Obtaining Permission for Doctoral Research: 4 Essential Tips

November 11, 2021

Audra Pickett, Ed.D.

Curriculum Revisions Manager


Once you’ve identified a topic for your dissertation, it’s time to plan the population you want to study and how you’ll conduct your research. Part of that process is determining the stakeholders or gatekeepers to getting permission to conduct your research. And then comes the hardest part – actually getting that permission before moving forward with your plan.

When I reached this step in my doctoral journey, I knew exactly what I wanted to research and the population I wanted to study. I wanted to interview community college faculty members and, more than that, I had a specific community college in mind. However, what I didn’t anticipate were the challenges I would encounter getting the permissions I needed to complete the research.

Communicating the right things to the right people is key to securing permission for doctoral research. Based on my experience with the process, keeping these four tips top of mind will help you be successful:

1) Reach out immediately. As soon as you identify the organization you want to work with, reach out to the person in charge of granting permission for research. If it’s a college or university, look for the director of institutional research. Other organizations might refer you to the director of human resources. Once you know who you have to contact, don’t wait to do so. Give the organization time to get back to you and give yourself time to make other arrangements if necessary.

2) Make a back-up list. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket by only identifying one organization you’d like to work with. I made this mistake and it cost me money, time and emotional energy. More likely than not, there will be several organizations with the population you want to research. Make a list of them and make it early. If your first choice says no, you may be disappointed but you won’t be lost because you’ll know exactly who to contact next.

3) Provide detailed information about your research proposal. What sparked your interest in the topic? Why did you choose this specific population? Why do you want to conduct your research at their organization? Some organizations require you to provide this information when requesting permission, but some may not. Be prepared to provide it anyway.

4) Clarify your connection with the organization, if applicable. This is important. Perhaps you used to work at the organization or you know someone who works there. Divulge this. Organizations could be concerned with researcher bias and the ways in which that bias will impact your research. Because of this, some will not grant permission if you are or have been connected to them in any way. Disappointing as it might be, you’ll want to know sooner rather than later that you won’t be able to conduct your research at your preferred organization.

I was turned down by a couple of organizations as I went through this process. You may be too, even if you follow the tips here. Remember not to take it personally. Organizations are looking out for their employees’ safety and time. You can’t control the actions and responsiveness of others. What you can control is your communication and planning. Stay focused on what you can control and you’ll keep moving on your dissertation journey.

American College of Education’s fully online doctoral programs support you every step of the way through the journey, including through the dissertation process.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Audra Pickett, Ed.D.
Audra Pickett, Ed.D., Curriculum Revisions Manager

Audra is the curriculum revisions manager at American College of Education. She holds an Ed.D. in Leadership from ACE.

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