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  • Tactics & advice for doctoral research mentoring
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(Just the perspectives of one faculty member in TLT–none of this is to be taken as policy or a consensus view)


  • Searching the lit: How do you find research? What options do you have? Have at least three consistent, comfortable search paths (JSTOR, Google Scholar, ERIC? EBSCO?)
  • Evaluating lit: Among the citations you find, how do you decide which ones to focus on? How do you decide to find them credible or not? Know at least TWO metrics of journal or article or author impact.
  • Organizing your thinking
    • Do you have a system for tracking what you've read & what it said?
    • How can you connect what you're reading to what you're thinking about / writing about / designing?
  • Writing: How do you cycle between process writing and product writing to move forward on your goals?
  • (Cycling through all of the above)


  • It's easier to start a doctoral program than to finish one. At the beginning it's a lot of coursework...and you can do coursework. But along the way you will probably need larger and larger blocks of time to do the reading, writing, and thinking required for research and publication. You'll also need to find time when your brain is fresh – not the very end of the day, not when you're also attending to some other task. Some doctoral students shift to full-time student status (and/or reduce work or personal commitments) to finish.
  • Communication with your advisor is probably the most valuable time investment you can make. The more you bring to your advisor, the more feedback and direction you can get in return. 
  • As a doc student, you will be doing lots and lots (and LOTS) of reading. What what to focus on? My advice is to read broadly up through the exam–the big names, the influential studies, the hot topics. Once you are through your exam, read narrowly (but thoughtfully) once you are working on your research. Read LESS, not MORE – but make sure you're reading the highest-value pieces for your work. There's an ocean out there; don't try to drink it. 
  • Recognize that part of the skill set isn't just writing and research; it's also presenting and networking. Plan to present your work along the way, taking advantage of both local opportunities (such as the TLT Summit) and regional or national conferences (ISTE, AERA, etc.). This will require time, it will require money...but it's an essential element. These presentations are both a useful rehearsal opportunity for presenting your doc research project and dissertation, plus they're an opportunity to network with other scholars in your field. 

TACTICS for refining your research agenda: Five exercises (all quant- or post-positivist oriented...need to be modified to be more relevant for qual methodologies). Move from 'emergent' / 'exploratory' to more tightly defined / focused. Don't have to be done in any particular order; might even try two tactics at once and see if they lead you to the same place.

  1. Start with the dependent variable(s) 
    1. Write down the dependent variable you wish to study. What is it? Why do you care about it? As much as you can, contextualize it within the literature – what theories seem to connect with this DV? Who else has researched this DV? 
    2. What are your options for assessing / observing / measuring this DV? What instruments exist? What are some studies that have used these instruments? 
    3. What are your options for influencing the DV? (In essence: What independent variables might you study?) What intervention or treatment might move the needle? Have any published studies examined these IVs?
    4. Identify one or more 'template studies' for your research – who has done something similar to what you might do? 
  2. Refining your research question(s)
    1. Write the question(s) you'd like to research. Be sure to include the population, conditions, and measures
    2. Now write a question that you think is NOT worth researching -- it's a 'solved problem'; you already know what the answer will be. Again, be specific about population, conditions, and measures.
    3. Explain why you think you know the answer to (b) -- what literature are you drawing from? Why do you find it credible?
    4. Explain how your RQs, as opposed to the RQs you provided in (b), will advance the field
  3. RQ + UTOS
    1. Write you research question(s)
    2. Identify the Units – who is being studied? Where does the DV reside? How granular will your analysis be?
    3. Identify the Treatments. (Note: 'No treatment' is a possibility.) Does it happen to individuals? Groups? Be alert for 'compound' treatments – for example, it's the in-class activities AND the outside-of-class homework or reading.
    4. Identify the Observations – what data will you collect to let you know what's going on with the DV? What contextual data will you collect on the treatment? What data will let you establish comparability of groups?
    5. Identify the Settings – where will this research take place? At what time of year? What might be a salient environmental factor to the students? For the treatment?
  4. Mapping the territory: Build a table of relevant research. Each article gets a row; in each row...
    1. Provide the APA citation
    2. Provide the RQs (or research aims / purposes)
    3. Identify the Units
    4. Identify the Treatments (if any)
    5. Identify the Observations
    6. Identify the Settings
    7. ...and then go back and color-code the UTOS cells – which ones are identical to your intended study? Which are similar? Which are divergent? 
    8. (This table will help you both stay organized within the literature AND it will help you identify and explain the gap in the literature that you are addressing. If you discover that you don't have much overlap with the existing literature, either go back and re-scan the lit for anything you missed and/or re-design your study to take a smaller step.)
  5. Building an alignment table 
    1. In the first column, list your research question(s)
    2. In the next column, identify each construct of each question
    3. Next, identify the data source(s) you will have for each construct. Include the timing (pre- and/or posttest, for example). For any pre-existing instruments, include their reliability scores and validation data (if applicable), inter-reliability ratings, etc. 
    4. The next column is 'Analysis' – what will you do with the data that you have collected? What is your expected plan of analysis. Be as specific as possible – include coding frames or specific inferential tests as applicable

In TLT 402. the sequence for advancing a research agenda is...

  1. Concept Paper and Presentation
    1. Short (approx 2 pp.) paper that
      1. describes your topic of interest,
      2. provides 3 reasons why this topic is important for educational researchers to investigate (i.e., so what question),
      3. identifies the journal to which you wish to submit, and
      4. identifies preliminary research question(s) you will address.
      5. Includes at least 5 references.
    2. Presentation to class mates, approx. 10 minutes followed by discussion
  2. Doctoral Research Project: Outline and Presentation of Introduction
    1. Outline (or draft as much as you like)
    2. Ref list, with 10 references minimum
    3. Presentation to class mates (approx. 10 min, followed by discussion)
  3. Doctoral Research Project: Full Proposal:
    1. Introduction, along with ideas for methodology (what are methodological ideas that would move the field forward?)
    2. 10-12ish pages (excluding references) that covers the introduction, literature review, and methodology for your research project
    3. 15 reference minimum
    4. (After peer review: 1 page “response to reviewers” on how you used their feedback)
  4. Peer Reviews
    1. Complete 2 peer reviews across the course of the semester. Provide a 1ish page synthesis of comments on your peers’ writing – strengths, questions, areas to strengthen. You may also wish to embed comments into your peers’ drafts (I personally find this very helpful as a writer.)
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