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Section 7. Learning Modalities and Resources:
Doctoral Learning and Resources

Doctoral Research Sequence

Internal and external researchers and program leaders representing Walden University’s fields of doctoral study key stakeholders collaborated to generate a list of specific research competencies expected of all doctoral graduates from Walden.

Research competency standards of PhD programs in typical graduate programs were reviewed, as were those of external higher education associations such as The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and the Council of Graduate Schools, as well as several professional accrediting bodies.

The result of this extensive review and collaboration resulted in establishing 48 specific areas of competency organized around the following seven broad areas:

  • Philosophy of research
  • Research project design and approaches
  • Quantitative research techniques
  • Qualitative research techniques
  • Quantitative quality assurance
  • Qualitative quality assurance
  • Professional practice

Doctoral Research Competencies and Related Learning Objectives

Completion of the doctoral research sequence (RSCH 8110, RSCH 8210, and RSCH 8310) and the additional advanced-level courses required within each student’s program will enable students to achieve mastery of the specific set of these research competencies required for their field of study and professional goals.

Registering, Completing, and Receiving Credit for the Research Sequence Courses

Students register for the Research Sequence courses using the regular course registration process.

Institutional Review Board

Walden University is committed to conducting its research involving human subjects under rigorous ethical principles.

The university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) has been established to comply with existing regulations of the federal government. Specifically, the university follows the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (45 CFR 46).

University research ethics forms and guidance can be found at the Institutional Review Board web page.

Dissertation and Doctoral Capstone Credit

Doctor of Philosophy Programs

Students in PhD programs are enrolled in dissertation courses each term that they are working on completing their dissertation. Course credit is earned for each individual dissertation course successfully completed. If students complete the minimum dissertation credit required for their program but have not yet completed the dissertation process, they are continuously registered for the dissertation course until they receive final approval of their dissertation. In the rare event that a student completes his or her dissertation before earning the minimum required dissertation credits, only the chief academic officer can approve dissertation credit waivers. Students must be registered in the final term for which they receive approval of their dissertation. For program-specific information regarding dissertation credit, students should refer to the program and course information provided in the catalog.

Professional Doctorate Programs

Most professional doctorate programs have a capstone requirement that varies from that of the dissertation. Students in professional doctorate programs must complete a doctoral study, capstone, or project. The total credit requirement varies by program and is in addition to any practicum or field experience requirements. As with the dissertation, students are enrolled in a doctoral capstone course each term until they have met the total requirements for the program. For program-specific information regarding doctoral capstone credit, students should refer to the program and course information provided in the catalog.

KAM and Mixed-Model Programs

Students enrolled in a KAM or Mixed-Model program follow the same model of continuous registration as students in PhD programs. Students are continuously registered in a Research Forum course during the completion of the KAM and the dissertation. Students are responsible for completing all KAM coursework prior to engaging in the dissertation stage of their program. A dissertation committee cannot be formed or active until the student has completed all of their KAM requirements. For program-specific information regarding KAM and/or dissertation credit, students should refer to the program and course information provided in the catalog.

Please note, for all programs, students must be actively registered in the appropriate course in order to conduct research for a doctoral research artifact (dissertation/doctoral capstone/KAM) or to receive support services from Walden University.

Doctoral Capstone Completion Process

There are several milestones within the stages of the doctoral capstone or project process. For a visual of the stages and milestones, refer to the Doctoral Capstone Development document on the Office of Research and Doctoral Services website. Students should use the Doctoral Degree Coach—an interactive, virtual tool—to stay on track and complete their doctoral capstone or project. Students can access the Doctoral Degree Coach on the homepage of their capstone/project course, or on the Doctoral Degree Coach webpage.

All students enrolled in a Walden University doctoral program will proceed through the following stages and milestones as they complete their capstone:

Doctoral Capstone Development | Stages and Milestone

A doctoral capstone (e.g., dissertation, project study, etc.) is required in the final phase of a student’s doctoral journey. During capstone development, students integrate their program of study into an in-depth exploration culminating in the completion of a doctoral research study. Students complete the study independently, with the support of a capstone committee, and following the guidance from program capstone resources and the Doctoral Degree Coach™. Once enrolled in the university capstone course, students are registered each term until the successful completion of all stages.

Capstone Stages

Infographic showing the stages of the doctoral capstone

Progress Milestones within the Stages


The Doctoral Prospectus is a brief document that provides preliminary information about the capstone research. It serves as the tentative plan for developing the Proposal and is evaluated to ensure doctoral-level work (e.g., feasibility, alignment, etc.) by the committee chair, second committee member, and a program-level designee. Program-level approval is required to progress to the Proposal.


The Doctoral Proposal consists of the initial chapters or sections of the capstone and an APA-style reference list. The Proposal presents a detailed plan of the proposed research and describes a specific problem, the related literature, and the intended research methodology. The Proposal is evaluated by the committee to ensure doctoral-level work (e.g., an exhaustive review of literature, alignment, etc.). Students complete an oral defense, and the Proposal Stage culminates with the research ethics review process. IRB approval is required to progress to the Final Study.


