So you are beginning your graduate program, reading over all the material and trying to prepare yourself as best as possible for the next two to three years. You’re already looking forward to graduation and figuring out exactly what will be required in order to receive your degree on time. What you've probably discovered is that whether you are pursuing a masters degree or a doctoral degree, the main goal in graduate school is to complete original research or projects, depending on your degree program.
The words “thesis” and “dissertation” are often used interchangeably, leading to some confusion in academia about what each individual word actually means. The main similarity between the dissertation and the thesis is the structure. Both have an introduction, literary review, main body, conclusion, bibliography and appendix. But that is the extent in which they are similar.
Differences Between a Masters Thesis and Doctoral Dissertation
Generally in the US, a thesis is the final project for the masters degree and a dissertation leads to a doctoral degree. Those pursuing a masters degree must perform research on a specific subject that demonstrates their knowledge acquired through their program. Seeking a PhD is different in that your dissertation must contribute something completely new and undiscovered to your field. In other words, you have to contribute original knowledge to the subject. So the main difference between a thesis and a dissertation is the depth of knowledge you must attain in order to write the paper.
A masters degree thesis is more closely related to a research paper that you would have completed during college. You are expected only to use the research of others and provide your own analysis on your discoveries. It demonstrates your level of critical and analytical thinking and defines the subject that you are most interested in pursuing within your field. With a dissertation, you are expected to use the research of others only to guide you in your own research to come up with a completely new hypothesis.
Another way in which the thesis and dissertation differ are in length. A masters degree thesis is typically over 100 pages. However, the dissertation is usually at least double and sometimes triple the length of a thesis. To determine the length of your thesis or dissertation, remember you should always first consult your grad school.
Tips For Writing a Thesis or Dissertation
The first step in writing your thesis or dissertation (or any other academic paper) is setting a deadline. You don’t want your deadline to be the due date of the paper because you need to leave enough time to get it proofread and to make any additional changes. You should keep a journal of your ideas to help with the writing process. The next step is to create a detailed outline of your paper.
When beginning to write your thesis or dissertation, keep in mind that you are writing an academic paper. Not many people besides your professors and academic advisors will read your thesis, so make sure to keep your writing style formal.
Consult a scholarly text to see how your thesis or dissertation should be structured. Once you have written and edited your thesis or dissertation, you should find an editor. Some editors will only check spelling and grammar issues, while others will check for overall continuity and flow. Determine what you need before searching for an editor.
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Making the decision to pursue a Ph.D can be an exciting time. Those seeking terminal degrees are often exhilarated by the thought of spending years immersed in research pertaining to their field of interest, having the opportunity to teach classes, and publishing academic articles. Before embarking on the long educational journey, most learners wonder how long the process will take.
The 5 Year Ph.D
In previous years, it was common to finish a master’s degree and then for those who wished to continue in their studies, the next five years would be spent working towards a doctoral degree. Those five years were spent learning new materials, teaching undergraduates, working as a lab assistant, and doing research for a dissertation. According to the science and communications blog Figure One, a decade ago it was very rare for a dissertation program to take longer than seven years. Today however, a person entering a doctoral program can expect to spend at least six or seven years earning that degree.
Averages by Field of Study
According to Joseph Berger of the New York Times, the average length of a dissertation program today is 8.2 years (2). Terminal degrees in the hard sciences typically take a slightly shorter time to complete than do degrees in education and the humanities. The field of physics has a current average of five years. The psychology field averages five to seven years. New doctoral students in the fields of history or english can expect to spend eight years completing the degree. Some fields of study require a significantly longer degree process. For example, in the field of education, the current average is 13 years.
Why Does It Take So Long?
Today’s doctoral students have significantly more demands placed on them than ever before. Most students today are earning their degrees while raising a family and working full time. The first two to three years of the doctoral program will likely be spent taking required and elective classes. Many of these courses have research components that can cause those courses to be time consuming. Students are often working a second job as a teaching assistant or research assistant during this phase of the program. Some fields of study, like teaching and psychology, can also require a residency or internship during the doctoral process.
Following the coursework, students must then study for and pass a comprehensive examination. This exam allows the faculty to ensure that the students have met all academic criteria needed to gain expertise in the field of study. This process can take several months to complete.
Once the comprehensive exam has been passed, Ph.D candidates begin the research and dissertation phase. In some fields of study, this can be accomplished in a year or eighteen months. However, many areas of research demand a dissertation process that is three years long or longer due to more intensive Institutional Review Board (IRB) requirements, study design, and data analysis. Today’s doctoral students are also expected to participate as an assistant in research to be published in journals during their Ph.D process.
When deciding to pursue an advanced degree, it is essential that the student considers the significant investment of both money and time. Today’s doctoral student can expect to spend almost a decade studying and researching to become experts in the field. This highly demanding process can also be immensely rewarding at the end of the process when you finally earn the title of “doctor”.