Dissertation Guidelines

Overview of steps required after Comprehensive Exams are completed through Dissertation Defense.

Preliminary Paperwork

Graduate School Guide: Doctoral Dissertation

Title, Scope and Procedure

By the time of completion of the Comprehensive Exams, students should have formulated a dissertation topic and selected a Dissertation Director, as well as two additional readers. The dissertation will need to be comparative.  Ordinarily, the Student submits a Title, Scope and Procedure (TSP) form for approval; this form requires the signatures of the Dissertation Director and two additional readers (collectively known as the Research Advisory Committee), as well as the Program Director.  The TSP form outlines the preliminary dissertation title, a brief abstract, and methodology. The Academic and Administrative Coordinator must receive your completed and signed TSP form to submit to the Graduate School on behalf of the Student.  The TSP must be completed and submitted to the Graduate School at least six months before the month in which the degree is expected to be conferred OR before beginning the fifth year of full-time enrollment in the Graduate School, whichever is earlier. 

The Student should work with the Dissertation Director to establish an effective and efficient calendar for submission of work, allowing time for revisions. Once the Dissertation Director has approved a chapter, the student should submit it to the other two readers.  The Student is expected to respect the suggestions for revision from all three of their readers for each chapter as they go along. This process ensures that the dissertation is sound from their different perspectives before the Student submits the completed dissertation to the larger Dissertation Committee for the "defense."

Intent to Graduate

The Student must file an Intent to Graduate form for the semester in which they intend to graduate. Deadlines for filing the Intent to Graduate form for each semester are listed on the Graduate School’s online calendar. Complete this form by logging onto WebSTAC and clicking on “Intent to Graduate” from the menu. Take note of the diploma pick-up and mailing dates that are included in the form because the diploma will be mailed to the address entered. If the graduation semester changes, a new form must be filed.

The Student is responsible for punctually completing all of the necessary forms for the Graduate School and for formatting the dissertation in accordance with its guidelines.  The Dissertation Director is responsible for assisting the Graduate School in assembling the full five member Defense Committee for the defense and for arranging a defense date. 

Dissertation Defense

Dissertation Defense Committee

The Defense Committee consists of at least five members, who normally meet two independent criteria:

  1.  Four of the five must be tenured or tenure-track Washington University faculty; one of these four may be a member of the Emeritus faculty. The fifth member must have a doctoral degree and an active research program, whether at Washington University, at another university, in government, or in industry.
  2. Three of the five must come from the student's degree program; at least one of the five must not.

All Dissertation Committees must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School or by his or her designee, regardless of whether they meet the normal criteria, and requires completion of the Dissertation Defense Committee form. The Academic and Administrative Coordinator must receive the completed and signed Dissertation Defense Committeee form to submit to the Graduate School on behalf of the Student. This form and Defense Committee must be approved by the Graduate School before the scheduling of the dissertation defense can occur. 

Dissertation Defense Notification

Once your Defense Committee is approved via email from the Graduate School, the Academic and Administrative Coordinator can help in securing a time and location for the defense if needed. After the Defense Committee has been approved and at least 15 days before the defense, the Academic and Administrative Coordinator will submit Defense Notification to the Graduate School stating the time, date, and location of the defense. The Student is required to provided the Coordinator the Title of Dissertation and a copy of the Student CV, which will need to be provided in a .pdf format for submission.

Distribution of the Dissertation

Once the Dissertation Director has approved the content and the style of the entire dissertation*, the Student must distribute copies of the full document to all members of the Defense Committee, including external readers, in preparation for the oral defense. Students should allow a minimum of three (3) weeks for Defense Committee members to read the thesis.  The Student is responsible for giving copies of the dissertation to the Defense Committee. According to the Graduate School, Defense Committee members may request rescheduling of the defense if the dissertation is not made available at least 1 week in advance. 

While certain critiques and suggestions from the larger Defense Committee during the defense are to be expected, indeed encouraged, the Dissertation Director, by signaling his/her approval for the student's submission of the dissertation to the Defense Committee, is indicating that he/she, along with the other two Research Advisory Committee members, stands by the work and is prepared to support its content and form at the defense.

*The Graduate School provides a Dissertation and Thesis Template as well as a comprehensive Doctoral Dissertation Guide for all Ph.D. candidates.  

Defense of the Dissertation

Graduate School information on Defense of the Dissertation

"Attendance by a minimum of four members of the Dissertation Defense Committee, including the committee chair and an outside member, is required for the defense to take place. This provision is designed to permit your defense to proceed in case of a situation that unexpectedly prevents one of the five members from attending. Do not plan in advance to have only four members in attendance; if one of those four cannot attend, your defense must be rescheduled. Note that the absence of all outside members or of the committee chair would necessitate rescheduling the defense."

"Members of the Dissertation Defense Committee normally attend in person, but one of the five (or, in case of an emergency, one of the four) members may attend virtually instead." 

Faculty and graduate students who are interested in the subject of the dissertation are normally welcome to attend all or part of the defense but may ask questions only at the discretion of the committee members. Though there is some variation among degree programs, the defense ordinarily focuses on the dissertation itself and its relation to the student’s field of expertise.