Emerging Dissertation Approaches and Designs

Across many fields of inquiry, perspectives, subjects, goals and approaches are broadening, along with innovations in the expression of knowledge and understanding. Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research is increasingly common. More research is bridging theory and application, and the ‘democratization’ of research has meant expanded and more diverse contributors and collaborators in the research. The potential audiences and uses of the dissertation have grown, resulting in expanded formats and modes of expression within the work.

While the scholarly creation of new disciplinary knowledge or ideas, and text-based monographs or compilations of published papers are still the norm, there is also a growing embrace of emerging, dynamic forms of scholarly investigation, application, and expression in many dissertations. Examples include (but are not limited to) creative, collaborative, applied, or engaged research in disciplines where these are not common; or the inclusion of documentary films, mobile apps, animated maps, policy briefs, graphic novels, and video games as the products or expression of students’ research.

UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies welcomes innovation in research, thesis and dissertation design. We see particular value in expanding the engagement in and accessibility of doctoral research for non-academic audiences.

Here are some examples of recent dissertations that have broken the mould:

Stewart, Patrick Robert Reid. Indigenous architecture through Indigenous knowledge: dim sagalts’apkw nisiḿ [together we will build a village] (2015). This PhD dissertation is written in a visual and narrative style that reflects the author’s Indigenous knowledge and expressive traditions.

Gregory Gan. “Russia outside Russia”: transnational mobility, objects of migration, and discourses on the locus of culture amongst educated Russian migrants in Paris, Berlin, and New York (2019). Visual material files Investigates transnational Russian identity using visual anthropology research methods. The dissertation includes the use of multiple narrative voices, audiovisual recordings and an interactive multi-media installation and online archive.

Lora Zosia Moon. A co(s)mic guide to getting bent: shifting perspectives between science and literature in twentieth-century England (2021). The dissertation uses the comics form to explore a shift in perspective unfolding between science and literature in early twentieth-century Britain. Reading the full dissertation involves folding the comics.

Sarah Dickson Hoyle. Restor(y)ing fire landscapes: wildfire recovery, co-management and restoration in Secwepemcúl̓ecw (2022). This dissertation was conducted in partnership with Secwépemc First Nations. It documents how Secwépemc communities and territories are recovering from the 2017 “Elephant Hill” megafire. The dissertation includes a report published in partnership with the Secwepemcúl̓ecw Restoration and Stewardship Society, based on the collaborative research.

Roseanna Gamlen-Greene. The ecology, distribution and population genetics of amphibians on Haida Gwaii, British Columbia (2022). While this dissertation is relatively traditional in format, the production process is unique in its deep responsiveness, collaboration, and impact with multiple community partners: the Council of the Haida Nation; provincial and federal agencies including BC Parks, Parks Canada and the Ministry of Forests; area elementary and high schools; non-profit organizations and local people, including farmers, to help identify, monitor and protect the culturally significant Western Toad, Hlk’yáan Ḵ’ust’áan (X̱aad Kíl dialect of the Haida language)/Hlk'yan ḵ'uust'an (X̱aayda Kil dialect). Source for names: X̱aad Kíl Née and Skidegate Haida Immersion Program.

There are several resources at UBC available to students who are interested in exploring emerging dissertation designs: