This webpage is designed to provide you with resources to write a successful application to the Individualized Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program. You will find information to help articulate your problem statement, write a review of literature, define the competencies and skills to be acquired in the program, design the methods of assessment of your degree, and tips about how to apply to graduate school.
Expectations of the DIS Admission Committee
The DIS proposal is the most important document in the DIS application packet. This document will provide the admission committee with the information on your research question, your review of the relevant literature, and the methodology relevant to your degree are. The committee is composed of faculty members from diverse graduate programs at the University of Montana, therefore, your audience will be interdisciplinary and not necessarily from the content areas in your proposal. Your document will have to be informative and persuasive.
The DIS Admission Committee will be looking for proposals that:
- Cannot be achieved through a traditional doctoral degree from the University of Montana;
- Clearly describe and explain a research problem;
- Contextualizes the research problem in existing literature;
- Create an interdisciplinary approach to solving the problem or achieving the research;
- Create a methodological approach relevant to the proposal (you are asked to consult with your prospective committee for the methodology section).
The information below is adapted from handouts provided by UM's Writing and Public Speaking Center Kate Zoellner at the Mansfield Library and the Penn State Writing Center, and can help you in your proposal writing.
What is a Statement of the Problem?*
A DIS proposal has to convey clearly the problem or knowledge gap that will guide your doctoral degree and justify creating this individualized plan of study. This is the most crucial element of your DIS. Clearly identifying and stating the problem will support all aspects of your DIS, from the development of the proposal, the competencies and skills, to the assessment. Different disciplines include this section in the introduction, in a purpose section, or as a stand-alone section. Whichever format you decide to use, the statement of the problem should clearly identify the problem or knowledge gap.
The statement of the problem needs to answer the questions “What is the gap that needs to be filled?” or “What is the problem that needs to be solved?” The goal is to inform and persuade your audience that there is a problem worthy to be researched and that will guide your individualized plan of study.
You should also remember to state this early in a paragraph and limit the variables you will address when stating your problem or questions. The doctorate is about promoting original research that advances the current knowledge in the field and makes you an expert on a specific topic. The DIS accomplishes this by combining different perspectives and disciplines to solve/address the problem or knowledge gap.
* Adapted from “Writing Conference, Thesis, and Dissertation Proposals,” by Penn State University Writing Center.
The research process
The research process is generally driven by questions and you will be looking for answers to the questions that will guide your Interdisciplinary degree. As you move through your research process, it can be useful to ask questions to:
- Define your topic.
- Determine the scope of your literature review.
- Identify themes and trends in your field.
- Identify gaps, conflicts and problems in the current state of knowledge.
The different steps in your research process require different strategies; you need different approaches to searching, reading, and note-taking at each stage. For different literature search strategies, please consult with your prospective committee members or a librarian.
What is a Literature Review?
A literature review is part of the research process, often explicitly presented within research papers and articles and theses and dissertations; sometimes it stands alone. It involves information seeking, critical evaluation, and writing. A literature review provides the context for your research, making clear why your topic deserves attention and/or investigation. In reviewing the published literature, the aim is to explain what ideas and knowledge have been gained and shared to date (i.e., hypotheses tested, interventions made, perspectives within set time periods; methods used; results and conclusions), the weakness and strengths of previous works, and to identify remaining research questions. The purpose is to:
- reveal existing knowledge
- identify areas of consensus and debate
- identify gaps in knowledge
- identify approaches to research design and methodology
- identify other researchers with similar interests
- clarify your future directions for research
A literature review organizes research into sections that present themes or identify trends, including relevant theory, and evaluates/synthesizes literature according to the guiding concepts of the research question. In other words, a literature review is not a list describing or summarizing one piece of literature after another. Most literature reviews start with a description of the general topic, progress to a discussion of what is known and what is unknown (what gaps, problems and conflicts exist in a specific area of research), and end with an explanation of what next steps could or will be taken, including and setting up the significance of the research.
The role and exact purpose of a literature review varies by discipline. For example, in some healthcare fields a systematic literature review is conducted to assess the applicability of health and medical study results in order to develop evidence-based interventions. And in history, the humanities, and social sciences a review may be a survey of the history of literature in the field to identify changes in perspectives. Read literature reviews in your field to understand how they are organized and find models for your work.
How do I know if the Literature Review is making sense? Get some fresh eyes on your drafts! The Writing Center can help at any point in your writing process, from organizing your thoughts to being a soundboard to your ideas. They can also help you with effective writing strategies for your research statement and literature review. The IGP program coordinator can also provide you with feedback. Lastly, rely on your prospective committee member’s expertise and experience. Ask questions!
Competencies and Skills and related coursework
The Interdisciplinary degrees offer an opportunity for you to tailor your plan of study to your personal and professional goals. You need to identify, with the help of your prospective committee, what competencies and skills you need to acquire during your graduate program to develop, implement and complete your degree and that would prepare you for your intended career. Identifying these competencies and skills will be essential for assembling the coursework needed for the degree. This step will come after you identify and write your problem statement.
