Book by Barbara E. Lovitts and Ellen L. Wert.
Review by Angela Victor
Career Services
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Dissertations are not scary. This friendly guide for graduate students in science outlines the dissertation purpose, process, and projected outcomes. The authors offer practical advice to help students manage the 30,000 foot view of the biggest paper of their life so far and provide tips on connecting with faculty and peers as well as helpful rubrics for assessing the quality of their product from the introduction and literature review to the data analysis and conclusions. Advisors can be confident in sharing this work with students to help answer questions about the dissertation process and create a context of quality from start to finish. 

The writing style and organization of this guide are as accessible to students as its size and price. As the authors state in the “Note to Faculty”, they hope this guide will be used by faculty and students together as they negotiate the dissertations process (Lovitts & Wert, 2009, v). Keys for advisors to note about this guide and about this process are the focus on establishing shared, explicit expectations between advisor and students about the process and about roles and responsibilities in the process. This sets students up for success in managing their responsibility while outlining how they seek support and resources to increase their quality and develop as a professional academic.

“The purpose of a dissertation is to prepare the student to be a professional in the discipline.” (2009, 1). Chapter 1 presents a thorough outline based on faculty feedback regarding what type of skills and experiences students are expected to demonstrate as a result of engaging in the dissertation process. Some examples highlighted in the guide include: the ability to research, data collection, review and summary of literature, and expertise in a chosen method. This resource helps advisors talk through the whys of the dissertation process with students and offers students the opportunity to regain their focus regarding the intent of the process as needed throughout the experience.

Originality and significance requirements can easily overwhelm students as they embark upon the journey to define their research question. Chapter 2 provides meaningful context and examples of these concepts and relates them to the purpose of the dissertation process for students. Conversation regarding the meaning of originality and significance helps both advisors and students frame the dissertation process and how it catalyzes the student’s evolution into a responsible professional in a chosen discipline.

Excellence and quality are likely part of what most graduate students value in the realm of education. How do students maintain these values in the dissertation process? This guide to students and faculty focuses on setting appropriate, measurable goals and outlines specific rubrics regarding how to assess levels of quality through each phase of the dissertation in multiple sample disciplines.

Advisors and students will find significant value in this dissertation guide. With focus on faculty provided feedback, students may feel more confident in their abilities to engage effectively in the process. Advisors may also use this as a go to resource in aiding doctoral students through the mental and physical processes of the biggest paper in their lives so far.

Developing quality dissertations in the sciences: A graduate student’s guide to achieving excellence. (2008). Book by Barbara E. Lovitts and Ellen L. Wert. Review by Angela Victor. Herndon, VA: Stylus Publications. 48 pp., $7.95, ISBN # 978-1-57922-259-9
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