Advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. requires both passing the Qualifying Examination and filing the dissertation proposal. Click here to view the Writing Benchmarks for Dissertating Students.
Within two weeks of passing the Qualifying Examination, the student should meet with his or her dissertation director to begin working on the proposal. If the student does not have a director lined up, he or she will need to find one in consultation with the Chair of the exams committee and, if the student wishes, the Graduate Director or Associate Director. The dissertation director will then help the student select two additional members of the committee, or "readers."
The Dissertation Committee
At the proposal stage, only the director and the two readers from the department need be selected. The graduate office must be informed at this time about the composition of the dissertation committee. Students should consult with each member of their committee and agree upon a schedule for submitting drafts of chapters.
The outside reader, whether from another department within the university or from outside the university, can be chosen when the dissertation is under way. After an outside reader has agreed to serve, the student should notify the Graduate Office, who will inform the Graduate School. The degree to which outside readers are involved in the chapter-by-chapter progress of the dissertation varies. They may be as involved as the department readers, but sometimes they are in a position to read only the final dissertation.
The Dissertation Proposal
The dissertation proposal is an initial and exploratory attempt to formulate the dissertation project. It should identify a problem or issue that previous scholarship has overlooked or treated inadequately and it should set out a program of research that is likely to lead to an original and illuminating treatment of the question it addresses. The proposal should not attempt to be that treatment, or even a summary of it; its function is to raise the issue and sketch an approach to it. It should address any major publications that have dealt with the same issue in order to indicate what remains to be done, and set out the various stages of the work that lie ahead. The proposal is just that: a set of suggestions that will inevitably prove inadequate once the real work begins. What is required is sufficient evidence that there is a real question, or set of questions, being asked – questions of the kind that are appropriate to a dissertation and thus neither too narrow nor too ambitious.
The proposal should be no more than 10 double-spaced pages (approximately 2500 words), not including the bibliography. The bibliography (30-40 entries) should include works both read and unread that are likely to be important for the project.
Timing and Procedure
The approved dissertation proposal is due on September 15th in the fourth year.
The student will prepare this proposal in consultation with the committee. The director will guide the student through a series of discussions and drafts. When the director agrees that the student has projected a clear and workable project, and that the bibliography is sufficiently developed, the student will prepare a final draft. The student will then hand in the completed proposal to the Graduate Office and this will constitute advancement to candidacy.
All students are urged to join a dissertation workshop. These workshops provide a loose structure within which students may come together to form self-directed study groups to help in the writing of the dissertation. Depending on the numbers involved, groups might be formed according to shared areas of concentration.
Defense of Dissertation
When the dissertation director is satisfied that the dissertation is acceptable, the student will submit a copy, together with the abstract, to each member of the committee, including the outside reader. At this time, and with the director’s approval, a defense can be scheduled. Final responsibility for approving the submission of the dissertation and proceeding to the defense rests with the dissertation director. The complete dissertation should normally be submitted to all members of the committee at least one month before the scheduled defense, barring emergencies. Faculty often need that much time to read the dissertation carefully and prepare for the defense. When all committee members and the student agree on a date and time, the student must inform the Graduate Office.
In addition, the student must make arrangements to meet with the Graduate School’s administrator prior to their defense to ensure the following: that the dissertation style conforms to the Graduate School’s requirements, which are set out in a booklet available from the Graduate Office, and to receive the paperwork necessary for filing of the dissertation and of the diploma application.
The defense consists of a one-hour meeting of the committee with the student. Upon completion of the defense, the student must submit one electronic copy of the dissertation to the Graduate School.
The Graduate School automatically places dissertations online, where they can be accessed by any member of the public. In order to protect students' intellectual property rights, and to help ensure that they have a chance to publish their work before it can be appropriated by others, the Graduate School "embargoes" dissertations for one year before putting them online. If a student feels his or her work should be protected for a longer period, the student can petition the Graduate School to extend that embargo for up to five years. Such petitions should be directed to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Graduate School.