Dissertation and Defense

Dissertation and Defense

Dissertation Committee

A critical step in the progress towards the degree for doctoral students is the formation of the dissertation committee. Students should plan ahead in forming and maintaining their dissertation committee. The dissertation committee must be established by the time the student is admitted to candidacy.
The Division recommends that a dissertation committee consist of at least three and no more than five members. In some departments the dissertation advising structure is such that the dissertation committee may consist of two to three faculty members. The majority of the committee members must be University of Chicago faculty; any exception has to be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Department Chair. The dissertation chair must be a faculty member in the student's home department. Each doctoral program is to articulate which academic personnel are eligible to serve on a dissertation committee and make this information easily accessible to students.
Students are expected to discuss the composition of the dissertation committee with the dissertation chair or the Director of Graduate Studies. Students typically choose as the dissertation chair a faculty member with whom they have worked on the development of their dissertation topic. The role of the dissertation chair is to supervise the timely progress of the student's development of the dissertation topic, the research and writing of the dissertation, and to support the student in working with other dissertation committee members. The membership of the dissertation committee may be modified in consultation with the dissertation chair or the Director of Graduate Studies, as long as the dissertation committee adheres to the dissertation committee requirements stated above.
The role of dissertation committee members is to provide feedback on the dissertation within a reasonable time period. Generally, this means that dissertation committee members read chapters, provide written or oral responses and participate in the dissertation defense.

Dissertation Defense Process

The dissertation defense is one of the most important moments in a graduate student’s career. When a student is deemed to be ready to defend the doctoral thesis, the student is the expert in a particular research area.  At the defense the student is expected to cogently and clearly explain their research and how it fits with other scholarship in the field of study. The exact nature of the oral defense may vary by discipline and department, so it is important that the student talk to the dissertation committee chair about what to expect and how to prepare.

The defense typically lasts about two hours and may be open to the public. The defense aims to accomplish two goals. First, it will provide an occasion for the presentation and recognition of the completed doctoral work. Second, it will furnish the opportunity for discussion and formal evaluation of the dissertation.

The timing of the defense will be set by the student in consultation with the dissertation committee. Students should contact their departments to schedule the dissertation defense. Note that some departments do not schedule examinations in summer. The student should send copies of the dissertation to the members of the committee no later than three weeks prior to the defense. The time and place of the defense shall be announced on the department’s calendar of events.  

The chair of the student's dissertation committee and at least one other committee member must be present in person. In addition, another faculty member representing the Dean generally is present in person; your department is resonsible for requesting a Dean's Representative. In the case that a committee member is unable to attend in person, the committee member may participate by Skype or other teleconference media. The defense must be open to all faculty within the department. Broader attendance will be left to the discretion of the student in consultation with the committee.

The dissertation defense shall be an open presentation by the student on the main aspects of the research reported in the dissertation, followed by questions, comments, and discussion. The chair of the dissertation committee or a designee shall act as the moderator of this discussion and shall have discretion to decide whether questions are germane to the topic of the dissertation. After discussion is completed, the departmental faculty in attendance and the dissertation committee will decide privately whether the dissertation defense has been satisfactory.

The dissertation chair or designee will report the results as soon as possible after the dissertation defense to the Dean of Students office by submitting a signed Report of Final Examination and a Dissertation Defense Form. If the manuscript is to undergo revisions, the student will be informed of the timeframe in which the revisions are to be completed.

Dissertation Submission

A final copy of the dissertation must be submitted following the procedure outlined on the Dissertation Office website by Friday of the seventh week of the quarter in which a student is graduating, sixth week in summer quarter. The defense should be held in sufficient advance of this deadline to allow revisions recommended by the student's dissertation committee.

Students should contact the Dissertation Office no later than early in the quarter in which they intend to graduate in order to resolve any questions or problems they may have in preparing the dissertation. The Dissertation Office staff is willing to look at a draft of the dissertation. Having them do so avoids both the expense and headache of having to re-format the dissertation. They offer a schedule to help students plan for a smooth process to meet these deadlines.



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