Thesis Proposal, and Dissertation Defense/Seminar
1. Registration/Scheduling –
Successful passage of the Thesis Proposal should be completed by the end of the fourth semester for PhD students, and the sixth semester for MD/PhD students. To schedule the Thesis Proposal (or re-examination), or the Dissertation Defense and Seminar, the dissertation advisor and the student should check the proposed date and time with the Examination Committee members before submitting the appropriate Registration Form to the Registrar’s Office. The student needs to submit an official Registration Form, with the appropriate signatures, to the Graduate School for approval, at least 4 weeks before the scheduled dates of these Examinations. Failure to register in a timely manner may result in the cancellation of the Examination. If a student does not register for an Examination that is conducted, the Graduate School reserves the right to require a re-examination or to require a notarized statement from the student and the Examination Committee certifying the number of times the student has been examined. The Registrar’s Office will forward the appropriate official Voting Form to the Chair of the Examination Committee. This Form has to be signed and returned immediately following the Thesis Proposal (or re-examination), or Dissertation Defense to the Graduate School Office. If the Committee determines that a re-examination must occur, or that revisions must be made to the Thesis Proposal, the details, including a deadline within the allowable time, must be attached to the Voting Form. This information should also be communicated to the student, in writing. In the case of the Defense, if there are revisions to be made, the Graduate School Office will forward the appropriate Revisions Form to the Chair of the Committee.
No extensions will be granted except under extenuating circumstances. Requests for extensions of established Examination deadlines should be made at least 4 months prior to that deadline. Students who fail to meet the Examinations deadlines will be placed on academic probation.
2. Thesis Proposal –
The Thesis Proposal consists of the presentation, written and oral, of a research proposal that is based on the thesis work already begun by the candidate.
A. The Research Proposal:
- Is based on the student’s own work, not that of the dissertation advisor
- Should allow the student to organize his/her thoughts and plans and place them in perspective
- Should allow the dissertation advisor and the student’s Advisory Committee to assess the level of scientific sophistication of the student
- Should provide both the student and the Committee a measure against which to determine subsequent progress.
The Committee should evaluate the student’s ability to:
- evaluate and synthesize relevant literature
- articulate and elaborate on the aims
- show and evaluate preliminary data
- discuss experimental design as it applies to work planned.
B. The Written Document –
The written document must be in the format of an NIH F30/31. As such, the document should not exceed 6 pages. The Thesis Proposal must be submitted to the Thesis Proposal Review Committee at least two weeks in advance of the Oral Presentation. When writing your Thesis Proposal, it should contain:
- Specific Aims (1 page): Describe the hypothesis(es) you are testing. What are your research objectives? What conclusions could be made from your findings? Be concise, clear and logical. Provide an approximate timetable for accomplishing these aims. Your aims are the test of your hypothesis
- Research Proposal (5 pages): The research proposal portion typically includes the following sections –
– Background/Significance: Provide a critical review – evaluate, don’t just cite! – of the most pertinent work that raised the question you are answering, spawned the idea for your plans, made your approach feasible, etc. Critically evaluate what others have done. How does your dissertation relate to other problems or areas of biomedical sciences and/or contemporary biology? Identify those concerns. Explain how your hypothesis and planned accomplishment fit. This is an opportunity to relate your plans to the ongoing tradition in science and explain why your work is important.
– Preliminary Studies: Describe what you have already accomplished. Where appropriate, provide data, even if preliminary. You do not need an enormous amount of preliminary data; it is far better to take this Examination near the beginning of the project. Explain how these results fit in with your plans.
– Research Design and Methods: Describe the primary techniques you will use. Critique them – exactly what will they show? With how much assurance? How will you evaluate them? What kinds of artifacts have been observed or could be expected? Are the methods adequate to test your hypothesis(es)? Can other procedures be applied to achieve the same goals? Why are yours better?
- Literature Cited: Not included in the page limit.
- Formatting Instructions:
– Font: Use single-spaced, 11-point Arial font. (A Symbol font may be used to insert Greek letters or special characters; the font size requirement still applies.)
– Page Margins: Use at least one-half inch margins (top, bottom, left, and right) for all pages.
– Figures, Graphs, Diagrams, Charts, Tables, Figure Legends, and Footnotes: You may use a smaller type size but it must be in a black font color, readily legible, and follow the font typeface requirement. Color can be used in figures; however, all text must be in a black font color, clear and legible.
