Carnegie Mellon University

Thesis Proposal Defense Process (2nd year)

Step 1: What is the Thesis Proposal Defense?

The Thesis Proposal Defense is intended to evaluate the ability of the student to:

  1. identify important unanswered questions in various disciplines.
  2. formulate scientific hypotheses or develop methods to solve those problems.
  3. design and interpret scientific experiments.
  4. write clearly and persuasively.

Step 2: Pre-Proposal Meeting

Students join their labs in mid-May/June 1 and discuss possible projects, committee members, and timing with their advisors. In early fall, by October 1, students meet with their committee to refine plans for the thesis project and to select a defense date. One week in advance of the committee meeting, each student provides a 1-page summary of the proposed project to the committee members. During the meeting, the student makes a 15-minute presentation of the project, using 3-5 slides for illustration.

Step 3: Writing the Thesis Proposal Defense

Students prepare a written thesis proposal outlining the research they will conduct during their graduate work and defend this thesis proposal in an oral examination. The proposal should demonstrate understanding of the background material, project rationale, experimental design, methods underlying the proposed project and possible outcomes. For the format of the written proposal, see the Ph.D. in Biological Sciences Graduate Student Policy Handbook. The Thesis Proposal Defense is carried out by February 1 of the second year; however, students are encouraged to schedule the defense as early as possible. The Chair of the Graduate Advisory Committee must approve any delays. The thesis proposal document should be submitted to the student’s committee at least one week before the oral defense.

Step 4: Choosing a Research Advisory Committee

Each student chooses a Research Advisory Committee (RAC), which comprises of the Research Advisor and at least two additional faculty members with relevant expertise in an allied field. At least two members of the committee must be faculty who hold primary appointments in the Department of Biological Sciences; the Research Advisor may be one of those two members.

One committee member from another department or institution must be added to the Research Advisory Committee for the Thesis Defense, although the student is encouraged to include local, external members as early as possible to provide broader advice during their graduate career. The Guidelines on Doctoral Thesis Committees may be found on the Handbooks & Policies page.

Step 5: Defending the Thesis Proposal

The Thesis Proposal is defended in front of the RAC, which selects a chairperson (someone other than the Research Advisor) to oversee the Defense and to complete the Thesis Proposal Defense form. The passed examination Thesis Defense Proposal Form needs to be returned to the Director of Graduate Operations.

Step 6: Completing the Doctoral Candidate Agreement Form

Once the student has submitted the passed Thesis Defense Proposal Form, the Director of Graduate Operations will contact the student to sign the Doctoral Candidate Agreement Form. The Doctoral Candidate Agreement form declares that the student has completed the formal degree requirement and has achieved the  “All But Dissertation” (ABD) status. It is the department’s policy that the student must complete the dissertation within six years from their admission date into the doctoral program.

Monitoring the Research Project (3rd – 5th years)

Step 1: Monitoring the Research Project

The Research Advisory Committee meets with the student at least once a year to provide guidance and to monitor the overall progress of the research project. It is the shared responsibility of the Research Advisor and the student to schedule these meetings. The Research Advisory Report Form is a worksheet intended to facilitate discussions between the student and their Research Advisor Committee (RAC), focusing on the student’s progress to degree and career plans. Students are to complete Parts 1-4 of the Research Advisory Report Form and return it along with your current CV to your RAC at least two days prior to the scheduled meeting. The Research Advisory Committee Evaluation Form should be completed after each RAC meeting and submitted to the Director of Graduate Operations.

Doctoral Dissertation and Graduation Procedures

Step 1: Receive and Read the “Sixth Year Memo”

At the end of the fifth year, the Department Head sends a memo to notify the students, the Research Advisors and the Business Office that there is one year remaining in the training program to complete all of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree. After reading the memo, each student confers with the Research Advisor about a plan for the final year.

Step 2: Plan and Write the Dissertation

Each student consults with the Research Advisor about writing the doctoral dissertation. For comparison, copies of previous dissertations can be found in the Mellon Institute Library. Typically, the writing process takes a couple of months.

The student distributes the completed dissertation to the thesis committee at least two weeks in advance of the dissertation defense.

Step 3: Reserve a Room for the Defense

The student and Research Advisor select a defense date and an appropriate room. The Social Room (preferred), Conference Room, MI 409, and classrooms MI 448 or MI 355 can be reserved; be aware that the availability of these rooms is very limited, especially around the time of Commencement; therefore, reserve a room as early as possible. Contact the Director of Graduate Operations for assistance.

Step 4: Review The HUB Website

All sixth year students review the Graduation & Diploma website for graduation requirements (unofficial academic record, degree information, graduation status, and student account balance), diploma deadlines and diploma distribution.

Step 5: Review the Commencement Website

All sixth year students review the Commencement Weekend website for the Main Ceremony, Diploma Ceremony, and Doctor’s Hooding Ceremony details. There will also be ordering instructions for the cap, hood and gown.

Step 6: Make an Appointment with Graduate Programs Manager

One month before the defense date the student makes an appointment with the Director of Graduate Operations to receive the required forms and make other arrangements.

Step 7: Publicize the Defense Date

Student contacts the Multimedia Designer with: 1) defense title; 2) Research Advisor and committee members’ names (external committee member's school and dept. must be listed); 3) date and time of defense; and 4) room. A research-related photograph should also be provided. The Multimedia Designer designs a flyer and posts it throughout the Mellon Institute, and also sends an email to the department to publicize the event.

Step 8: Submission of the Final Copy of the Dissertation

All necessary written changes are to be made within two weeks after the defense date. The student returns the following items to the Director of Graduate Operations:

  • PDF file of thesis with filename as your andrewID, department, and year (example: andrewid_history_2013.pdf)
  • One copy of title page and abstract
  • Ph.D. Examination Card: completed at defense by committee
  • Signature Page of Thesis: completed by both advisor and Graduate Programs Manager
  • Survey of Earned Doctorates: completed by student
  • Dissertation Checklist for Electronic Submission: completed by the student and advisor
  • Thesis on Demand: completed by the student for printing any additional bound copies of thesis. A credit card is needed from the student’s advisor for payment of printing and additional bound copies. In addition, a copy of the Pennsylvania Exemption Certificate from the Director of Graduate Operations is needed.
  • Students who want to participate in the graduation ceremonies must submit the above-mentioned items to the Director of Graduate Operations two weeks before the last day of class.

Step 9: Graduation Ceremonies

There are three May graduation ceremonies that pertain to doctoral students; there are no August or December commencement ceremonies. The Department Head sends an official departmental invitation encouraging students who graduate in August, December or May to participate in the May commencement events. You must respond to the invitation to confirm your attendance for each event.

  • The Department of Biological Sciences Diploma Ceremony and Reception are held on the Saturday of Commencement Weekend at 12:00 p.m. in the Mellon Institute Auditorium. It is here that students receive their official diplomas.
  • The Doctoral Candidate Hooding Ceremony occurs the Saturday evening of Commencement Weekend at 8:00 pm in the Wiegand Gymnasium, first floor, Cohon University Center. ONLY students who have successfully defended their dissertation before the May graduation date are eligible to be hooded.
  • The Carnegie Mellon University Commencement Ceremony is held on the Sunday of Commencement Weekend at 11:00 am in the Gesling Stadium. Students who have graduated in August or December, as well as those receiving their degrees in May or the following August, are eligible to participate.