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Preparing for a PhD Defense


Get Permission to Start Writing

After completing all course, exam and research requirements for your program of study, there are several things that must be done before a thesis defense can occur. Most importantly, you must meet with your advisory committee to ensure that everyone agrees that the work is ready to defend. You will need to decide on a date by which the defense should occur. You should also inform your Graduate Administrator that you have started the process to prepare for your defense.

Nominate a Faculty Member to Serve as Chair for Your Defense

A Chair is appointed for each PhD oral defense exam to monitor and promote fairness and rigor in the conduct of the defense. Instructions for the Chair can be accessed on the AS&E Intranet by faculty and staff. The Chair’s status as a non-member of the student’s program or department enables distance from previously established judgments on the candidate’s work.

You must identify a faculty member to serve as Chair for your defense. This individual must be a current full-time faculty member at assistant professor rank or higher from outside the department offering the degree program, or outside your advisor's department if you are in an interdisciplinary degree program, who has not had prior involvement in your research.  The selection of the Chair is subject to the approval of the department/program, the Dean of Graduate Studies in Arts, Sciences and Engineering and the University Dean of Graduate Studies.

The Chair must be physically present during the entire defense, including the public oral presentation (if applicable) and the questioning session.  The Chair is welcome to read and comment on the dissertation and/or the defense presentation, but this is not required.  The Chair does not need to be an expert in your research area. It is your responsibility to get a copy of the final dissertation to the Chair at least one week prior to the defense.

Selecting a Defense Date

You should begin scheduling the actual defense date three months in advance to ensure that your advisor, all committee members and your selected Chair are able to be present at your defense and that rooms are available on the date and time selected.   

The academic calendar includes important dates for defense for each semester of the academic year. When you and your advisor begin thinking about defending, check the academic calendar for deadlines. Defenses may be held on any day the University Graduate Studies office is open for business (i.e., not weekends, evenings, or holidays, or the days between Christmas and New Years). Use the PhD Date Calculator to determine the deadline dates for getting your paperwork to the Grad Studies Office and Department Committee.

It is permissible for a member of your committee to participate in the defense remotely via Skype, with the exception of your advisor and the Chair—you, your advisor and the Chair of the committee must all be physically present in the room for the defense. Additionally, if a member of your committee plans to participate via Skype, all committee members must agree to the arrangement, including the appointed Chair; someone other than you and your committee must handle the IT setup and be on standby for any problems; and if during the defense, anyone involved finds the remote participation arrangement or quality of transmission is interfering with the defense, he or she may request that the defense be rescheduled. Participation of a committee member by Skype must be approved by the AS&E Dean of Graduate Studies and the University Dean of Graduate Studies before the dissertation is registered for defense.

When all members of your committee and your Chair agree to a specific date and time for the defense, inform your Graduate Administrator of the scheduled defense date as soon as you possibly can but no later than 6 weeks prior to your defense date.  Your Graduate Administrator will advise you of any program-specific requirements for the defense as well as work with you to prepare for your thesis defense. Check with your Graduate Administrator to determine the procedure for registering your thesis electronically.  You should provide your committee members at least two weeks to read and comment on your dissertation before the date you need to register your dissertation.

International Students and Work Visas

We strongly recommend that international students meet with an International Services Office (ISO) representative as soon as permission to start writing is granted. The ISO will provide information on visa options, documentation, and timelines for applying for a visa for employment in the US.

Registration Categories for Defense

In your final semester (the semester in which you defend), you will register for one of the following registration categories:

999: “Dissertation” non-credit bearing registration category that indicates the PhD student has completed all of the requirements for the degree except the dissertation and is in residence as a full-time student.

  • You must be in residence full-time.
  • You are eligible for student health insurance, loan deferments, and University housing, but you are not eligible for financial aid in the form of student loans.

995: “Continuation of Enrollment” non-credit bearing registration category that indicates the PhD student has completed all of the requirements for the degree except the dissertation and is not in residence as a full-time student. When registered for Continuation of Enrollment, your time status is “X”, meaning less than part-time.

  • Appropriate if you have left the University prior to completion for a job or personal reasons but have a defense planned during the upcoming semester.
  • You are not eligible for student health insurance, loan deferments, University housing, or financial aid in the form of student loans.

Dissertation Writing and Guidelines

The University of Rochester offers the manual “Preparing Your Thesis” to graduate students to help you to bring your dissertation up to the required standard of organization, appearance, and format for the University of Rochester. Before preparing the defense copy of your dissertation, check the contents of the manual carefully. In so doing, you may avoid mistakes that can be time-consuming and costly to correct. The manual does not deal with the art of scholarship. There are numerous guidebooks and style manuals available for dissertation writers. However, before beginning the writing of your dissertation, you should consult with your Advisor regarding preferred styles.

