After passing the preliminary exam (a good time to pause, reflect, and celebrate), you become an official Ph.D. Candidate—also sometimes called ABD (for all but dissertation)—and can embark on your dissertation research. The prelim committee officially dissolves, but you will likely continue with much the same membership for your dissertation committee. Work closely with them and with your advisor. Each student, each dissertation, is unique. There are no prescribed or predictable timelines. Besides completing the required hours of Comm 599, follow the Graduate College rules for continuous registration while writing the dissertation. The department requires you to register for dissertation credit the term you defend it.

You can schedule the dissertation defense as early as one year after passing prelims. The Graduate College lists the rules for forming the committee, timing and announcing the defense, registering, and grading in the Doctoral Dissertation Defense page. Follow them closely.

Some elements of the rules trip students up. You must complete a new Committee Recommendation Form (click to download .pdf) to submit four weeks in advance. The written thesis should have been submitted to the iThenticate system with a zero percent result.

Your advisor will guide you about when the dissertation is ready to send to the committee. Before announcing the defense, the committee decides that the draft in hand is ready to be defended. The candidate's advisor as committee chair moderates the defense. The candidate presents the dissertation for about half an hour, and then the chair moderates questions from the audience. The public portion of the defense then ends with a short break to allow the audience to leave. In closed session, the chair moderates questions from the committee. The candidate leaves while the committee deliberates and then returns for the decision and any final discussion. A typical defense lasts about two hours.

The defense is a meeting much like prelims, one of the rare moments in a scholar’s life when a panel of the best-qualified experts will read your work closely and discuss it with you in depth. Although some universities or departments have adversarial defenses, the department meetings are generally collegial and collaborative. The members will offer you advice and suggestions ranging from extensive or minor revisions of the dissertation to recommendations for how to convert the project into journal articles or a book.

All students who are graduating need to schedule a meeting with Christina to go over the protocol for Department format approval. The standard time needed review formatting for any thesis/dissertation is a month before defending even if the content is not approved. During this time, the students will most likely be asked to correct the formatting multiple times sending different versions back and forth before obtaining a final draft that is acceptable for submission.