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11/19/2021

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Caligula's Goat

I think the most valuable lesson to learn about all phases of the professional process (during and beyond grad school) is that general principles won't take you very far and that particularism rules the day (yes, only Sith deal in absolutes...!).

Here's what I mean: Marcus is right. OP needs to get a local answer about what the prospectus is in *their* program and shouldn't attempt to produce one in isolation. In my old program the prospectus had two parts: one precis to the entire dissertation whose job was to summarize the project and each chapter in the proposed dissertation. This section tended to be between 15-20 pages. The second part was a sample chapter from that project whose length varied. All told the prospectus (again, in my department) was roughly 50-75 pages long and needed to have its own proper mini-defense with your in-house committee.

It's not clear that all departments treat a dissertation prospectus in that way or that they have the same ideas about how to successfully defend or produce one. For answers to those, ask other graduate students in your department who have already successfully passed that stage (ideally someone whose done it with the person or persons you are going to have chair your committee).

Daniel Weltman

Just to reiterate the message implicit in Marcus's comment and explicit in Caligula's Goat's comment:

The purpose of the prospectus is to make sure you and your committee are on the same page regarding your dissertation, and to fulfill whatever the prospectus requirement is in your program (and more specifically in your committee).

The expectations for your prospectus are whatever expectations are in the heads of your committee members. We don't know what those are, and probably you don't either, unless you ask them. So ask them.

The features that make the prospectus good are the features that, according your committee, a good prospectus has. Ask them what those features are.

Illustration: I met with my committee and told them three ideas I had for a dissertation. They suggested that one of those ideas sounded better than the other two.

Then, I asked them what a prospectus should look like. The general consensus was: 1) an overview of the whole project and 2) a sample of the sort of argumentation the project would include, plus a bibliography. I wrote a draft of that and they commented on it. I wrote another draft and received more comments. I believe I defended the prospectus after that. The final copy was 36 pages of whatever the default LaTeX styling is (I was trying out LaTeX at the time).

When I was a graduate student, the graduate students would organize a workshop every few years so that older students could give advice to newer students about prospectus writing and other stuff. Perhaps now would be a good time for the original person who asked the question to begin such a tradition in their grad program.

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