The dissertation is the highlight of your pre-doctoral education in that it provides an opportunity to synthesize what you have learned and apply it to new research questions. Although the dissertation is undertaken with the supervision of your Research Committee, it represents your contribution of important, well-documented information to the discipline. The dissertation in SPHS is characterized by original research that is presented in a scholarly format.
Research committee & prospectus
Each student chooses a Research Committee to be composed of a dissertation chairperson (typically the person with whom you have been working or in whose lab you plan to complete the research), at least two (2) additional SPHS graduate faculty members, and a graduate faculty member from your minor area of study. If you are a double major, two graduate faculty members from SPHS and two from the second major must be included as members of your research committee. In addition to membership on the graduate faculty, the Research Committee Chair must have the “endorsement to direct Ph.D. dissertations.” At least half of the Research Committee also must have this endorsement (generally those at or above the rank of associate professor have this endorsement, but some at the rank of assistant professor also have this endorsement). Given the composition of the Research Committee described above, two (2) of the four (4) members of the committee must have the endorsement to direct dissertations.
A written prospectus for the dissertation research is required and it must be defended prior to the initiation of the research project. The dissertation prospectus is a document intended to outline the research activities you expect to undertake. The prospectus that is provided to your research committee is a document in which you summarize your research motivation, proposed experiments, proposed analyses and expected results. This prospectus must be given to the committee at least two weeks before the prospectus defense date. The prospectus presentation constitutes a short oral presentation of the prospectus (20-30 minutes) and a discussion with the committee about potential changes and suggestions. The Research Committee will decide if the presentation should be made to the entire faculty or just to the Research Committee. Upon approval of the prospectus, the Research Committee will be appointed and a brief 1- 2 page prospectus should be uploaded to the Nomination of Research Committee form. It should be noted that the dissertation cannot be defended sooner than six months after filing the Nomination of Research Committee form with your attached prospectus.
The student is responsible for providing a copy of the finished dissertation to each member of the Research Committee. You should consult with the committee members about the preferred format of the copy – either electronic or on paper. Students should aim to circulate the dissertation one month prior to the defense but the Research Committee will decide on the timeline that they require. According to the Academic Bulletin, “It is the responsibility of the student to give faculty members sufficient time to read the dissertation without making unreasonable requests of them based upon University Graduate School time limitations, immediate job possibilities, contract renewal, or some other reason."
A dissertation defense is scheduled in consultation between the doctoral candidate and the Research Committee. In general, the student and Research Committee decide on whether the dissertation is ready for a defense. The committee can indicate that a dissertation is not ready for a defense and students may want to consider this recommendation carefully. A student has the right to override the committee’s advice, however, and then will work with the committee to schedule the defense.
Students must submit an announcement of the defense to the University Graduate School, including the time, place and date as well as a summary of the dissertation, at least 30 days prior to the defense date. The announcement must follow the format outlined by UGS so please consult their website. The announced time and date of the defense are binding and cannot be changed without the approval of the UGS Dean. Please see University Graduate School’s Preparing Theses and Dissertations section for information about this announcement. Students should also notify the departmental secretary who will announce the defense within the department.
The dissertation defense includes a colloquium presentation by the doctoral candidate. This colloquium is open to the public and announced to all SPHS faculty, students, and interested professionals from other departments. The colloquium typically lasts 30-60 minutes and includes the candidate’s presentation and time for audience questions. At the conclusion of the colloquium and question period, the audience is asked to leave and the Research Committee meets for more specific questions related to their reading of the dissertation. Although Committee members and Ph.D. candidate typically are the only people in attendance during this part of the defense, any member of graduate faculty and any graduate student may attend the entire defense, but not the committee’s discussion about the outcome of the defense, with the approval of the Research Committee and the candidate. Only committee members may pose questions to the candidate so others in attendance serve only as observers.
Dissertation defenses typically are scheduled to take 2 hours. The Research Committee will vote on the acceptability of the dissertation, with the student and other non-committee members absent from the room, at the end of the defense. Students who pass the defense still may need to make some revisions to the dissertation before it is submitted to UGS. Once revisions are made as needed, the Research Committee members will sign the acceptance page and the dissertation can be submitted to UGS.