Thesis and Dissertation

PhD Dissertation

The PhD dissertation is a serious scholarly work that must be a new contribution to knowledge. The exact research of course varies widely, but each dissertation must have some similar elements. Below is a list of some:

  1. Excerpts from the dissertation must be publishable in a peer-reviewed journal. Acceptance for publication is not a criterion for completing the dissertation, but it is anticipated that all students will submit materials from their dissertation for publication to appropriate journals. A good dissertation should result in two or three peer-reviewed papers.
  2. The research should be pursued to a successful conclusion. Research that fails to achieve meaningful goals will be considered inadequate to satisfy the dissertation requirements. Even though a student may follow the methods outlined in the prospectus, if the results are disappointing, the research may not be found acceptable. This is simply a risk of doing research.
  3. Specific original contributions from the research should be identified and explicitly stated. Tutorial efforts, product development, applications software, etc., though perhaps indispensable to the research, are not by themselves adequate contributions. New theoretical developments, experimental results and conclusions, generalizations, new viewpoints, etc., are examples of contributions to knowledge. The commercial or industrial benefit of the work is considered incidental to the academic value of the research, and has no bearing on the acceptability of the dissertation.

MS Thesis

The MS thesis is serious scholarly work in the same sense as a PhD dissertation. However, it can represent the finest state-of-the-art knowledge more than creating new knowledge.

  1. Excerpts from the dissertation should be publishable in a peer-reviewed journal. Acceptance for publication is not a criterion for completing the thesis, but it is anticipated that a good thesis should result a peer-reviewed paper.
  2. The research should be pursued to a demonstrable conclusion. While is is anticipated that a good thesis will have a successful conclusion, the emphasis in a thesis is more toward mastering skills than in creating new knowledge.

Writing a Thesis or Dissertation

The dissertation must conform in form and style with the University and Departmental regulations. Dissertation style guidelines are available in the Departmental office.

LaTex is the publication language of choice for physics and astronomy journals. We recommend that students learn it and use it for their thesis/dissertation. A set of helpful tutorial material and templates for Windows is available to help. Using the templates helps ensure that the format is correct.

It is also possible to produce a dissertation or thesis using Microsoft Word. An example of a thesis done in Word, courtesy of Stephanie Magleby, is available here.

Thesis or Dissertation Defense

The procedures for dissertation submission and defense are as follows:

  1. When the Advisory Committee agrees that the dissertation is ready for defense and is in acceptable form, a student fills out the Departmental Scheduling of Final Oral Exam form and obtains signatures of the Advisory Committee members. (Although the chair of your committee should have read and responded to your dissertation throughout its preparation, it is recommended that the Advisory Committee not read it until it is in a completed form.)
  2. Submit this form and a copy of the dissertation to the graduate coordinator.
  3. The graduate secretary will schedule the examination and notify the examination committee and the student.
  4. The student provides each member of the examining committee with a copy of the dissertation at least two weeks prior to the date of the examination. The forms for submitting a dissertation are available in the department office. University policy is that the committee have at least two weeks to review the dissertation.
  5. The oral defense is open to the public. The student may be asked to first present a brief introductory overview of the research for the benefit of those not familiar with the work and then present technical details at greater length. At the discretion of the examining Committee chair, the public may be permitted to ask questions. At the conclusion of the presentation, the public will be excused and the examination Committee may address any technical issues, clarifications, or additional requirements, if any, with the student. The examination Committee will then excuse the student and vote for one of the following options:
    • Pass.
    • Qualified pass---minor revisions are specified by the Committee. These revisions are made by the student and certified by the examining Committee chair.
    • Recess---revisions are major enough to require a reconvening of the entire committee at most one month later. Only one recess is permitted for a defense.
    • Fail---the graduate degree program of the student is terminated without a degree granted.

  6. After all revisions are finished, a Departmental Approval For Submission of Dissertations for Binding form is completed, signed, and submitted to the graduate secretary. Only one original set of signature pages is required, the others may be Xeroxed onto bond paper. The student pays a binding fee and the costs of a minimum of four bound copies.

Submitting the Thesis or Dissertation

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Here is a checklist for completing a thesis or dissertation under the electronic (ETD) system.