Dissertation + Defense

Annual Committee Meetings

After advancement to candidacy, students are expected to meet annually with their dissertation reading committee to discuss progress towards completion of their Ph.D.  Regular committee meetings are essential to the progress and final quality and success of the dissertation, and therefore they are strongly recommended.  Committee meetings are documented in Annual Progress Reports (see Annual Review).

Penultimate Committee Meeting

The goal of the Penultimate Committee Meeting (also called the 4th yearly committee meeting), besides discussing the regular progress of the dissertation, is for students to plan a precise pathway and timeline to complete the dissertation with their committees. The plan sketched during this meeting needs to determine landmarks that will allow the student to finish within approximately 1 ½ years. 

This meeting allows students and faculty to work around scheduling conflicts with faculty research travel, etc. Students are to bring a copy of the Penultimate Meeting form (see Forms & Print Materials) to be completed and signed by all meeting participants and later submitted to the EEB Graduate Program Coordinator by the student. This form provides written confirmation for the student that the committee has agreed to the overall plan for the completion of the dissertation.

Dissertation Preparation

When the student’s advisor and dissertation committee have agreed that the research is at the stage to be submitted for the degree, the student may apply for the PhD degree (see Forms & Print Materials) at the beginning of the term by which they wish to graduate and proceed according to the guidelines prescribed by the Graduate Division. 

Within EEB, a dissertation is usually three or four significant “data chapters,” plus a short introduction (acts as a 2 to 4-page summary of what is in each of the chapters) and a conclusion/synthesis. The conclusion is not a regurgitation; this short essay (2 to 5-pages recommended) synthesizes the results of the dissertation as a whole, reflects on how novel insights come from the whole body of work, and may point the reader toward future research directions.  It can be thought of as an exercise to prepare the student for (1) their completion seminar and (2) their research statement for a job application. 

The Dissertation Defense

Students schedule their dissertation defenses with the EEB Graduate Program Coordinator. They must submit all the data chapters of their doctoral dissertation to the Dissertation Reading Committee by at least 30 days before the closed defense meeting. Usually chapters are shared with the committee much earlier, as they are completed, and it is only the final chapter, along with the second or third draft of the other chapters, that will be submitted to the committee as late as 30 days before the closed defense meeting. At that time, it is recommended that the student negotiate with each committee member to set expectations for when comments on the dissertation will be provided. Ideally, major concerns about the work should be shared with the student and advisor before the defense meeting, so that the defense is not the first time the student hears about problems that will require major revision.  The introduction and conclusion chapters of the dissertation must be submitted to the committee no later than one week before the closed defense meeting.

All the members of the student's Dissertation Reading Committee must be participate during the closed defense meeting. The external member of the committee may participate remotely, if their attendance would constitute financial or other hardship.

There are no formal rules governing the closed dissertation defense.  However, to pass the defense it is required that all members agree that the dissertation as written meets the standards of the University and Department.  If the Committee determines that the dissertation meets its standards, at that time the Committee, with the exception of the Chair, may sign the title page of the student's dissertation. If the committee determines that the dissertation does not meet the standards, within 1 week the committee must produce a written document that lists the deficiencies and indicates a timeline for correcting the deficiencies. This document will be reviewed by EEB-GAC, and the student may be placed on academic probation. If the dissertation ultimately does not gain the committee’s approval, the student will be dismissed from the program.  All dismissals will be reviewed by EEB-GAC. 

Finally, a formal, public doctoral research seminar will be presented by the student. This seminar should be scheduled with the EEB Graduate Program Coordinator for the regular time slot when possible, and may not be scheduled for less than a week after the closed defense meeting. It is important to leave enough time before the public seminar for the student to make changes to the dissertation as requested by the Committee.


Before the dissertation is accepted for signature by the Dissertation Reading Committee Chair, at least one chapter must be submitted as a paper (not an abstract) to a refereed journal for publication. Delays in refereeing, acceptance, and printing may well delay actual publication of the paper until after the doctoral degree has been granted.

The Chair signs the title sheet only after all requirements for the Ph.D. are completed, including revision of the dissertation, the public seminar, and submission of part of the dissertation to a refereed publication.