Final Study  

After the IRB application has been approved, students conduct their research, collect and analyze data, report findings, and draw conclusions. With the guidance of the committee, students write the remaining chapters or sections of the capstone as well as the document abstract. The Final Study is evaluated by the committee to ensure doctoral-level work (e.g., accurate results, alignment, etc.). Students complete the form and style review process and an oral defense. The Final Study stage culminates in the Chief Academic Officer (CAO) designee review process. CAO approval is required for capstone completion.

Doctoral Committee Member Roles and Functions

Faculty members in Walden University doctoral programs who accept the duty of serving on a dissertation or doctoral study committee assume a dual responsibility of high importance. One part is service to their students; the other is service to the academic practice, discipline, and professional field to which the dissertation is related. For the first part, expectations concerning the faculty service to be performed are determined by students’ needs, and by university academic policy pertaining to how these needs are to be addressed. For the second, expectations are set both by university academic policy and by policies and practice that frame acceptable work in the discipline and professional field at large.

The committee’s guidance to students will be “team advice.” Any written dialogue between a student and a committee member is shared within the committee. Committee members recognize that issues may be controversial, divide opinions, or otherwise cause disagreement. When conflicts arise, the committee members are obligated to restrict the discussion to only other committee members and the committee chairperson, to avoid involving students in disputes or disagreements among themselves. The committee chairperson will act as a mediator to resolve the situation and obtain a consensus.

Walden intends that dissertation/doctoral study committee members work as a team, directly guiding students through the proposal, research and analysis, and ultimately the final oral presentation. Although the committee members are expected to support and facilitate students’ progress through their doctoral capstone project, students are ultimately responsible for preparing a dissertation/doctoral study that meets the rigors of academic excellence.

Required Roles in Walden Doctoral Committees

Most Walden doctoral capstone (e.g. dissertation, doctoral study, etc.) committees will be comprised of a committee chair and co-chair/second committee member. 


The committee chairperson leads the committee members as they work with students on their doctoral capstone projects. As a result, the chairs are primarily responsible for ensuring that such projects meet all of Walden’s requirements including those pertaining to content coverage, methodology, research ethics, and form and style. Moreover, they are responsible for making sure that the work of committee fulfills expectations of service to the student, the academic discipline(s), and professional field(s) of practice involved. Chairs must lead, monitor, coordinate, and assess the progress of the capstone research from start to finish.

In order for the chair to provide effective leadership of capstone committees, committee members must individually apprise the committee chairperson of their respective expertise, if not already known or any special knowledge that they may be able to contribute to the student’s capstone project. Committee members must contact the committee chairperson before beginning to work with students.

Chairs must be from the program in which students are enrolled, with further specificity required from some schools.

Second Member

The second member collaborates with chair throughout capstone completion process to provide overall guidance about the acceptability of the capstone taking into account:

  • Walden capstone rubric requirements
  • Norms of program and profession
  • Form and style requirements

In addition, between the chair and the second member, the following functions must be fulfilled. The functions may be split between these two members, or the chair or second member could perform both roles.

Methodology Expert

  • Provides feedback to student on the following:
    • Proposed research design including appropriateness for addressing the problem statement and research questions or for testing stated hypotheses
    • Selection of specific methodology
    • Selection of a sample of appropriate characteristics and size
    • Oversee implementation of the selected methodology, assuring compliance with the following:
      • Program/professional norms
      • Generally accepted ethical and moral principles regarding human subjects
  • Provides constructive criticism about the following:
    • Data collection and analysis
    • Presentation of the data and the conclusions drawn from the analyses

Content Expert

  • Assists students with the following:
    • Conceptualizing the research issues
    • Preparing a literature review that provides a comprehensive summary of current knowledge and identifies the gap therein
    • Identifying all variables and potential relationships
    • Articulating a clearly defined research question
    • Establishing the significance of the topic and the potential of the study to contribute to positive social change
  • Provides feedback on the following:
    • Degree to which assumptions and limitations impact upon the research conclusions
    • Comprehensiveness of the literature review and theoretical base of the study (if appropriate)
    • Potential for research outcomes to contribute to positive social change
    • Overall significance of the research findings or outcomes

External, Non-Walden Dissertation/Doctoral Study Committee Member

In some rare cases, the committee chairperson may conclude that special expertise is needed to appropriately mentor or evaluate a specific aspect of a student’s research topic. In such instances, an external fourth member may be added to the committee. The qualifications of this member shall include all of the following:

  • Expertise on the research topic, not otherwise available within the Walden faculty
  • Possession of the highest academic degree awarded in the field
  • A record of publications in scholarly journals closely associated with the topic area
  • A record of guiding the development of doctoral dissertations in the topic area
  • Evidence of current, active involvement in research related to the topic area

A request for such a member must be accompanied by a copy of the proposed member’s CV, and a letter from the student including all of the points above. An external member of a dissertation/doctoral study supervisory committee has the same rights and responsibilities as any other member. Review and approval of a non-Walden member nominated to a dissertation/doctoral study supervisory committee is in the purview of the program chair and/or dean of the student’s program. Nomination of such a member is initiated by the student, approved by the committee chairperson, and then evaluated by the program chair, who determines if the request shall be approved.

