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Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

The dissertation is a capstone experience of the doctoral program in which students plan, conduct, and defend original research that contributes significantly to the body of knowledge in their chosen field. Although completed with consultation from the adviser and Ph.D. Committee members, the dissertation is intended to enable the student to demonstrate her or his abilities to complete sophisticated research independently and to describe and interpret that work in a scholarly manuscript. The dissertation has three phases: prospectus, research, and oral defense. 

Dissertation Prospectus 

Although students should be involved in research throughout their doctoral programs, formal Ph.D. Committee approval of a dissertation prospectus (proposal) must precede any serious pursuit of dissertation research. A dissertation prospectus should include: 

  • a clear statement of the problem or question to be considered, 
  • a detailed rationale for the study, 
  • a thorough description of the theoretical and research context of the study within related literature, and
  • the proposed means by which data will be gathered and analyzed. 

A full Ph.D. Committee meeting is the typical way in which students seek approval for their dissertation prospectus. Both the student’s and Committee’s interests are served by this meeting, because approval of the prospectus establishes the conditions for the successful completion of the study and the doctoral program. The student and all members of the Committee demonstrate their approval of the prospectus by signing the C I Dissertation Prospectus Form and filing it with the C I Graduate Program Office. 

Dissertation Research

All students who will engage in research involving human subjects must obtain approval for their procedures from the Institutional Review Board through the Office of Research Protections prior to starting their study. 

The research phase of the dissertation is directed by the guidelines of the prospectus, the dissertation adviser monitoring, and the judgment of the student. The student prepares the written dissertation document and considers the Graduate School's Thesis Guide for format and other requirements. Although this dissertation draft likely will be revised after the Final Oral Examination, the dissertation should be in its complete and final form when it is shared with committee members. If a committee member finds that the draft is not acceptable with respect to content and style, he or she must notify the Chair (or adviser) at least one week in advance of the Final Oral Examination, which may be postponed. (See Policy GCAC-607 and Procedure for Policy GCAC-607).  

Upon completion of the dissertation draft to the satisfaction of the thesis adviser, the student begins a series of steps toward the Final Oral Examination: 

  1. Confirms a time and date for the Final Oral Examination with members of the Ph.D. Committee. This date must be 3 months after the recorded date of the Comprehensive Examination and allow committee members at least two weeks to read and evaluate the dissertation draft. 
  2. Informs the C I Graduate Program Office of this agreed-upon time and date for the Final Oral Examination and confirms the membership and structure of the Ph.D. Committee at least three weeks prior to the Final Oral Examination date. The C I Graduate Program Office forwards these plans to the Graduate School, which officially recognizes the members of the Ph.D. Committee, calls the meeting, and prepares the evaluation documents required for the examination. The Graduate School requires at least three weeks prior notice in order to sanction a student’s Final Oral Examination.
  3. Submits a copy of the dissertation to the Graduate School for format review
  4. Distributes the dissertation draft to all members of the Ph.D. Committee. 

Final Oral Examination

During the Final Oral Examination, the student makes an oral presentation of the dissertation and addresses questions from Ph.D. Committee members. The Final Oral Examination typically is two hours in length and follows procedures agreed upon by committee members prior to the meeting. The student’s presentation is open to the public. Committee members may ask questions about any part of the research, the dissertation draft, or any other topics bearing on the student’squalifications to receive a doctoral degree. 

The examination will typically take place in Chambers building, the location of the academic unit (C I), and the student must be physically present. At least three members of the Ph.D. Committee, including the Chair and dissertation adviser, must be present.  Please see Policy GCAC-608 for details regarding the participation of committee members from a distance (e.g., via telephone or videoconference).

Immediately after the examination, Ph.D. Committee members evaluate the student’s oral and written performances. This is a two-step process. First, if at least two thirds of the committee members agree that the student has performed acceptably, then they sign the Graduate School Final Oral Examination Form and the adviser files it with the C I Graduate Program Office. If less than two thirds of the committee find the oral performance acceptable, the form is marked accordingly and filed. In the case of failure, the Ph.D. Committee sets conditions for the student to meet before a second Final Oral Examination can be scheduled. Under either circumstance, the results must be reported to the C I Graduate Program Office, and the committee member from outside C I must evaluate the dissertation separately and register that evaluation with the Graduate School.

Second, members of the Ph.D. Committee judge the adequacy of the written dissertation as a separate decision. At least two-thirds of the committee must approve the dissertation. Often the committee will make suggestions concerning how the final form of the dissertation might be improved, and they will require revisions to the dissertation even having given a passing evaluation for the oral examination. The adviser must inform the student about the scope and depth of the committee’s recommendations for change within a week of the Final Oral Examination. After the student has revised the dissertation to accommodate the committee’s suggestions, each member of the Ph.D. Committee demonstrates their final acceptance of the dissertation by submitting an electronic signature through the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (eTD) application. (This replaces the paper Signatory Form that was previously used.)

With those signatures, the student obtains the signature of the C I Director of Graduate Studies, and then the C I Graduate Program Office submits the signature page to the Graduate School. The student then submits the completed final dissertation to the Graduate School Thesis Office according to the guidelines in the Thesis/Dissertation Guide. Doctoral dissertations are submitted electronically; the Thesis Guide describes the format and other requirements for the finished manuscript.

Ph.D. Manual
Expectations, Credit Load, and Residency ○ Emphasis Areas, Dual-Title Degrees, and Minors ○ Roles of an Adviser ○ The Qualifying Examination ○ English Competence ○ Doctoral Committee Membership ○ Responsibilities of the Doctoral Committee ○ Plan of Study ○ Comprehensive Examination ○ Dissertation and Final Oral Examination ○ Procedures Concerning Graduation