The Most Challenging Part? Selecting a Dissertation Topic for Aviation Research

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Scott R. Winter
David S. Cross


In the U.S., more than 50% of students who complete the coursework for a Ph.D. cannot complete the dissertation. Students fail to complete their dissertation, hence their Ph.D., for several reasons, but most of them are within their control. Many students start the dissertation process without a clear vision of a dissertation's actual purpose and what makes a successful dissertation. Specific technical areas, such as aviation, can be incredibly challenging to navigate during the Ph.D. process. The purpose of this study was twofold. First, we wanted to write a paper that describes several techniques to help Ph.D. students set realistic foundations to complete their Ph.D.; specifically, we focus on the mental shift, initial stages of the dissertation process, and selecting an appropriate dissertation topic. Second, through the use of a qualitative and phenomenological approach, we collected data from 12 active dissertation advising faculty members to summarize their insights on the dissertation process, specifically related to selecting a suitable dissertation topic. A discussion is provided for students to choose an appropriate dissertation chair (and committee), where to begin formulating a dissertation topic, assess the appropriateness of that topic, and recommend steps to complete before the prospectus writing stage. This paper aims to help provide students with a series of tasks to help them successfully identify and begin pursuing a dissertation topic.

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