For more information on the specific responsibilities of each capstone committee member at each point in the capstone completion process, visit the Capstone Committee Process webpage.

Guidance for Walden Students on the Use of External Consultants for Capstone Projects

Although the doctoral capstone project can seem daunting at the outset, the academic programs at Walden are designed to prepare students to complete their own projects. The need for added support is understandable, but completed capstones must represent the students’ work and learning, and demonstrate their skills as a holder of doctoral degrees. Students who choose to utilize support beyond services offered by the university need to be mindful of the pitfalls and potential problems that can arise.

In today’s marketplace, there are some unscrupulous writers, scholars, and statisticians that cross boundaries and interfere with the originality of student work. The information below is provided to give clarity on this subject in relation to student and faculty expectations and support all students in selecting support options.


In working with editors, students should use these resources only for editing and clarifying, not for the synthesis of ideas or the generation of new concepts. Having someone else write parts of the document is a form of plagiarism, and it puts the entire project at risk.

Statisticians and Other Research Consultants

Research consultants’ services should be used for tutoring of statistical concepts and reviewing data analysis strategies; these are not services for designing the research, conducting the analyses, or interpreting the results. To have a successful oral presentation of the capstone, students need to be able to explain and defend every aspect of their work and to demonstrate an understanding of all concepts, synthesis, and analysis.

Caution and Support for Students

Unfortunately, a growing number of doctoral students hire editorial and statistical services from individuals and/or companies who make claims to deliver a product but fail to do so. In some cases, services performed by others may put students in a position that can jeopardize their status at the university. Walden University will not be able to support or accommodate students who become victims of misleading or unscrupulous consultants. Students should apply the guidance provided here when considering an outside consultant. Prior to seeking external resources, students should first consult the menu of support options available at no cost from the Office of Academic Support and the Office of Research and Doctoral Services Doctoral Methodology Advising.

Faculty Recommendations

Faculty members may suggest the use of an advisor or consultant when students display consistent editorial difficulties on document drafts, but they should not require students to use an external consultant and cannot require the use of a specific consultant.

Selection and Appointment of Committees

Chairs and Second Members

PhD Committees

PhD students request the formation of their dissertation committee as part of an assignment during a course in their program. Using information that students share about their dissertation interests, program leaders match them with an appropriate committee chair and second committee member. Students may request a specific faculty member to serve on their committee; these requests are subject to program approval. Those requests are reviewed by program leaders to ensure the faculty member’s availability and appropriate expertise. Students will be notified about who is on their committee prior to the term in which they start their dissertation courses.

Professional Doctorate* Committees

Students in professional doctorate programs will have committee members appointed for them. Using information that students share about their capstone/project interests, program leaders match them with an appropriate committee after students have reached specific milestones within the program. Students will be notified about who is on their committee along with the next steps in the capstone/project process.

*Professional Doctorate programs include: EdD, DBA, DIT, DHA, DHS, DNP, DPA, DrPH, DSW, and PsyD

For information on changing one’s chair or second member after a committee is approved, students should consult the relevant Dissertation Guidebook or the Doctoral Study Guidebook for the program.

Doctoral Capstone Project Inclusion in the Institutional Repository

Notice of Right to Distribute

To assure transparency in doctoral training, Walden University reserves the right to distribute capstone products via the institutional repository (IR). Students cannot opt-out of IR participation. Capstones will be available in the repository as “Gratis Open Access”—the content is available to read free-of-charge, though its reuse is still restricted. Authors retain the copyright for their capstone product. Capstone products subject to this policy include dissertations, doctoral studies, project studies, and any equivalent documents that fulfill a doctoral capstone requirement. 

Capstone Product Content Distributed in the Repository

  • Every capstone product will be catalogued in the IR upon receipt from ProQuest/UMI.
  • The catalog record will include the title, author name, year of doctoral degree conferral, degree earned, the name of the committee chair, and the abstract.
  • By default, the full text of the capstone product will be available in the repository upon receipt from ProQuest/UMI.

Embargo Option

Authors may opt to restrict access to the full text of their capstone in the IR by requesting a 1-year embargo period. The student will receive instructions for electing this option from the Office of Research and Doctoral Services along with other capstone completion documentation. If an embargo is requested:

  • The embargo period begins upon receipt of the document from ProQuest/UMI.
  • The full text of the capstone product will become available in the repository at the end of the embargo period, one year after receipt.
  • A catalog record is created for the document upon receipt from ProQuest/UMI; i.e., information about the document will be discoverable in the repository even during the embargo period.