Can I conduct a Systematic Review as my Master’s dissertation or PhD thesis? Yes, It Depends!
First, when talking about the systematic review, I refer to it as a process, not a product. You may follow the systematic reviewing process, but the product may be called a scoping review, an umbrella review, a network meta-analysis, a realist review, an evidence gap and map, a systematic review and so on. So it does NOT mean that just because you follow a systematic process in your literature review, you should call it a systematic review! Find the best name for your academic child.
Second, although I wrote this post on systematic review and evidence synthesis; however, its content could be generalised to any secondary study which is based on already existing data, including scientometrics, bibliometrics, altmetrics, content analysis, data mining, process mining, etc.
I structure this post based on Rudyard Kiping’s six serving men: What and Why and When And How and Where and Who! If you don’t have time to read this, I respect that; please don’t waste your time and jump to Conclusion :D
What: An entire dissertation or just a chapter?
Yes, both are possible.
My bachelor’s dissertation was a report on ‘censorship’, and its entirety was a literature review. I got a full mark on it in 2008. I published it in 3 pieces in a print-only students’ magazine (Papyrus). Currently, I see medical and undergraduate students who conduct systematic reviews as their projects. Some are serious and end up publishing their work.
My Master’s dissertation on ‘clinical librarianship’ had 5 chapters, and the 2nd chapter was a literature review. I presented the findings in several conferences, but busy with getting a job, I never found time to publish it. I knew some of the students who had their Master’s thesis as a full systematic review. Indeed, I supervised several Master’s students and a few MD (medical doctor) and clinical residents between 2010 and 2020.
In 2020, My PhD thesis on ‘study-based registers’ was more about systematic review methods, but I extracted data/meta-data from about 20,000 studies and cleaned, curated, and analysed them. I stored the data in a database that looked like an evidence gap…