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The Thesis or Dissertation Defense

At the conclusion of the study and research program, each master of science and doctoral candidate must successfully defend the thesis or dissertation. The objectives of the defense examination are (1) to probe the validity and significance of the data and information presented; (2) to assess the student as a critical thinker and data analyst; (3) to evaluate the student’s scientific creativity, including the student’s ability to relate research results to scientific theory within the chosen field and present those results effectively in writing.

Upon the recommendation of the appropriate Department Chairperson, the Office of the Graduate School appoints the defense examination committee. It consists of members of the steering committee and at least one additional faculty member for the master’s degree examination and two additional faculty members or other qualified persons for the doctoral degree examination. Additionally, the Office of the Graduate School appoints an exam committee chair who is not from the student’s degree program.

This oral examination principally covers the material in the thesis or dissertation, as well as literature and information relating to it. At least two weeks prior to the date of the oral examination, the student is required to submit a final document to all members of the examination committee. College-wide standards for final format are specified in a document available in the Graduate School office. Within five days of the oral exam, the major professor confirms with the chair of the examining committee that the oral examination should proceed as scheduled. If the major professor determines that the written document does not meet the standards established for the thesis or dissertation exam, the exam may be postponed by the Office of the Graduate School at the recommendation of the chair of the student’s exam committee.

The role of the examination committee chair is to manage the defense, ensure its integrity, and represent the interests of the faculty and student. Any member of the faculty may be an observer. The student examinee may invite a silent student observer to attend the examination. The defense examination usually lasts two hours, although this time period may be extended as required. At the completion of the examination, the candidate and observers are excused from the room and the examination committee determines whether the candidate has successfully defended the thesis or dissertation. The committee chair has the option to vote. Unanimous agreement is required to pass the student. If less than unanimous agreement is reached, the student is considered to have failed the first defense examination. A student who fails the first defense may request a second defense which must take place no more than one year from the date of the first examination. At the second defense, the student has passed the defense if there is not more than one negative vote. A student who has failed the second defense is terminated from the graduate program.

To schedule a defense examination, please complete the following steps:

  1. In consultation with your major professor, complete Form 5B (PDF) for your Department Chairperson to review, sign, and forward to the Graduate School office. Form 5B should be submitted by the academic year deadline.
  2. Upon receipt of the 5B, the Office of the Graduate School will assign a faculty member outside of your degree program to serve as chair of your defense committee.  When you receive a copy of Form 5C which officially appoints your examination committee, you must consult with all members of your committee (major professor, steering committee, additional examiner(s), and defense chair to arrange a mutually convenient date, time, and location for your defense.
  3. You must inform the Graduate School office of the agreed upon date, time, and location for your defense at least two weeks in advance of the defense date.  This office will confirm in Form 5D these arrangements with all concerned individuals.
  4. You must deliver to each member of your defense committee (including the defense chair) a typed, final copy of your thesis/dissertation at least two weeks before the scheduled examination.  The examination may be rescheduled if the final document is not distributed by this deadline.
  5. After the defense examination, your committee will complete Form 5E and send it to the Graduate School Office.  If you need to make corrections and/or revisions to your document, you must complete them before your exam committee chair, major professor, or Department Chairperson will sign the title page.
  6. When your document has been signed, you must turn in copies of it to the Graduate School office.  Remember, you must continue to register for at least one credit each semester until this step is completed. You must also pay a Thesis Processing Fee and submit a copy to the Graduate School.