What Is a Ph.D. Dissertation
Ph.D. dissertations (see dissertation) are commonly believed to be comprehensive compendiums of the original research done by a graduate student in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. In reality, the Ph.D. thesis is usually a number of disparate chapters. The most important feature about it is not the thoroughness of the experimental description but rather the width of the margins.
An appropriate Ph.D. dissertation project should demonstrate original thinking by the student and contribute significantly to the body of knowledge in the student's discipline, the dissertation also demonstrates a student's research competence in a specific field. The essence of a dissertation is critical thinking, not experimental data. Analysis and concepts form the heart of the work. Each statement in a dissertation must be correct and defensible in a logical and scientific sense. Moreover, the discussions in a dissertation must satisfy the most stringent rules of logic applied to mathematics and science.
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You should also have a physical filing system: a collection of folders with chapter numbers on them. This will make you feel good about getting started and also help clean up your desk. Your files will contain not just the plots of results and pages of calculations, but all sorts of old notes, references, calibration curves, suppliers' addresses, specifications, speculations, letters from colleagues etc., which will suddenly strike you as relevant to one chapter or other. Stick them in that folder. Then put all the folders in a box or a filing cabinet. As you write bits and pieces of text, place the hard copy, the figures etc. in these folders as well.
A Typical Ph.D. Dissertation Structure
- Introduction: set the scene and problem statement. Introduce structure of thesis, state contributions (3-5)
- Background: demonstrate wider appreciation (context). Provide motivation. The problem statement and the motivation state how you want the Ph.D. to be judged - as engineering, scientific method, theory, philosophy
- Related Work: survey and critical assessment. Relation to own work
- Analysis, Design, Implementation, and Interpretation of Results
- Critical Assessment of Own Work: state hypothesis, and demonstrate precision, thoroughness, contribution, and comparison with the closest rival
- Further Work
- Summary: restate contribution
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