Dissertation Committee & Requirements – Doctor of Clinical Psychophysiology
Dissertations, Dissertation Committee, and Dissertation Defense:
As part of becoming professional psychophysiologists, each student performs an individual research study in an area of special interest to themselves. The topic is usually based in their own profession and is frequently related to some special technique, expertise, or package of information the student wants to develop which can be used in their profession after graduation. These studies are comparable in complexity and duration to any Ph.D. project at a typical university. The written portion of the project is contained in the doctoral dissertation that is a minimum of 25,000 words.
The program is designed so that work on the dissertation blends with other training received during the program and should be completed at about the time coursework and practica are completed. Students need to plan their time so all work on the dissertation, including data analysis and report writing is completed at the same time coursework is completed.
The dissertation project should be designed to (1) make an original contribution to the clinical literature in behavioral medicine, (2) be directly and practically related to one’s intended clinical practice, and (3) serve as an integral part of the process of setting up an effective and responsible practice in behavioral medicine.
No individual student or faculty member is likely to be expert in all of the facets of a research project. Thus, considerable advice is needed from people who have the required knowledge bases. For example, a student who proposes to perform a project on whether anxiety levels change in the work place among a group of employees in a high stress office from before to after group training in muscle tension awareness and control training, would require expert advice on at least (a) how to perform an objective evaluation of both individual and group anxiety in the work place, (b) how to perform group training in muscle tension awareness, (c) how the specific work environment to be evaluated actually functions, and (d) types of statistical evaluations required to detect differences between those who learned the skills and those who did not. Advice on numerous other areas such as specific evaluative tools, might be needed as well.
The committee’s role is to provide the expertise required to insure that the study has the best possible chance of succeeding. Members are chosen based on the types of expertise required. They advise the student (usually via e-mail) on the overall design of the study, the specific techniques to employ within their areas of expertise, review successive drafts of the protocol to insure that an optimal/doable experimental design is developed, answer questions as problems come up during the course of performing the study and analyzing the data, and then review successive drafts of the result and conclusions sections of the dissertation once all data have been gathered. Committee members never actually need to meet together. The dissertation defense is held during a conference call. Committee members are expected to ask the student a range of questions sufficiently broad so they can determine that the student has a solid knowledge of applied psychophysiology and the dissertation’s relationship to it. Topics for the oral defense are limited to the dissertation and the psychophysiological elements supporting and related to it. Once all committee members are satisfied that the student has a firm grasp of psychophysiology and the dissertation has been done, analyzed, and written up as well as practicable, their job is done.
Dissertation committees usually consist of three or, occasionally, four people. One is the Program’s Dean, who may or may not serve as the committee chair. The other two (or more) are subject matter experts. Members of dissertation committees can live anywhere as they never have to get together. They do not have to have any particular academic degree – just true expertise in the area they are contributing.