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2.6 Dissertation Prospectus Examination

Purpose. The purpose of the Dissertation Prospectus Examination is to assess the student's preparedness to write a dissertation on the topic he or she has chosen. Additionally, the Dissertation Prospectus Examination is intended to help the student in defining the direction, scope, and organization of the dissertation. Dissertations can either be written as a book or as a portfolio of papers on a unified theme. The minimum requirement for the dissertation is an introduction and three substantial chapters or papers.

Scheduling. Examination must be completed no later than the final week of the seventh semester of full-time graduate study (not including summer or May terms), typically the Fall Semester of the student’s fourth year.  

The Dissertation Prospectus Examination Committee. After passing the Candidacy Examination, the student will submit his or her choice of a dissertation Advisor to the Graduate Committee for approval. If the Graduate Committee approves, and the faculty member chosen as an Advisor by the student agrees as well, that faculty member will be the student’s Advisor of record (see sec.1.4 above). If the Graduate Committee does not agree with the student’s choice of Advisor, the Committee will convey this information to the student and ask the student to submit another choice of Advisor. The Advisor will also help the student in preparation for the Dissertation Prospectus Examination. The other two members of a student’s Dissertation Prospectus Examination Committee and Dissertation Committee (if the Dissertation Committee members are different from those who serve on the Dissertation Prospectus Examination) are also to be approved by the Graduate Committee and must agree to serve.

Structure and Procedure. The Dissertation Prospectus Examination will consist in a written part and an oral part. The written part will consist of the student’s dissertation prospectus and a substantive paper on the subject of the dissertation (perhaps a chapter of the dissertation).

  1. The prospectus is to include a general introduction to the topic and a chapter-by-chapter outline of the dissertation. The prospectus is supposed to give to the committee members a good idea of how the student intends to put the whole dissertation together. It is therefore best that the prospectus include an outline of each chapter in as much detail as the student can provide. Typically, the prospectus is somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 words, including notes and excluding references.
  2. The prospectus also includes a detailed bibliography of material relevant to the dissertation topic and upon which the student's knowledge of the field is based. This is typically more tightly focused and extensive than the Bibliography prepared for the Candidacy Examination (see sec.2.5 above). 
  3. The substantive paper submitted for the Dissertation Prospectus Examination should not be a mere introduction to the dissertation, nor a mere summary and exposition of some main ideas to be discussed in later parts of the dissertation. One or two ideas that are central to the dissertation should be developed at some length and should be judged to constitute a viable direction for the dissertation. Typically, the substantive paper is somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 words, including notes and excluding references.
  4. The oral part of the Dissertation Prospectus Examination is based upon the student's written work, and will include an examination of the student's knowledge of the specialized field of the proposed dissertation. More generally, the examination is testing the student's knowledge of the broader field of philosophy of which the dissertation topic is a part, and their ability to make publishable contributions to this field. 
  5. The oral part of the Dissertation Prospectus Examination is a closed examination, i.e. other students and faculty not on the Dissertation Prospectus Examination committee are not to attend the examination.
Evaluation of the Dissertation Prospectus Examination. Based on the written and oral examinations, the committee will decide whether the student (a) passes the exam; (b) does not pass the exam but is allowed to retake it; or (c) does not pass the exam and is not allowed to retake it, terminating progress in the program. The committee will first vote on (a). If the vote on (a) is not unanimously positive, then the committee will vote on (b). If the vote on (b) is not unanimously positive, then (c) is the result. In the case of (b), the exam should be completed no later than the end of the following semester, and the committee’s options are limited to (a) or (c). The vote for (a) must be unanimously positive; otherwise, (c) is the result. If the examination is repeated, it must be successfully completed the following semester.   Students should note the time constraints on the awarding of financial aid and on the completion of degree requirements: see the Graduate School Handbook (Section 9-10-1).

The student is responsible for arranging with the Graduate Administrator to submit the appropriate Departmental form to schedule the oral portion of Dissertation Prospectus Examination, which must be signed by the Director of Graduate Studies, the Department Chair, and the student’s Advisor (forms can be found under the resource tab). The form must be returned to the Graduate Administrator by the Friday before Thanksgiving Break or at least two weeks before the oral portion of the Dissertation Prospectus Examination is to be held, whichever is earliest. The written portion of the exam comprising the prospectus and substantive paper must also be turned in at the same time. When the examination is scheduled, the student’s Advisor should obtain the Departmental form for recording the results of the Dissertation Prospectus Examination. That form is to be completed and returned to the Director of Graduate Studies at the completion of the examination.

If a student is scheduled to take a Dissertation Prospectus Exam, and the student does not successfully petition for an extension of the deadline for taking that examination but also fails to take the scheduled examination, then the student will automatically fail that examination.

Advisors will meet with students within one week after the exam to share general feedback from the whole committee, to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the student’s work in a holistic way, and to discuss future plans.

Next page: Dissertation Seminar