PhD Qualifying Examination and Dissertation

PhD Qualifying Examination (Dissertation Proposal Defense)

In political science, the University PhD qualifying examination consists of the preparation, presentation, and defense of a dissertation proposal. After completing all course requirements (including the elimination of all incompletes) and fulfilling the requirements in two fields of concentration, students must take the PhD qualifying examination–also known as the dissertation proposal defense. To begin this process, students must form a dissertation proposal committee, consisting of the three faculty members (at least two of whom are from political science) who are serving as the student’s third-year paper advisors (see timing for selecting third-year advisors). All three must be tenured or tenure-track and hold the rank of assistant professor or higher at the University of Rochester. By the end of January, students must also submit to their advisors and to the director of graduate studies a one-page plan for the prospectus that describes the topic and format of the dissertation. This one-page summary must be signed by the student, as well as all members of the committee. Students are encouraged to begin discussions with faculty about expectations for the proposal well in advance of this deadline.

The PhD qualifying examination consists of three parts: a public presentation of the third-year paper (see above), a written dissertation prospectus, and an oral defense. If the dissertation is to take the form of three articles, then it is expected and encouraged that one of those articles will be the third-year paper; and if the dissertation is book form, then the third-year paper should form the basis for a part of the book. The prospectus must also include a plan for the remaining chapters of the dissertation: research problems to be addressed, a proposal for the analysis of those problems using appropriate methods, preliminary analysis and anticipated results, and relationship to the appropriate literature in political science.

Within two weeks of the third-year paper presentation, the student must have a meeting with all of the dissertation committee members to provide feedback on the third-year paper and determine its suitability for the dissertation prospectus. The student will then prepare a dissertation prospectus, which will serve a detailed plan for the organization and expected contributions of the dissertation to the discipline of political science. The prospectus must be completed and submitted to the director of graduate studies by July 1 and defended before the dissertation committee no later than July 31.

The student will pass the defense if the committee members are satisfied that the student is adequately prepared to undertake the dissertation work, and that there is good reason to believe the proposal will result in an adequate dissertation if executed appropriately. The oral defense must be formally scheduled two weeks in advance and the Dean’s Office notified. Program of Study forms for the MA and PhD degrees must be submitted at this time, if not earlier. Details on formally scheduling the examination and completing the Program of Study forms are available from the department administrator. The student must submit the final version of the proposal to each committee member at least one week in advance of the oral defense.

This examination is a University requirement for formal entry into PhD candidacy. The dissertation prospectus must be successfully defended by July 31 of the third year. If a student has not passed this exam by July 31, they are ineligible for departmental funding until the exam is rescheduled and the PhD qualifying examination and the dissertation successfully defended. At least seven months must elapse between the successful defense of the dissertation proposal and the oral defense of the completed dissertation.


Typically, after the student has entered into PhD candidacy, the members of the dissertation proposal committee continue to serve as the members of the dissertation committee, although this is not required. In any event, a PhD candidate must have a dissertation advisor during the dissertation phase, and this faculty member must be tenured or tenure-track and hold the rank of assistant professor or higher at the University of Rochester. Students are permitted to change their dissertation advisor at any time, in consultation with the director of graduate studies.

At least once a semester, usually at the end of the semester, students in the dissertation phase must prepare a written report on their progress toward completing their dissertation. This report is submitted to the student’s dissertation advisor and to the director of graduate studies. Students should also meet with their dissertation advisor and other members of the dissertation committee in order to discuss this report and consult about the direction of their research.

To receive the PhD in political science, each student must form a dissertation committee and defend their doctoral dissertation before the committee. The PhD dissertation committee must consist of at least two political science faculty members, one of whom is the dissertation advisor, and one outside faculty member. All three faculty members must be tenured or tenure-track and hold the rank of assistant professor or higher at the University of Rochester. (Some special exceptions to this are described in the Graduate Bulletin.) If an outside faculty member has not been involved in the proposal presentation and defense, the student should approach and obtain the consent of such a faculty member to participate on the thesis committee. This should be done as soon as possible after the PhD qualifying examination.

With the permission of the director of graduate studies and the dean of graduate studies, a student may invite a faculty member from another university to sit on the PhD dissertation committee. This faculty member may replace the outside faculty member or be in addition to the regular members of the committee. In no case can a member from another university replace one of the two political science faculty members of the committee or serve as the dissertation advisor.

As noted in the Graduate Bulletin, at least seven months must elapse between the PhD qualifying examination and the dissertation defense. Students planning a dissertation defense should obtain a copy of the University brochure on thesis requirements and also consult the graduate calendar to determine the periods during the year when such defenses cannot be scheduled. The student is responsible for arranging a time at which all committee members and outside chair (all selected by the student) can be present, and for registering the dissertation well in advance of the intended defense date. In order to leave sufficient time for administrative processing, the student must notify the department administrator of their plans to defend at least five weeks prior to the desired defense date. The defense consists of a brief public lecture and discussion, followed by a closed examination by the members of the committee.

Upon successful defense of the dissertation, a corrected copy of the dissertation, incorporating changes required by the dissertation committee during the thesis defense, must be submitted electronically by the student to the graduate dean. This should be done as soon as possible after the defense, and before the deadline set forth on the graduate calendar, as no PhD degree or completion letter can be awarded until these copies are submitted.

Degrees are conferred five times each year (March, May, August, October, and December). Students who must have degrees conferred by a specific date for job-related purposes should work closely with the department administrator to ensure that a defense is scheduled in time for the desired degree conferral date.