Including material produced by other authors in your dissertation can serve a legitimate research purpose, but you want to avoid copyright infringement in the process. Republishing someone else's work, even in abbreviated form, requires permission from the author or copyright owner. You must receive permission from the author(s) and include it with your submission before it can be published in your dissertation. For detailed guidance on avoiding copyright infringement, please see Proquest’s Copyright Guide.

Rooms for Your Defense

You must reserve a room for your oral presentation and for your closed exam. Check with your Graduate Administrator to determine who will schedule the room for your thesis defense.

Preparing Your Dissertation for Defense

The University requires that you provide copies of the dissertation to your committee members and for the faculty member who will chair the exam.  You should check with your committee members to see if they prefer printed copies or electronic copies (or both). If they select printed copies, these copies do not need to be printed on heavy-weight, expensive paper unless there is the need to do so for figures and images. 

Printing and binding a dissertation can be expensive. Most students use the Copy Center to print and bind their dissertations. If you have questions about the process, including turn-around time for the finished product, call (585) 275-3879 or visit the Medical Center Copy Center location. Binding at the Copy Center is black tape binding. Printing at the Copy Center includes a proof before the final copies are printed and this can take up to a week; it is advisable to check into turnaround time well before printing is needed.

On occasion, some students use FedEx/Kinkos to print and bind their dissertations. FedEx/Kinkos offers a 24 hour turn-around time for printing and binding, which is a plastic spiral and is perfectly acceptable. Although requesting a proof copy will extend the turn-around time at FedEx/Kinkos, it is advisable to do so before your final copies are printed. Printing costs are generally higher at FedEx/Kinkos.  

Registering Your Dissertation for the Final Oral Exam

In order to register your dissertation, you, your program’s Graduate Administrator, or both of you together, will need to create a record in the University of Rochester Graduate Studies PhD Completion website.  This record will include your degree information, your past degrees, important contact information, and attachments including the defense version of your dissertation in pdf format, and other relevant documents provided by your Graduate Administrator.  The version of your dissertation attached to your online record is considered the registration copy.

When your PhD completion record is finalized by your Graduate Administrator, committee members will receive emails with links to access your record and approve your dissertation to progress to defense. Well before the record is finalized (at least two weeks), you must provide copies of the dissertation identical to the registration copy to all members of your committee.  Please consult with your committee members for their preferred format.  Some will accept a pdf document and others will choose a hard copy.  Each of these individuals must have possession of your dissertation for a minimum of two weeks before they are asked to sign off on the readiness of the work for defense.  Also provide a copy of the dissertation to the Chair of your oral defense in his/her preferred format. The Chair does not need to comment or sign off on the dissertation before it is registered but should have it at least two weeks prior to the defense.

There may be deadlines for registering your dissertation specific to your program and school.  Consult with your Graduate Administrator to ascertain those deadlines and follow them carefully.  Please plan the completion of your degree by following your program and school deadlines in tandem with the PhD calendar.

After all committee members have provided their approval, the faculty director of your PhD program or your department Chair will approve the thesis for registration using the same online system.  Then, requests for review and approval will go to the Arts, Sciences and Engineering Dean of Graduate Studies office and finally to the office of the University Dean of Graduate Studies.  When all of these officials have approved your committee and dissertation for defense, your dissertation is considered registered. You will be able to track these approvals in your online record and will receive a confirmation email when approvals are complete.

The Graduate Studies Office and the AS&E Dean of Graduate Studies as well as the University Graduate Studies office may make corrections to the pdf of your dissertation. This annotated copy of your dissertation, along with the original version, will be stored in the PhD Completion website for you to reference at the conclusion of your defense.  You are not permitted to distribute updated versions of your dissertation prior to the defense, but be sure to incorporate any corrections in the final copy after the defense before uploading your final dissertation to ProQuest®. 

After the defense, if the committee has required major revisions to be approved by one or more of its members, it is your responsibility to provide them with the corrected final version for their approval.   They will be asked to submit written confirmation of that approval to University Graduate Studies. Failure to do so could delay conferral of your degree.

After the defense, you will receive additional instructions by email for completion of all PhD degree requirements.

It is important to walk into the defense knowing that your Committee really WANTS you to pass. Even if criticism is harsh, it is meant to be constructive. The defense is not solely an opportunity for the Committee to compliment and congratulate you for the work you have done. It is also meant to challenge you and force you to consider tough questions.