C. The Oral Presentation –
The written proposal must be submitted to the examining committee 2 weeks prior to the defense. Since the Committee members will have read the written document before this presentation, the student should use this opportunity to give a brief summary of the particulars of the research and the proposal. This presentation should not be a reiteration of the written proposal and should be limited to 20 minutes, a time limit that should be enforced by the Chair of the Committee. Prior to the presentation, the student should discuss, with the Chair of the Committee, whether s/he would prefer uninterrupted presentation vs. one in which questions will be asked as they arise during the presentation. If the latter is chosen, the 20-minute time limit does not apply. If the former format is chosen, there will be a questioning period following the presentation.
In either case, the student should be able to answer questions about the specifics of the proposal as well as general knowledge of the field as related to the proposal. The student should be able to defend the rationale for the particular approach(es) being used and explain how this will answer the questions being asked. Potential problems should also be anticipated with alternative approaches that could be used. Students will not be expected to defend these alternatives in great detail.
- The proposal should be written by the student, not the dissertation advisor. It is the role of the dissertation advisor to guide the student in preparing a coherent, intelligible document to be distributed to the members of the Thesis Proposal Committee. However, the dissertation advisor should also ensure, to the best of her/his ability, that the proposal is an original document and that the language of the proposal is that of the student. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the student to provide an acceptable document.
- The whole proposal should be in the best traditions of scholarship, e.g., identify sources, balance your presentation by including conflicting data and counter arguments, etc. The proposal should convince the Committee that the dissertation project is reasonably important and practicable.
- A student should not present tables that are not entirely his/her own work, unless this is unavoidable because the data are necessary to develop the story. In that case, the precise contribution of the student must be made clear and appropriate attribution should be made.
- Detailed methods should not be presented for work not actually conducted by the student, including work done by the Core Facilities or other colleagues; such presentations convey the impression that the student actually carried out the procedures.
D. The Committee –
The Thesis Proposal Committee is composed of at least 4 members. Members of the student’s Advisory Committee serve on the Thesis Proposal Committee and may appoint additional Committee members, subject to the approval of the MTA Director and the Dean. Committee members should represent a breadth of scientific interests related to the students’ specific area of study. Faculty members who have directly collaborated on the project, who have co-authored papers or abstracts with the student (except for rotation work that is unrelated to the current project), or who have been substantially involved in supervising the work, cannot serve on the Committee. The mentor of the candidate cannot be a member of the Committee (see below).
The Chair of the Committee shall be a senior faculty member of that MTA designated by one of the Co-Directors of the candidate’s Multidisciplinary Training Area. The Chair of the Committee must enforce all rules of the Examination, including those pertaining to the role of the dissertation advisor, as outlined below.
The student’s thesis adviser may be present during the questioning phase of the Thesis Proposal Defense; however, the adviser MUST remain silent during the question period. Committee members must not direct questions to the dissertation advisor, and s/he must not answer questions directed to the student.
In addition, each student is strongly encouraged to discuss the expectations of the MTA Co-Directors as they develop their Thesis Proposal. When the student has written the Thesis Proposal, it should be submitted to each member of the Committee at least ten days before the scheduled presentation. Committee members may reschedule the Examination if not given the appropriate amount of time to prepare. The Chair of the Committee should poll the Committee members prior to the presentation to determine if there are major concerns with the written proposal that would warrant a postponement of the presentation. In the event of a postponement, the Graduate School must receive written notification from the Chair of the Committee of the postponement at least two days prior to the scheduled presentation, with a new scheduled date. A presentation will be recorded as “Unsatisfactory” if the Graduate School does not receive this notification in time (see further details under ‘deadline’ section).
The thesis adviser should give a summary of the student’s progress at the beginning. All committee members should be present for this summary, and the student should not be present. Following the question period, the student and thesis adviser should leave the room to allow the committee to discuss the exam results and vote in their absence. Following the discussion phase, the student should re-enter the exam room WITHOUT the adviser for a private conversation with the committee. The student will then be asked to leave and the advisor will be invited to have a private conversation with the committee as well. Finally, the student and advisor will meet with the committee together for a discussion of the student’s performance and the Chair of the Committee will discuss the Committee’s decision at that time. If the Committee determines further work necessary, the Chair will provide this information, in writing, to the student. A copy of this memo, detailing conditions and deadline, must accompany the Voting Form, which should be returned to the Graduate School Office within two days of the proposal presentation. The Chair of the Committee will report the discussion to the dissertation advisor.
It is possible for a Committee to consider a student’s performance satisfactory for the oral presentation of the work achieved and work planned, but still consider the written proposal to be inadequate (in detail, style, citation quality, figure/table/legend presentation, etc.). The student may only be permitted one re-take the oral presentation, but the Committee may ask for as many revisions of the written proposal as are necessary to achieve a satisfactory proposal. This process can occur under the supervision of a subcommittee and must be completed before the student can be advanced to Candidacy.
