Dissertation Defense Guidelines
Organizing a dissertation defense takes a minimum of six weeks, so start early. Even before the dissertation is completed, students and their dissertation directors should be thinking about who will join the dissertation defense committee and possible dates for the defense to accommodate any travel plans of those involved.
When the Research Committee (those faculty who advised the student in writing the dissertation) agree that the dissertation is ready to be defended, they must sign the Dissertation Research Committee Sign-Off form (link below) and submit it to the Advisor. The form states that the dissertation "is acceptable in its current form and suitable for distribution to the Examiners in preparation for the Dissertation Defense."
Establishing the Defense Committee
The dissertation director, in consultation with the Department Graduate Advisor and with the Advisor's approval, determines the membership of the Dissertation Defense Committee (what CCAS calls the Final Oral Examination Committee.) The committee should consist of the members of the student's Research Committee and at least two additional members, one of whom must be from outside the department. This outside member may be from another GW department or from another university or similar institution. If the outside member is not a GW faculty member, her or his C.V. must be provided to the Graduate Advisor. Outside members should be active academic researchers holding doctoral degrees. A student's current or prospective immediate supervisor of employment is not permitted to be an examiner. Care should be taken to ensure that the committee proposed represents the necessary fields of expertise to assess the dissertation.
Scheduling the Defense
The dissertation director and student consult with the Defense Committee members to determine the date, time, and place for the Defense, subject to the approval of the Graduate Advisor. Be sure the examination room is booked for the defense and that any necessary electronic equipment is available. When agreement is reached, the director must submit a "Final Oral Examination Committee" list to the Graduate Advisor along with the C.V. of any member from outside the university.
The defense cannot take place sooner than four weeks after the additional members of the Defense Committee have received their copies of the dissertation to be defended. This is to ensure adequate time for them to read the work.
Distributing Copies of the Dissertation
The student must get copies of the dissertation to all members of the Defense Committee and ensure that an electronic copy of the dissertation is on file with the department’s Graduate Assistant. Instructions for formatting the dissertation can be found at www.gwu.edu/~etds.
Public Notice of the Defense
As soon as the defense is scheduled, the student is responsible for providing the Graduate Advisor with all information necessary to post a public notice of the defense at least four weeks prior to the defense. This information includes: the title of the dissertation; names and affiliations of all members of the defense committee; the time, date, and place of the defense; and an electronic abstract (one paragraph) of the project. The Graduate Advisor will then circulate a notice of the defense to all students and faculty in the department.
A few days prior to the defense the dissertation director should meet or correspond with the committee members to establish procedures for the defense. Procedures to discuss might include whether the student will make a brief presentation of the project (establish the length and/or format of this), the order of questioning by committee members, the duration of questioning by each committee member, and the rough duration expected for the entire defense. Agreed procedures should then be communicated to the student.
The defense then proceeds at the appointed time and place. The dissertation director presides at the defense but plays no role in questioning the student or answering questions from other examiners. After the examiners have concluded their questioning, the student and any other observers in attendance are asked to leave the room while the committee meets in executive session. During these deliberations, the director plays the part of advocate for the student and works with the committee to reach a final decision about the dissertation.
At the conclusion of the defense, the Defense Committee members must fill out the Final Examination Committee Sign-Off Form (link below). The form asks the committee to check one of three boxes: the dissertation is "acceptable as is", the dissertation is "acceptable subject to requested revisions," or the dissertation is "unacceptable." If the Committee requests revisions prior to accepting the dissertation, it must establish procedures for approving those revisions and convey those to the dissertation director, the student, and the Graduate Advisor in writing on the form.
To-Do Lists for Dissertation Defenses
For the dissertation director
- Submit a "Dissertation Sign-Off," signed by the dissertation director and Research Committee members, to the Graduate Advisor. This confirms that in the opinion of the signatories, the dissertation is defensible. No one should sign this form who does not hold that opinion.
- Consult with the Graduate Advisor about the composition of the full examining committee. If someone from outside GW is on the examining committee, a C.V. must be provided to the Graduate Advisor.
- Work with the dissertation student to ensure that a copy of the dissertation that will be defended is in the hands of each member of the examining committee no less than four weeks before the date of the defense.
- Work with the dissertation student to ensure that a copy of the dissertation abstract (electronic version) reaches the Graduate Advisor and a paper copy of the entire dissertation reaches the department office no less than four weeks before the date of the defense.
- At the defense, run the meeting as an impartial facilitator but play no part during the examination. In executive session, play a full and active role.
- After the defense, help coordinate any required revisions.
- When everything is in order, work with the student to ensure that the correctly formatted dissertation is uploaded to ETDS by the required date.
For the graduate advisor
- Place the "Dissertation Research Committee Sign-Off" form in student's file when completed.
- Verify that all members of the examining committee have a copy of the dissertation and that an electronic copy of the dissertation is on file with the Graduate Assistant for inspection by any interested faculty member or graduate student.
- Arrange for a room for the defense if student and Director so request.
- Approximately four weeks before the defense date, notify faculty and graduate students of the defense. This notification will include the name of the dissertation student, title of the dissertation, composition of the examining committee, date, time, and place of the defense, and abstract of the dissertation.
- Place the "Final Examination Committee Sign-Off" form in the student’s file after completion of the defense.
» Dissertation Research Committee Sign-Off Form
» Final Examination Committee Sign-Off Form
» GW's Electronic Theses and Dissertations Submission Website