PhD thesis guidelines

This document aims to gather some hints and suggestions to effectively write a PhD dissertation in economics. It does not pretend to be a complete treaty. Rather, it delivers some effective guidelines.

 The list of the topics include:

1)      What is a PhD program?

2)      How to write a thesis proposal

3)      How to organize your PhD dissertation


1)      What is a PhD program?

The principal task of a PhD program is to introduce a candidate to the research activity. Doing research means making discoveries: they may concern advances or improvements in understanding a social issue, or may identify new empirical regularities. Progress may involve either small steps or a big jump.  Both are valuable contributions and can produce an effective thesis. A PhD candidate needs to develop a new idea and add something original to the existing knowledge background. The first step to achieving this outcome is to formulate original, precise, and clear questions.  In this respect, a thesis must have a central question to be addressed, and the different contributions (usually three papers) should relate to this topic.

A precise motivation and a clear question are the true backbone of any dissertation.


 2)      How to write a research plan includiong a thesis proposal

 A PhD project officially begins with the writing of a research plan. But prior to this, in your motivation letter you must deliver a brief description of your proposal in which you explain the topic and the methodology you intend to use.

The research plan is a basic requirement in order to be enrolled in the PhD program. This document is due in the three months after acceptation. Your thesis proposal must include the following two basic features:

  a) A feasible topic in line with the research interests of at least one of the members of the department whose PhD you are enrolled, and
  b) Show a clear commitment to produce an original piece of research.

Ideally, your research plan should include:

  1. The title of the thesis
  2. An introduction in which you put forward the key question and the objectives of the research
  3. A brief overview of the current state of your selected topic
  4. The methodology of the research
  5. A short description of at least three research chapters in which you bring new ideas or insights about current open questions
  6. A timescale planning of the planned advances in your research
  7. Information about your sources of financing

As for the content of your research, make an effort to:

- Define as precise as possible your central research question pointing out its novelty and the relevance for the current economic literature in the selected field. Consider that a PhD thesis needs to build around at least three publishable papers.
- Sketch the research strategy you are planning to follow showing your expertise and ability to handle your selected topics.
- Provide a description of your expected results as well as the associated interpretation for each of your original contributions.


3)      How to organize your PhD dissertation

Once your research plan has been approved, you may concentrate on your PhD dissertation. Let us focus on the model of the conventional three-paper thesis (though other formats are allowed provided they contain at least three publishable contributions). This model involves a clear commitment in terms of quality because candidates must prove they are able to produce three potentially publishable contributions.

The classic structure includes the following elements:

    - Preface (usually where acknowledgements are addressed)

    - Introduction: outline of the problem, state of the art review, description of your central questions, and the way you address them.

    - Chapters (2 - 4) each chapter is a self-contained paper (dealing with methodological or applied issues as milestones to address your main research questions). This means that the chapters can be read and understood independently, but each one is tied to your central questions. For each of the three chapters you need to include a short introduction detailing the content, aim, and novelty of the contribution. The methodology must have the standards of papers published in scientific journals. This includes a variety of mossible methodologies: applied theoretical models, econometric exercises, quantitative and detailed case studies with a good theoretical background, quantitative simulations, experiments. In particular, the methodology is not restricted to econometrics (although our programme prepares well for this methodology) , as you can also make use of any other widely used techniques in your field of research. Theoretically-oriented theses in the research fields covered by the members of the Department are also acceptable. What is most important is that the paper includes three publishable (in scientific journals) contributions, that is, something that has not been done before. A literature survey is not usually considered a contribution, although the thesis (including its introduction) should signal an excellent knowledge of the relevant literature.

More information about chapter writing style may be found here (by Chandrasekhar, R. (UWA))

    - Conclusions: not just the summary of the results of your research, but also an outline of the implications for policy issues and proposals for further research.

In order to provide further elements to better demonstrate the quality of your work, you may add appendices that gather all the technicalities that are not suitable for inclusion into the main text of the dissertation.

 Remark: Timing issue. Even if it is hard to schedule proper research activity, it is possible to fix some general milestones. For a three-year full-time PhD candidate, the following general schedule is suggested:

- The first paper finished after one  year, around December

- The second paper finished after two years, in December

- The third paper must be finished by September at the end of the third year, in order to enter the job market.

Of course, in order to keep this ideal schedule, remember there will be times where you are required to work on more than one paper at once.

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