Overview of the Agile Approach to the DPS Dissertation Process

The following is an overview of the agile approach to the DPS dissertation process that makes it possible for most DPS students to complete their dissertation within the three-year time frame. Although some students complete the process in May/June of their third year, the end of the summer of the third year is the actual three-year marker since you started the DPS program in September.

Research Seminars 1 and 2 (fall and spring year 1, Friday evenings)

Learn about research and the dissertation process Select a suitable research area (usually by the end of seminar 2 or early in 3)

We highly recommend that you choose an area of research in which you have extensive knowledge and preferably expertise. This is possible because all DPS students are mature computing professionals with a minimum of five years experience in industry. Because most students of traditional doctoral programs matriculate directly from their undergraduate/masters-degree school and have to come up to speed in their research area, this alone can save several years of effort.

Research Seminars 3, 4, 5 (summer year 1, fall-spring year 2, Friday evenings)

Select a suitable research problem

This and most of the following steps are accomplished through an agile evolutionary process of independent work by the student, interactions with the student's advisor, and presentations and discussions in research seminars with active participation of faculty and classmates. Most importantly, you should choose an area of research and a problem in that area that you are enthusiastic about.

Review related literature

Similar to the traditional dissertation approach, each student independently reviews the literature relevant to their problem. However, in the DPS program the student must then present his/her literature review in the context of an idea paper through the above-mentioned agile evolutionary process. We also highly recommend using bibliography management software, such as Endnote, to facilitate this process and the process of completing the final dissertation manuscript.

Write the idea paper (practice version seminar 2, first real version seminar 3)

The idea paper is a brief (agile) version of the traditional research proposal. It is scrutinized and typically undergoes revision through the above-mentioned agile evolutionary process of presentations and discussions in research seminars.

Choose an advisor and committee (usually by seminar 4 or early in 5)

Dissertation (1 session summer year 2, 3 each in fall-spring year 3, Saturdays)

Select a suitable research approach and plan

The idea paper is a working document that grows to include the research approach and plan, and will eventually grow into the final dissertation. This process continues through independent work by the student, through student-advisor interactions, and through the above-mentioned agile evolutionary process of presentations and discussions in research seminars.

Conducting the research

This is done primarily with frequent interactions (weekly recommended) with your advisor.

Saturday dissertation status sessions: usually PowerPoint presentations including Dissertation manuscript

Early in the process (usually the fall of year 3) the idea paper is expanded into an end-to-end document that eventually becomes the dissertation. Stories indicate where the gaps are, and student-advisor interactions decide what to do next.

Dissertation defenses and committee meetings (usually late in third-year)

While some students can go directly into their dissertation defenses, others require a preliminary dissertation committee meeting. The usual format for either is a 30-60 minute presentation by the student on the dissertation work. For the actual dissertation defenses, this is followed by a pass/fail determination (usually pass, although the dissertation manuscript often requires revision). For the preliminary committee meetings, the presentation is followed by discussions and the committee determines what needs to be done to complete the dissertation.

DPS Dissertation Tools and Methodologies

Agile Methodology

Similar to software development work, we use the agile methodology for the dissertation process. In particular, we use the Extreme Programming (XP) method of frequent releases and fast turnarounds in roughly two-week iterations to make incremental advances in the dissertation work. The hallmarks of the agile methodology are starting small (with the simplest thing that can work), incremental releases, and constant testing, with completed tasks highly valued. These agile methodologies are mirrored in the DPS dissertation process that starts with the idea paper, builds on it, and constantly defends and develops it.

Team and Cohort Groups

Each DPS class is divided into teams for team project and other team work. Working in teams enhances learning, creating an "active learning process", and is particularly effective when the team members actually need each other to complete a project. It is the norm for employees to work in teams, and teams are used in all kinds of organizations, such as in industry, education, and government.

Your larger group of classmates (cohort year group) contributes frequently by making helpful suggestions in the research seminar meetings and by helping to find relevant literature and related material. This is an important part of the agile DPS dissertation process and all students are expected to participate and help their colleagues. The power of the community is strong.

Socratic Method

Beginning with Research Seminar 3 we use the Socratic Method of clarification through confrontational dialogue. This forces the student to think for him/herself and to vigorously defend their position. Because this method works best when the student is adequately prepared, it is strongly advised that you put substantial effort and thinking into your preparation. We find that the better the student is prepared, the more the student benefits from these interactions. From the Wikipedia the Socratic Method is, " asking a series of questions surrounding a central issue, and answering questions of the others involved. Generally this involves the defense of one point of view against another and is oppositional."

Dissertation Notebook

See Dr. Ron Frank's Research Seminar 1 presentation slides for detailed information about the dissertation notebook. As explained by Dr. Frank, we recommend that you maintain a dissertation notebook as a repository of your ideas, thoughts, and data - the only place that you write, diagram, or doodle about your dissertation.

Writing Emphasis

While you may talk a good game and make your ideas sound impressive, we emphasize writing down your ideas on paper for several reasons. First, only by expressing your ideas in writing do you get a good grasp on them. Second, the written form of your ideas is easily amenable to the iterative refinement process that we recommend. Third, this is the best way to communicate your ideas to your advisor and discuss them point by point. To get your research focused, we often recommend that you submit a paper for conference presentation, usually by the middle of the third year. An (agile?) idea that might help you focus on writing and/or avoid writer's block is to find a research writing partner.

Writing Tools

We recommend using Microsoft Word for text processing, PowerPoint for presentations, and EndNote (about $100 for students) to manage the bibliography. Always spell check documents and slides. In the first research seminar we teach the Strunk and White style of writing clearly and succinctly.