After you lay out the competencies and skills (you can also think of it as the objectives of your DIS), you and your prospective committee will identify the appropriate coursework to include in your plan of study that are relevant to the acquisition of those competencies and skills, and articulate the connection between coursework and objectives in the proposal for the DIS Admission Committee. In the end, you should have a timeline that depicts the logical progression of coursework to your research phase and completion of the comprehensive examination.
Comprehensive examination or portfolio (assessment)
The DIS requires a formal assessment of the learning you achieved through the doctoral work; such assessment can be in the format of a comprehensive examination, a portfolio, or a hybrid, each of which is described below.
The comprehensive examination (sometimes referred to as qualifying exams) is a more traditional format of a written exam consisting of a number of questions. You and your prospective committee must jointly decide on when you must take the exam, the type and number of questions in the exam, who will write and grade the questions, if the questions are short-answer and closed-book or long-answer and open-book, what constitutes a pass/fail grade, and if there would be an oral portion of the examination.
Comprehensive Examination example
At least four semesters before graduation and no more than five completed semesters of the DIS program, the student must pass a comprehensive examination covering the major field(s) of study. The exam will have both written and oral components and is conducted by the DIS committee members. A maximum of one dissenting vote will constitute successful completion of the examination. Re-taking of the exam is at the discretion of the committee. Upon completing the exam, the student’s chair must notify the Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs Director or designee of the comprehensive examination results. This must be done within five weeks after passing the exam.
The written exam shall consist of three question types, where two questions are Type 1 and Type 2 each, and a minimum of five to a maximum of 10 Type 3 questions, as described below:
Type 1 Question is a question pertaining to the dissertation topic, designed to strengthen the student’s knowledge and consideration in the chosen DIS areas and to assist in further strengthening the student’s research objectives and procedures.
Type 2 Question is a question on an important and controversial area of current interest in the student’s general fields, but not directly related to the dissertation topic.
These questions are long-answer and open-book. The committee will allow at least one week to answer each of the above question types. In responding to type 1 and 2 questions, the student will have complete library and discussion privileges, and the answers will be prepared in manuscript form with bibliography or literature citations. The answers are to be as complete as time allows. The written responses shall be typed, duplicated and distributed, one copy to each committee member, no less than one week before the scheduled date of the oral examination. After reading the written responses, the committee may also require some or all of the written responses to be rewritten and may postpone for a reasonable time the oral portion of the examination.
Type 3 Questions are questions of historical, developmental, or philosophical importance in the student’s areas of specialization. This question type consists of one or more questions prepared by each committee member.
These latter questions are generally short-answer and closed-book. The number of such questions and the amount of time that the student is to spend on each question will be decided by the committee.
The written questions shall constitute the point of departure for the oral portion of the examination. The oral examination shall explore in depth the areas presented in the written questions, but shall not be restricted to these questions. The examination shall be open to all members of the faculty of the University, and all such persons may question the student. Only the student’s committee shall have voting privileges; all other persons attending the examination shall be excused prior to the vote. Normally, the vote for admission to candidacy will occur at the end of the oral examination.
An announcement stating the time and location of the oral exam will be posted at least 5 working days in advance by the Chair of the DIS committee so that interested faculty may attend.
The comprehensive portfolio is designed to allow for a series of deliverables or products relating to acquiring the competencies and skills during the doctorate. These deliverables will demonstrate the practical application of the competencies and skills acquired and evaluated by the student’s committee members. You and your prospective committee must jointly decide on when and how the final portfolio or the different deliverables of the portfolio must be submitted or presented to the committee, what are the evaluation benchmarks, what constitutes a pass/fail grade, and if there would be an oral portion of the examination.
Comprehensive portfolio example
The comprehensive portfolio consists of a portfolio of academic/scholarly products demonstrating performance in research and communication of the student's interdisciplinary areas of knowledge. Typical progression through the program would dictate completion of the comps requirements with the portfolio completed and turned in and the requirements completely satisfied by the completion of the student's fourth year.
At least one semester before the term of graduation, the student will complete a comprehensive portfolio covering the interdisciplinary areas. The DIS committee will be the examining committee. Any interested faculty may attend the examination components and ask questions on recognition by the Chair. During a private voting procedure by the DIS committee, the student may pass the DIS comprehensive exam with one negative vote. In case of a failed component, a repeated attempt at that component before the same committee is permitted.
The student's progress toward completion of the comprehensive portfolio requirements will be documented in a written plan and checklist. This plan/checklist will serve as a guide and measure of the progress. Alterations to the plan will be permissible, if approved, by the DIS committee as long as the proposed changes satisfy the DIS requirements.
All activities for a given competency area should be reviewed by the chair of the DIS committee and signed off as ‘approved’ for submission as part of the entire portfolio.