E. Deadline –
All PhD students must complete the Thesis Proposal by the end of their fourth semester in the Program. MD/PhD students must present the Thesis Proposal by the end of the sixth semester in the Program. If a student fails to meet this deadline, he/she will automatically be placed on Academic Probation. If Academic Probation is not removed by the end of the next semesters, the student will be dismissed from the program. Under extenuating circumstances, students may request an extension of this deadline by submitting the appropriate form to the Dean of the Graduate School prior to the deadline for successful completion of the Thesis Proposal.
The student whose Thesis Proposal is deemed unsatisfactory will usually be given one opportunity to address the particular area(s) of weakness. The conditions and timing for a re-presentation must be established at the time of the initial presentation. However, it must occur within 4 months of the initial presentation. The information concerning a re-presentation should be communicated to the student and the Graduate School Office, in writing, within two days of the initial presentation. If the student (with support of the mentor) wishes to change the membership of the Re-Examination Committee from that of the Examination Committee, s/he should discuss this with the MTA co-directors and/or the Dean of the Graduate School, prior to registration for the Re-Examination. In rare instances, the Committee may refuse the student the opportunity to redress the Proposal where students who have failed to show sufficient research progress and ability.
3. Dissertation –
Copies of earlier successfully completed Program Dissertations are available for review in the Levy Library. Guidelines for the dissertation deposit can be found on Graduate School Forms website.
A. Content –
A student should not present tables or figures that are not entirely his/her own work unless this is unavoidable because the data are necessary to develop the story; in that case the precise contribution of the student must be made clear. Detailed methods should not be presented for work not actually conducted by the student, including work done by the Core Facilities or other colleagues; such presentations convey the impression that the student actually carried out the procedures.
Students who wish to use published manuscripts as the backbone of their dissertation text (“compilation format”) may do so under the following circumstances:
- a general introduction, literature review, and summary are written for the dissertation
- permission to use the published paper as a dissertation chapter is obtained from the relevant publisher
- the publication represents both the scientific work and writing of the student
- the student must be the first author on papers used. Thus, no two students may use the same publication, and it is expected that both dissertation advisor and student will be honorable in renouncing this format when contributions by multiple co‑authors make the specific contribution of the student unclear. A Committee might challenge a dissertation on this basis.
- multi-author publications must be accompanied by a precise list of all work not actually performed by the student. Even better, those experiments not conducted by the student should be edited out of the dissertation chapter and just cited
- the student must have had a major role in writing the manuscripts (this should be certified by the dissertation advisor). If the student did not do the earlier writing, the work should be rewritten by the student for the dissertation.
If a published paper is used in the dissertation, copyright approval must be secured from the Journal. A note should be made on the paper indicating that copyright approval was granted. A paper that has been submitted, but not yet accepted, can be used. But a note should be made on the paper that it was used in a dissertation as partial requirement for the fulfillment of the PhD degree.
The thesis must contain a Statement of Authorship page which is available on the forms website.
B. The Committee –
The Dissertation Committee is composed of five members, including the mentor, who must be a silent observer during the Defense by the student. There must be four voting members on the Committee. Two members will be experts in the field of the student’s work but they cannot be collaborators of the mentor. One member should be from outside the field of the project. One additional reviewer, who shall not be a faculty member of ISMMS, will be appointed. This “outside” examiner may not have been an active collaborator in the student’s work. Additional faculty, such as collaborators of the mentor, may be included as non-voting members on the committee Non-voting Committee members, including faculty from ISMMS, are those who have
- directly collaborated on the project
- co-authored papers or abstracts with the student (except for rotation work that is unrelated to the dissertation project)
- been substantially involved in supervising the work.
If the student has two dissertation co-advisors, both may be present and both must be silent observers during the Defense.
The Training Area directorship and the Graduate School Dean must approve the Committee roster, and the former will appoint a senior member of the Committee, other than the dissertation advisor, to serve as Chair of the Committee. The Dean will invite the outside examiner to sit on the Dissertation Committee and will outline the duties of the reviewers and of the Committee.
When the student has completed the written dissertation document, it must be read and approved by the Dissertation Committee. The student should submit the Dissertation to each member of the Committee as early as possible, but no later than two weeks before the Defense. Committee members may reschedule the Examination if not given the appropriate amount of time to prepare for it. The Committee shall meet with the student for an oral Defense of the Dissertation. Before the final scheduling of the Defense, it is wise to obtain the Committee’s approval that the work is complete and appropriately presented. The student must register for the defense with the Registrar and the Dissertation Defense and Seminar Registration form along with the Voting form may be obtained from the Graduate School office. The student must include with the written document the Statement of Authorship page.
