesis and Dissertation). The Dissertation Proposal should also include a Title page which replaces the word “Dissertation” with “Proposal.”

The Proposal includes the first three chapters (Introduction, Literature Review, and Methodology) and their traditional elements, the References, and appropriate Appendices (surveys, assessments, measurement scales). The Proposal typically begins with a description of the context or background for the research question(s) in the study. It also defines key terms and variables and identifies hypotheses. The Proposal PowerPoint should focus on the research design process and should not typically exceed 15 slides total. The Proposal PowerPoint  recommended  organization follows:

  • 1-2 slides introducing the topic
  • 2-4 slides summarizing the background/literature (Chapter 2)
  • 5-8 slides describing the research questions and research design process (Chapter 3)

For additional information, please refer to Writing the winning thesis or dissertation: A step by step guide by Joyner, Rouse, and Glatthorn (link: Dissertation Resources).

Defense and Approval of the Dissertation Proposal

The Proposal defense serves as an opportunity for the candidate to share with the Committee a complete first three chapters of the proposed study that is a comprehensive and well-defined plan for the dissertation. The format of the Proposal defense is a brief and succinct presentation (including the PowerPoint presentation guidelines above) followed by questions from the Committee. The Dissertation Chair will determine when the Proposal is ready for review by the committee. The Chair provides the Committee with the draft manuscript at least 14 days prior to the Proposal defense. The Chair will then contact the candidate and Committee to set a Proposal defense date and time. Once the date and time have been established, the Chair will notify the Program Office ( The Program Office will reserve a meeting location, distribute appointment invites, and confirm any needed technology services.   

The candidate will provide the Chair with a draft of the PowerPoint presentation at least 14 days prior to the Proposal defense. On the day of Proposal defense, the candidate will make a brief and succinct overview of the Proposal, ensuring that the following major points are addressed in a thorough yet clear manner:

  • Significance of the proposed research
  • A summary of key points extracted from the literature on the topic
  • A description of the conceptual framework and how the problem will be measured or assessed
  • A proposal for analysis and interpretation of data or evidence

Following the candidate’s presentation, each Committee member will be given the opportunity to present questions to the candidate; this is intended to probe the candidate’s understanding of the Proposal and to clarify, to both the candidate and Committee members, information which has been presented. Committee members may also suggest changes in any aspect of the Proposal at this point. It is imperative to remember that opinions may differ; should differences arise, the Chair will provide guidance.

The Proposal defense requires demonstration of two elements: 

  1. The candidate, Chair, and Committee have thought deeply and carefully about the Proposal; the “big picture” is defensible
  2. The candidate is able to weigh the suggestions of the Committee and accept those that will strengthen the study

After all Committee members have had opportunities to ask questions and make suggestions or comments, the Committee will deliberate and determine whether or not the Proposal has been successfully defended and can be approved. An approved Dissertation Proposal functions as a document/plan specifying that, assuming the candidate carries out the project as described in the Proposal, the Committee cannot find the Dissertation defense unacceptable based solely upon the research plan. However, it is important to note that approval of a Proposal does not ensure approval of Chapters 1-3 when defending the Dissertation.

  • If upon completion of the Proposal defense, the Proposal is not ready for approval, the Chair will notify the Program Office ( to hold the Examination Results Form. The candidate will work with the Chair to complete the Proposal based upon the Committee’s feedback and another defense meeting will be convened within a time frame agreed upon by the Dissertation Committee.
  • If there are revisions needed for the Proposal, the Chair will notify the Program Office ( to hold the Examination Results Form. Once the requested revisions have been made and approved, the Chair will submit a copy of the manuscript to the Program Office and request that the Program Office circulate the Examination Results Form from each Committee member and the Program Director/Advisor.
  • If the Proposal is approved (with no revisions), the Chair will submit a copy of the manuscript to the Program Office ( and request that the Program Office circulate the Examination Results Form for digital signatures from each Committee member and the Program Director/Advisor. 

Once the Proposal has been approved by the committee and Program Director/Advisor, the candidate may move forward with the IRB application process (link: Academic Research Integrity). Data collection may not begin until the Dissertation Proposal has been successfully defended and the study has received IRB approval. 

Minimum Degree Credit Hours 

The Learning and Leadership doctoral degree requires a minimum of 66 total graduate credit hours (Ed.D.) / 75 total graduate credit hours (Ph.D.).  Each candidate is required to successfully complete a minimum of 12 Dissertation credit hours (Ed.D.) / 15 Dissertation credit hours (Ph.D.) and defend the Dissertation. Candidates who do not complete the Dissertation hours within the 12 credit hour timeframe (Ed.D.) or 15 credit hour time frame (Ph.D.) must take an additional 2 Dissertation credit hours each semester through graduation. The candidate must be enrolled in a minimum of 2 Dissertation credits (LEAD 7999) during the semester in which the Final Dissertation Defense is held.