Accordingly, the two dimensions of the comprehensive portfolio evaluation are as follows:
- Research acumen, as assessed by the student's abilities to contribute to the knowledge base in the interdisciplinary areas. The student will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of how the research process contributes to the knowledge in the chosen interdisciplinary areas through producing two of the following three products, as part of the Comprehensive Portfolio:
a. Documentation of a research-based manuscript submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. The student will be required to be the primary author on this work; exceptions to this policy would be at the discretion of the comprehensive exam committee. The committee documentation of this work may be a letter (or email) from a journal editor, indicating receipt of the manuscript, as well as the manuscript itself.
b. Submission of a research-based grant proposal to an extramural funding agency. This would include a research grant or one similar in scope to those submitted for consideration of a National Research Service Award (NRSA) provided through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). (Please note: a grant proposal of only one or two pages will not be acceptable.) Appropriate documentation of this work would include a copy of the grant proposal, as well as an indication that the grant application has been received (i.e., a printed screen from my log in account with NIH indicating the status of the application).
c. A review of the literature underlying the planned dissertation project. The literature review should provide a comprehensive overview of the student's area of research interest and should represent a stand-alone product, similar in form to a Psychological Bulletin or Psychological Review article. Although the page length of this product would likely vary somewhat with its specific focus, a reasonable length would be approximately 50 pages (excluding references, tables, and figures). This product would be included in the comps portfolio and will be reviewed by the DIS committee.
All members of the DIS committee will be responsible for reviewing the suitability of the research-based manuscript (option a, above), the research-based grant proposal (option b, above), or the review of literature (option c, above). The committee will make determination of competence of the two options selected.
- Communication and critical thinking proficiency of the interdisciplinary areas of knowledge, as assessed by the student's competency in translating and communicating interdisciplinary concepts or research findings to an audience of students or community members. The student will demonstrate the ability to effectively present information about the interdisciplinary areas underlying the DIS studies to an audience by completing (a) and (b).
a. Successfully present the findings from the DIS project at an academic colloquium or a graduate student/faculty conference. This component requires that, for the colloquium, three members of my committee be present to evaluate the quality of the presentation and the clarity of the communication, and for the conference option, a single faculty member must be present to provide evaluation.
b. Make two presentations—with at least one being research-based—at a state (non-university), regional, national or international conference. The presentations must cover a unique topic and the student may use any combination of the following: paper presentation at a research conference, poster presentation, or presentation at a community forum. The DIS chair must approve each presentation beforehand and the student will deliver each presentation in a PowerPoint format that must be provided for the portfolio.
Hybrid Comprehensive Examination and Portfolio
A hybrid (or combined) comprehensive examination and portfolio is also an option. You and your prospective committee members must jointly decide on the details of the examination and portfolio.
Hybrid comprehensive examination and portfolio example
The comprehensive examination will consist of one to two questions in the area of statistics. The questions will be written by [name of DIS committee member] and will be pertinent to the type of statistical analyses commonly used in the student's area of interdisciplinary research. The examination will be closed book. The comprehensive portfolio will consist of a portfolio of academic/scholarly products demonstrating performance in research and communication of the student's interdisciplinary areas of knowledge. Typical progression through the program would dictate completion of the comps requirements with the portfolio completed and turned in and the requirements completely satisfied by the completion of the student's fourth year, and the examination completed prior to the dissertation writing.
The DIS committee will be the examining committee. Any interested faculty may attend the examination components (as applicable) and ask questions on recognition by the Chair. During a private voting procedure by the DIS committee, the student may pass the DIS comprehensive exam with one dissenting vote. In case of a failed component, a repeated attempt of that component before the same committee is permitted. Alterations to the plan will be permissible, if approved by the DIS committee, as long as the proposed changes satisfy the DIS requirements.
In all areas, the student is expected to demonstrate an understanding of the importance of diversity and ethical conduct. All activities for a given competency area should be reviewed by the chair of the DIS committee and signed off as ‘approved’ for submission as part of the entire portfolio.
Component 1: Comprehensive examination
The student will be expected to answer two questions in the area of statistics. [Name of committee member] will prepare the questions. The examination will be closed-book and the amount of time that the student is to spend on each question will be decided by [name of committee member].
Component 2: Competency to contribute to the knowledge base.
The student will be expected to demonstrate an understanding of how the research process contributes to the knowledge in the chosen interdisciplinary areas through producing items (a) and (b) of the section 1 of the comprehensive portfolio described above.
All members of the committee will be responsible for reviewing the suitability of the research-based manuscript and the research-based grant proposal.
Component 3: Competency In Communication and Critical Thinking Proficiency of Interdisciplinary Knowledge.
The student will demonstrate the ability to effectively present information about the interdisciplinary areas underlying the DIS studies to an audience through the products or deliverables in the section 2 of the comprehensive portfolio described above.