Revisions and additional experimental work might be requested by the Dissertation Committee. In either event, the Committee will decide and indicate in writing whether the whole Committee needs to be reconvened to consider the new draft or whether a subcommittee (or just the chair of the Committee) may approve the revised draft.
The mentor may apply to the Graduate School for reimbursement (up to $450) to defray travel expenses for the “outside” examiner. A letter of request, from the dissertation advisor, for the honorarium should be submitted to the Graduate School Office. The letter should include the name of the examiner, his/her social security number and mailing address. If the funds are being used to defray the cost of travel, original receipts should be sent with the letter of request. We will prepare and submit the check request. Unless otherwise instructed, the check will be sent directly to the examiner. If the dissertation advisor/department is covering a portion of the travel expenses, the letter of request should be sent with a check request (and original receipts), prepared by the dissertation advisor/department, indicating the amount and fund number (with appropriate signature) for the portion covered by the dissertation advisor/department. The Graduate School will complete the request and forward it to Accounts Payable. Unless otherwise instructed, the check will be sent directly to the examiner.
C. The Defense and Seminar –
In addition to the closed session for the oral Defense, each student must present a 45-60 minute seminar on his/her work, open to the ISMMS scientific community. It is the student’s and dissertation advisor’s responsibility to appropriately announce the seminar to the “public”, e.g., via email, at least four weeks prior to the seminar. If the seminar is presented before the oral defense, the examiners should be invited to the seminar, but should be asked to refrain from asking questions, except those that will lead to making the seminar more interactive with the rest of the audience. More intensive questions will be asked in the actual private defense. Note: It is the student’s responsibility to check with the particular MTA for the scheduling format of the Defense and Seminar.
D. Dissertation Deposit –
Students should read the Doctoral Thesis Deposit Instructions which can be found on the Graduate School Forms website.
Once a student has successfully defends the dissertation, makes all relevant revisions, and is ready to deposit the Dissertation, s/he should deposit the dissertation electronically according to the instructions in Doctoral Thesis Deposit Instructions document, available from the Library or on the web. Students should submit the Dissertation Defense – Student Checkout form before depositing the dissertation. Failure to do this can result in a delay of the student’s graduation.
Students who leave the programs with a Master of Philosophy degree are not required to deposit their thesis with the Levy Library.
The dissertation may be deposited at any time during the year, but the following deposit deadlines and enrollment requirements determine the date of the degree.
For the degree to be awarded:
You must deposit by:
And be enrolled during the:
Preceding Spring semester
Preceding Fall semester
May (ISMMS graduation date)
Current spring semester
The degree is awarded on September 30, January 31, or the date of ISMMS’s annual Commencement in May. Students depositing by the January or April deadline will receive their diploma at Commencement. Those students who have a dissertation or thesis defense scheduled between Those students who have a dissertation or thesis defense scheduled between April 16th and June 15th MAY be eligible to participate in the spring Commencement ceremony even though they have not met the April 15th thesis/dissertation deposit deadline. In cases where a student is allowed to participate, he/she will not receive a diploma at graduation. After a successful defense, a diploma will be awarded on the next date that degrees are conferred (September 30th, of January 31). Only students in good academic standing will be offered this courtesy. In this case, good academic standing means that all coursework has been completed with passing grades and the student’s mentor/committee fully expect the student will successfully defend his/her thesis/dissertation prior to June 15th. If either of these criteria is not met, the student will not be allowed to participate in the spring graduation ceremony. Additionally, any student whose written document or oral defense was not acceptable to their committee will not be allowed to participate in Commencement until after successfully defending and depositing.
By March 1, students must notify the Registrar of their intent to deposit their thesis on or before the April or September deposit deadlines in order to be included in the Commencement exercises of that year. Commencement information will be sent during the spring semester to the student’s ISMMS email address recorded with the Graduate School Office.
If a student fails to deposit their thesis by the end of their seventh year in the PhD program (6th PhD year for MD/PhD students), their dissertation advisor must petition the Dean of the Graduate School in writing for permission to extend their student status. The petition must include a timetable for completing the dissertation and must also be signed by the student.
It is the dissertation advisor’s responsibility to inform the Graduate School Office, in a timely manner, the expected date that financial support will be terminated.
PhD students can maintain student status, with the stipend and health benefits covered by the dissertation advisor, after the defense, according to the following timetable:
Student status can be maintained up to
Exceptions to this schedule will only be considered under extenuating circumstances. The dissertation advisor must request this in writing to the Dean of the Graduate School.