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  • Writer's pictureMatt Garris

Dissertation Topics

The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.

When planning for my dissertation in pursuit of the Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership, I believe it is vital to understand the wisdom of Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV), “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” One thing I value about my faith is that I can “trust in the Lord…” to lead me and do not have to rely on my “own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Thus, I am open to adjusting the focus of my dissertation as the Lord directs me.

Barnes and Cheng stated that “having a clearly articulated research plan is central to success in the overall dissertation.” My ultimate career goal upon completion of this program is to start a network of Christian alternative schools targeting young men in grades 6-12 who are part of the “School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP).” Because of this, my research will likely focus on either the “why” or the “how” of the STPP phenomenon and those whom it affects. Bleakley described a similar relationship of topics as “two separate, but interdependent functions.” In essence, the interdependence of these factors--the root causes of the STPP and the means through which to dismantle it—allows for the natural extension of focused research from either topic to the other.

Within the realm of potential causes for the STPP, I would like to evaluate the glorification of crime in popular culture, fatherlessness, mental health, racism, street gangs, and poverty. Causes are easier to study than solutions because there are plenty of inmates who have been affected by the STPP and are currently sitting in prisons around the United States from which I could draw data. This data is also useful for identifying the STPP students prior to their first arrest—a vital need for my schools.

However, solving these problems is far more beneficial than merely understanding them. Towards that end, I am curious about the effectiveness of various interventions such as academic differentiation, authentic learning opportunities, Bible-based curriculum and character standards, content relevance, developing school pride and ownership, increased elective opportunities, increased incentives for engagement and good conduct, robust arts instruction and physical education, and strong male role models, among others. The goal of this research is to make my network of schools as effective as possible.

While I have many ideas for dissertation topics, I will certainly need to narrow the field as I draw closer to writing it. I believe that my preliminary research will assist me with this. My greatest need as I begin preparing for my dissertation is a greater familiarity with standard research methodologies. Although I understand the basics, none of my previous degrees have required significant quantitative research, so I have a steep learning curve there. I need to know which methods of research are most effective for certain types of data acquisition and the limitation of these methods.

There are also additional considerations for my research based on my intent to study juvenile human subjects. First, the ethical and legal requirements to study this group are stringent to ensure the privacy of research participants. Second, because of their age and general rejection of authority, these subjects are less likely to complete questionnaires or participate in interviews. Thus, my research will require some additional creativity to ensure its validity.

Finally, the only resources I know I will use are a mentor and the online search functionality of the campus library. I am sure that I will learn of other resources as I get closer to starting this project. While there are many unknowns surrounding my research and dissertation, I am excited to begin working on it!


Barnes, G. P. & Cheng, M. (2019). Working independently on the dissertation proposal: Experiences of international Master’s students. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43(8), 1120-1132.

Bleakley, H. (2017). Summaries of doctoral dissertations. The Journal of Economic History, 77(2), 537-574.

Holy Bible, New King James Version. (2020). Thomas Nelson (Original work published 1982).


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