General Note: all correspondence and documentation pertaining to a student's dissertation will be kept in a special dissertation file, attached to the student's graduate file, so that advisers and committee members may have ready access to pertinent information.

The Topic

  • Students should begin thinking about possible dissertation topics long before taking their Ph.D. comprehensives. The topic should be in an area in which the student is already reasonably well grounded.
  • Before requesting faculty members to become dissertation advisers and committee members, students should conduct a preliminary investigation of their topic to verify that their choice is a) feasible and b) not previously investigated.

The Advisor and Committee

  • The selection of the dissertation advisor should be practical; it is to the student's advantage to work with a professor conversant with the given subject. Conversely, the faculty member should not agree to be a dissertation advisor unless s/he considers him/herself competent to guide dissertation work in the given area and on the given topic, and unless s/he considers the dissertator to be sufficiently knowledgeable in the given area to write a competent dissertation. The responsibilities are considerable, and this role should not be undertaken without careful consideration.
  • Once a student makes a choice of a topic, s/he should type up a brief one-page preliminary description of the project and present it to the proposed adviser.
  • If the advisor accepts the role and agrees that the topic is sound, the student, with the help of the advisor, should request a minimum of two other departmental professors and one professor outside the department to form the dissertation committee. The requests should be made formally, in writing, and should include a brief description of the proposed topic. Faculty members will respond to the request in writing.
  • The Prospectus or Overview:
  • The student should submit to all four (or more) committee members a dissertation prospectus consisting of a) statement of thesis, b) tentative chapter outline, c) bibliography.
  • Committee members will provide timely written response to the prospectus, after which the student should set a date for the prospectus overview.
  • At the overview, the student will be asked questions about a) the tenability of the thesis, b) the methodology to be employed in the dissertation, and c) the sources with which the dissertator plans to work.
  • Committee members are to resolve major disagreements regarding topic and methods at the stage of the overview, before advancing the student to full candidacy.

Writing the Dissertation

  • If the student passes the overview, s/he should immediately embark on further research and begin writing the first draft. All dissertations, including drafts, must be written in competent English. No exceptions will be allowed. Although faculty members will advise on matters of style, substandard English prose will be returned to the student for further work. If a student feels s/he has persistent problems with writing, s/he should consult with the Writing Workshop, Department of English.
  • Students should submit drafts to committee members one chapter at a time.
  • Faculty members will a) promptly return to the student each chapter with comments, suggestions, and corrections, and b) submit a short summary of their evaluation to the advisor. If committee members are in strong disagreement, the advisor should convene a meeting of the committee members to discuss the conflict, so that, ideally, the student is not put in the position of responding to contradictory advice.
  • Once the dissertator has revised the draft in line with the committee's recommendations, s/he should type up the final draft of the dissertation, give a copy to each committee member, and suggest a tentative date for the dissertation defense.

The Defense

  • The date of the defense must allow the committee at least one month in which to read the final draft. If the committee believes that the dissertation needs further work, the defense should be postponed. If one or more members of the committee are of the opinion that the dissertation is not ready for a defense, the advisor should try to work out the disagreement before the defense or, in cases where it is not possible to work out the disagreement in advance, inform the candidate of the disagreement. It is ultimately the choice of the candidate whether to go ahead with the defense in opposition to the opinion of one or more members of the committee.
  • All departmental students and faculty are encouraged to attend the defense and should feel free to ask the dissertator questions related to the dissertation.
  • Two Report-of-Examination-for-Doctoral-Degree cards should be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies in connection with each dissertation. One card relates to the dissertation itself, the other to the oral defense. In cases where there is ultimately a lack of unanimity among the committee members as to whether the dissertation is acceptable or whether the orals have been passed, this is so indicated on the card and the matter is referred to the Dean of Graduate Studies for resolution.
  • It is possible to pass the candidate at the oral defense without signing the dissertation card. This is the appropriate action when the committee member feels that the defense has been passed and the dissertation is in principle acceptable, provided certain changes are made which the committee member would like to see before passing the dissertation. Signing the dissertation card indicates that the committee member both approves the dissertation and is confident that certain minor changes can be made without further checking of the pertinent pages.
  • Whatever revisions the committee deems necessary for the candidate's successful completion of the degree should be made within one month of the defense. Only when all necessary changes have been made in the final copy of the dissertation will the dissertation card be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies.