Defense of the Thesis or Dissertation

The research project is not finished until the student has submitted to an examination on it, made whatever adjustments are shown to be needed as a consequence of that examination, and received a signed statement of faculty committee approval. This chapter deals with those matters, how they are to be carried out, and the factors that influence and guide faculty decision making.


The oral examination in most institutions is the final procedural step  in student evaluation in the degree process. It concentrates on the study, the findings, and the interpretation of the findings. However, questions regarding the academic and professional preparation of the candidate may also legitimately arise.

In the historic tradition of great European universities, the rite of passage from the rank of student to the community of scholars was marked by hours and even days of examination by established   scholars. Invitations would be issued to learned persons throughout the country to attend, and every visiting scholar felt obliged to ask erudite questions. The candidate was expected to respond promptly and to be able to defend the response as long as the questions were in the candi- date’s field of expertise. The candidate was seeking admission to the community of scholars who had already earned the high distinction of being titled “master” or “doctor” (Haskins, 1957; see also the Intro- duction).

Modern examinations follow the European tradition, but differ in several details. In most contemporary cases, the examining committee focuses on the evidence of scholarship before it. The time set aside  for the final defense is usually too brief to allow the committee to do much more than that. Today, most final oral examinations are con- ducted in two- to three-hour sessions. Those present are usually limited to the candidate and the committee, with perhaps one or two guest scholars or student observers.

Another major difference between examinations in early Euro- pean universities and those of today in the United States is in recourse by the student for perceived bias or injustice. There was little opportunity for that up to a few decades ago. Now, universities have well- established grievance procedures that students may invoke if they believe they have been treated  unfairly.

Scenario of the Examination*

The candidate and the committee meet at a designated time in an appropriate room. Each committee member has prepared for the exami- nation by examining the work presented and by making note of any items needing clarification or questions to be  asked.

The chairperson begins the session by asking the candidate to make a brief statement about the results aRemove featured imagend findings of the research, after which each member of the committee is encouraged to ask ques- tions or make comments. The candidate responds, when   appropriate, This describes the bare bones of a typical scenario. Students are advised to flesh out the sce- nario with the advisor well before the examination date. The content of the rest of this chapter can be helpful in doing  that.

to the questions or comments. At the end of the appointed time, the candidate is asked to leave the room while the committee discusses which decision it should make on the basis of a review of the docu- ment and the final oral examination, as well as any other information relevant to the academic competence of the candidate. Then, the can- didate is brought back into the room, the chairperson announces the committee’s decision, and a short discussion ensues concerning the conditions attached to the decisions, if any. At this point, the defense and the oral exam are considered over. The purpose of the final de- fense has been accomplished, namely, to establish whether the candi- date has qualitatively and quantitatively met the standards of the insti- tution and the faculty in the completion of the research and in the program of studies.

Criteria for Excellence

An excellent oral defense is one for which it is clear to the committee that the candidate has prepared well. The document presented is a good example of discursive prose. The answers to the committee questions are concise, clear, to the point, and informative. The oral presentation is tightly reasoned. The impression made on the commit- tee is one of quiet confidence and competence. There is little doubt at the end that the candidate has the ability and integrity to carry on competent research without detailed direction from a senior colleague.

The Evaluation Procedure

Final defense committees commonly use four options in deciding which action to take after the examination. Two of the options are unusual: The committee may approve the T/D as executed, or it may deny approval. Both decisions are extreme in the sense that they seldom happen and in the sense that they have a powerful effect on the   student.

The other two options are the withholding of approval until ma- jor revisions are made or approval with minor modification. These are discussed in other sections of this  chapter.

Whichever option is chosen by the committee, there must be specific reasons for it, and those reasons must be stated. The commit- tee’s decision and the reasons for it should be made clear to the student and summarized by the chairperson for the committee and the candidate at the end of the  session.


Examining committee sessions require preparation and prior planning, perhaps several months in advance. Refer to the time line for compli- ance with local rules on this. The preparation is the responsibility of    a number of persons, but the two principal roles belong to the candi- date and the chairperson of the  committee.

Chairperson’s Responsibilities

Before a committee examination can be firmly scheduled, the research advisor must be satisfied with the draft of the T/D that is to be the basis for the final oral examination. This draft then is sent to the rest of the committee for review. It should, in the student’s mind, be considered a final draft. It should include changes and should have reconciled conflicts raised by committee members in earlier draft  reviews.

If the advisor at this stage seems too strict or too demanding in the eyes of the student, it is good to remember that the advisor’s reputation is also at stake. Sending the draft to committee means that the advisor has reviewed it carefully and critically and believes that it is ready for committee review.

After the committee has received the final draft, the advisor sets aside a reasonable amount of time for the committee to review the document. We suggest at least two weeks if there is no specific time set in local regulations.

If the advisor has been successful in helping the student put together a well-formulated and well-written report, the committee will usually not request further revisions prior to the examination. How- ever, one or more members may request improvements in a more for- mal way during the meeting of the examining  committee. 

Time, Location, and Notice of  Examination

We recommend that the advisor circulate copies of the final draft along with a memorandum that gives notice of the time, location,  and membership of the meeting of the final defense examining committee. This may be made the candidate’s responsibility, but the chairperson should then oversee it. The university process for notifying students and the faculty committee of the time and place of the meeting usually includes some procedure also to notify other members of the graduate faculty and to allow them to read the T/D before the meeting. They can then attend with some knowledge of the subject and can assess  the document against the standards of the  institution. 

Preview of Procedures for Student

It is good form for the advisor to preview procedures with the student. The student is often unaware of role expectations in the committee meeting, is unsure of preparation that should be made, and is not knowledgeable about the support or nonsupport of the advisor during the examining committee meeting. These, and any other matters raised by the candidate, ought to be very thoroughly discussed in the advi- sor’s office. The advisor may offer some advice about the steps the candidate might take to prepare for the final  defense.

The advisor should make sure that the candidate has gone through all the mechanical steps that accompany the final stages of  the T/D process and eventual graduation. The two persons might again go over the limitations of the study—limitations that are unavoidable and not remediable at this point. Problems may be anticipated in this preview session, but the role of the advisor should be to make the candidate feel at ease and in control. After all, the candidate has done the best work possible, and the advisor has approved what was done; although the product may not be perfect, it is their expectation that a favorable outcome will result.

This is a good opportunity for the advisor to review the formali- ties of the session, how questions will be asked, how long the session is likely to be, and, as well, a description of how the advisor will chair the session, including a perception of the advisor’s role as chairperson of the examining committee. Finally, there ought to be some frank  talk about the role of the candidate in the session and how that role might be seen as functional to the achievement of the goal. We pro- vide our recommendations regarding the role of the student subsequently. It is also valuable at this point to read again what we said  (see Chapter 6) about the overview meeting for much of it   applies.

Candidate  Responsibilities

The first responsibility of the candidate is to be well prepared. The second is to be completely frank and open with the advisor about the problems and weaknesses of the study and any other possible difficult issues, from the point of view of the student, that may come up in the final defense. This committee session will have more of the atmo- sphere of a scholarly examination than any prior meeting of the group. Students must be ready for that and all that it implies about student- faculty interactions during the examination.

Availability of Needed Equipment

At some examining committee sessions, the candidate needs a special room or special equipment such as an overhead projector or computer- connected projector for the final defense. This may include equipment used during the overview plus additional items. Whatever the equipment required, it is the candidate’s responsibility to check with the chairperson to ascertain if it is permitted in the examining committee session. If so, it is the candidate’s responsibility to obtain the equipment and place it in the examining room before the session and to make sure it  works.  It  is  also  the  responsibility  of  the  candidate to schedule the room with the concurrence of the chairperson of the T/D examining committee.

Freedom to Observe Oral Defense Examinations

The final defense ordinarily is publicly announced and is open to eligible members of the university community who wish to observe it. Graduate students and faculty should be especially welcome. An open and public final defense is in the finest scholastic  tradition.

Use of Simulation for Preparation

Once there is a recognized structure and procedure to the final defense committee meeting, a fairly realistic simulation can be designed.  Students can work together to constitute an examining committee, simulate the whole meeting from beginning to end, and even pass, fail, or amend the candidate’s presentation. In a simulation, fellow students often ask harder questions and grill a candidate with less mercy than faculty in the same situation. A candidate who has been through a number of tough simulations will probably have anticipated the questions that will be asked in the real defense and will have formulated thoughtful answers.

The simulation process can be carried to a fine art. Students from the candidate’s department can assume the roles of specific members of the committee, reflect their backgrounds and research interests, and predict many of their questions. Having gone through the final draft  of the T/D, the student-colleagues who are playing the roles of members of the committee often should be able to perceive any weaknesses in the study and anticipate the queries expected of faculty examiners. Simulation is also educational for those who help. These students will then have an opportunity to model their behavior on a colleague who may be a little more  advanced.

We recommend beginning simulation sessions early in the final writing stages. If unanswered questions or gaping holes in early drafts become evident, they can be repaired before the document goes to the committee.

In summary, the best preparation for the final defense is a document written and argued so tightly that there is very little room for embarrassing questions. Committees like such T/Ds because they are well done and because the committee can spend most time during the defense exploring the implications of the study and looking to the future research needs it reveals rather than tinkering with errors in grammar, style, research design, or methodology.


If there is sound preparation, it is unlikely that the final oral will hold any great threat. In many cases, the final defense is seen as a pro forma meeting. That condition prevails when the student investigator has produced an excellent study, fulfilled the promises made in the proposal, worked closely with advisors, and communicated fully  with committee members. In such cases, the advisor and committee members have a common view that the graduate research was well done. The final defense then becomes what many faculty  hope for in every case—a lively and informed discussion of an important problem and field of interest in which the candidate and faculty participate essentially as colleagues. The discussion focuses on the growing edge of research, explores the implications of  the  results  of the study, examines the interdisciplinary effects of the study find- ings, and brainstorms new research ideas to push back the frontiers of knowledge, understanding, and professional practice. Such final orals are exciting and enjoyable for everyone; in the best of circumstances, they become the focus of interest and intellectual excitement of a much broader circle of scholars than just the committee.   In our view, this is  a  state of  constructive intellectual ferment  to  be sought at colleges and universities that aspire to be “great” or “excellent.”

Role of the Chairperson

If the chairperson is also the research advisor, there is some role conflict inherent in the examining committee session. The advisor has worked very closely with the candidate and finally approved the work in a form to come before the committee. Hard as one may try, it is impossible to be completely disinterested in the outcome of the pro- cess. For many advisors, the candidate’s product becomes almost a part of the advisor.

The committee chairperson role has expectations that are some- what different from those of the research advisor. The chairperson is expected to conduct the session in an impartial way. The role is not one of defense of the candidate or defense of the chairperson’s own deep involvement in the work of the candidate. The role is rather that of an impartial judge, who assures a fair and open hearing for the candidate, and for each member of the examining committee, even the most junior. The chairperson has the obligation to set the conditions and guide the process so that all the participants can come to a fair, equitable, and reasoned decision as to the best course of action under the circumstances.

Balanced Participation

The oral examination should be equitable and evenhanded with re- spect to all parties. The person chiefly responsible for maintaining that equilibrium is the chairperson. Balanced participation means, operationally, that every person on the committee has a  fair  and equal chance to ask questions and make comments. It  also  means  that the candidate has a fair and equal chance to respond to questions or comments and to put forward others when appropriate. It means that all members of the committee have the same opportunity to participate.

If the persons who have roles in the oral examination feel that  the session has been partial, biased, unbalanced, or unfair, the results of that feeling may well spill over to create other committee problems and perhaps other problems for the candidate. Moreover, such feelings may well engender formal grievances.

Tone of the Session

As the convener and as the presiding university official, the chairperson is in the position to set the tone of the meeting. It is a serious undertaking, most of all for the candidate who has invested so much  in the study, and the session is expected to have a serious and a mod- erately formal quality. The most important tone, however, is conveyed by the verbal and nonverbal behavior of faculty. The behavior should indicate that the individual faculty member cares so much, values so much, the candidate’s work that no effort was spared to read it care- fully, and that while the faculty member is supportive of the candi- date, nothing short of excellent work will be allowed to pass the committee. It is best if this tone can be established and maintained from the beginning by the chairperson.

If there are observers, the chairperson is responsible for arranging seating for them that separates them physically from the candidate and the committee members. Also, the observers should be addressed by the chairperson before the examination begins to explain that comments, questions, or other forms of participation or expression  by them are to be reserved while the examination is in   session.

Clarification of Questions

The chairperson is also looked to for clarification of technical or substantive questions on the T/D and on the examining committee pro- cess. For example, if the student’s work has been part of a larger program of investigation directed by a faculty member, the degree to which the student has been able to maintain independence would be a reasonable area of inquiry. As another example, suppose the student has made significant use of a consultant from another university. What kind of monitoring has that consultant’s participation had from committee members? For a third example, what if the candidate is deaf  and will be using an interpreter to facilitate communication during the committee examination session? How can one be certain of accurate interpretation?

It is essential to anticipate such questions and to have explanations readily accessible before the session if one is in the role of chair- person. In cases when the questions are clearly for the candidate, the clarification role of the chairperson may be simply to supply a communication link between a faculty question and a student’s attempt to understand the question. In any case, the role of the chairperson does not include answering faculty questions clearly directed at the candi- date concerning either the investigation or what the candidate has learned through the program. 

Signaling Completion of Examination

There is no magic number of minutes the session is required to last. Based on our data, the total time, from calling the meeting to order to notification of the candidate of the outcome, typically ranges between one and one-half and two and one-half hours. After every faculty member has had a chance to ask questions of the candidate, and the candidate to respond and ask questions, the chairperson should be able to sense that the time for ending the examination is drawing near. The chairperson should then try, without being arbitrary, to bring the session to a close. There are always individuals who may find it difficult to stop talking; dealing with those individuals within the context of   an oral examination is the responsibility of the  chairperson.

Committee Member Roles

The role of the committee member is to be a judge of quality. Specifically, it is to ascertain if the quality of the T/D is sufficient to admit the candidate to the ranks of those holding an honors, graduate master’s, or doctoral degree. In our view, this is the essential element of the role. It is carried out in a number of   ways.

The oral examination certainly does give the committee a chance to ascertain the quality of the document and the quality of the student’s work. If judgments that influence the outcome go beyond that, the committee is treading on thin  ice.

The candidate’s lifestyle, political orientation, or championship of popular or unpopular causes all are beyond the purview of the final defense committee with respect to the mores of present-day academia. The issue may seem different, however, if the candidate is known to be engaged in dishonest, unprofessional, or illegal activities. But, even here, committees are reluctant to make judgments, in this situation,   on anything very much beyond the written and the oral presentations. They tend to see such judgments as outside their role unless the activities have to do with the research  itself.

Committees do assess the depth and range of the candidate’s knowledge about the document at hand and the methodology used to do the study. If the candidate cannot answer detailed questions about his or her work, including the review of the literature and the method- ology, committee members should delve deeper to ascertain reasons for this apparent ignorance.

One important thing the committee members look for is the congruence between the promises made in the proposal and what appears in the final draft of the study. The committee exercises approval over any changes the student makes in the study plan after the overview committee has met and approved the proposal. If the approved proposal has the attributes of a contract, then both parties must adhere to it. Therefore, the committee will be looking at the final draft to deter- mine if the approved proposal has been carried out in the conduct of the study.

Students sometimes assume that the acceptance of the final draft by the committee for the purpose of the oral examination signals its acceptance as a document of sufficient quality to meet all the requirements of the university and the committee. This is a false assumption. What the committee action means, in fact, is that the members individually have reviewed the draft carefully and are satisfied that it is good enough to provide a basis for an oral examination. Problems that remain with the final draft will be brought out at the examination. They may or may not be communicated to the student or the advisor beforehand. That depends on the time constraints on the individuals, whether there is good communication among them, and whether the problems were actually identified earlier. Some issues do not surface until there is the interplay of minds during the examination itself. In any case, the problems that remain in the draft that goes to the committee will be worked out in committee and may become a part of the substantive revisions that must be made before the document is finally approved.

Role of the Candidate

Preparation is the key to success. The final oral examination is the culmination of a long preparation process. The candidate has been guided in pre-T/D study by an academic advisor, a person who is usually a member of the committee. The candidate has thoroughly reviewed the literature, designed the methodology, and conducted the study under the guidance of the advisor and committee. Finally, the T/D was written with the advice and consultation of the whole committee. Every committee member had a chance to see it and comment on it before the final defense meeting. With all that background, there should be no great surprises, and the final defense should go  smoothly.

Yet, it is not uncommon to find important problems at the end. Why? We have made a list of three main reasons reported by col- leagues and from our own experience.

  1. The advisor has been misled about how much of the work—the design, the literature review, the data gathering, and analysis (including the knowledge base from which these are drawn)—was really done or understood by the candidate. Because of that, serious weaknesses come out at the final oral examination and then are pursued by the committee, often to the point at which it becomes acutely embarrassing and uncomfortable for  everyone.
  2. The advisor errs in allowing the candidate to come to the final defense before the research is thoroughly and carefully done and before it represents a work of excellence. Sometimes, the candidate is convinced that he or she is ready for the final defense and convinces the advisor of this when, in fact, there is a good deal more work to do. Often, there is pressure of time, such as a statute of limitations, a baby due, an upcoming job in another city, or a tenure decision to be made on the candidate who is a faculty member at another institution. Sometimes, there is simply a factor of fatigue, when the advisor and the student have revised the work over and over again and, in effect, throw themselves on the mercy of the committee.
  3. Occasionally, the candidate is unrealistic in assessing personal skills, ability, commitment, or the amount of time and detailed work required to complete the T/D, and the advisor is unsuccess- ful in communicating with the candidate about the problems. The advisor then decides to bring the full force of committee rejection to bear to convince the candidate.

The role of the candidate in the final defense meeting is important. In our view, the role is one of openness, honesty, and mature expertise. Openness about the data and problems of the study is the only ethical way to approach this final test. Honesty is the one most important attribute of a  researcher. Maturity motivates candidates to do their own work, accept the responsibility for all that was done in the study, live up to the promises made at the time of the pro- posal, and treat colleagues in an ethical and unbiased, objective manner.

Responsiveness of a positive, constructive kind is another essential attribute. The final defense is not the place to become “defensive.” It is a time for calm, reasoned responses to questions or suggestions. When a response is appropriate, a direct, to-the-point answer is usu- ally best. There is nothing fatal about a straight “I don’t know” when that is the simple truth, either, although that response often should not be necessary. In most cases, the candidate’s thorough knowledge of   a fairly specialized subject area means that the candidate has  the  most expert knowledge in the committee room. There is no reason, though, for the candidate to flaunt that knowledge. Such behavior is unnecessary and dysfunctional. The time for the candidate to ex- pound with great erudition and wisdom is (if at all) after the award- ing of the degree, not during the defense of the research for the degree.

In addition to responding to questions and comments of the committee, the candidate’s role includes that of note taker regarding changes suggested by the committee during the oral examination. Sometimes, this responsibility can be delegated to a fellow graduate student who is sitting in on the oral examination. The chairperson and committee members take notes, too. In any case, the responsibility  lies with the candidate to see that, in one way or another, the job is done. Remember, too, that not all changes proposed during the examination survive the critical appraisal of the full committee during the committee’s end-of-session deliberations. It is what is conveyed to the candidate by the chairperson after the examination that really counts as far as required changes are concerned. It is the candidate’s role to raise any question if suggestions for change agreed on in committee are not clear. It is also within the student’s role to defend against suggested changes in the T/D that seem unfair, inconsistent with the promises of the research proposal or overview, unethical, or untenable in light of the research. Of course, one would want to be very careful in resisting suggested changes, and perhaps substantial reliance on the views of the chairperson would be appropriate at this point. In our experience, however, there have been very few cases in which a final defense committee suggested a change that was not also seen as desirable by the candidate.

All the above chores are simplified if a voice-activated tape recorder is switched on during the examination. It may be under the control of the chairperson, with the tape remaining in that person’s custody. It could then be listened to by the candidate afterward for   the purpose of ensuring that the committee’s requirements regarding changes and additions are clearly understood and  verified.


Applying Criteria for  Approval

The criteria for approval the committee uses should be made explicit. The T/D evaluation form (Fig. 5-1) was designed to help achieve that purpose. It is useful both at this point as a last-minute check before  the final defense and earlier in the T/D process as the draft version is being written. It seems essential to us that all criteria that have significant weight be stated on the T/D evaluation form. The committee owes that to the candidate, to the institution, and to   themselves.

Ambiguities and hidden agendas create misunderstandings and disputes; clarity and openness help to prevent them. We recommend the T/D evaluation form at this point as a summative evaluation form as we recommended it for formative evaluation throughout the prepa- ration phases.

Conditional Approval

There are two forms of conditional approval. If the document is acceptable but minor revisions are needed, the committee will simply indicate where changes should be made and rely on the candidate and the research advisor to make the alterations. Under these circumstances, the candidate makes the minor revisions, submits them for a final review by the research advisor, and then circulates the corrected copy to the committee. Committee members sign and the chairperson sends the document to the appropriate university  office.

The second level of provisional approval is much more tentative. It may be used with a final draft that has major problems, but ones that the candidate understands and can probably clear up in a reasonable time. In this case, the candidate is instructed to carry out the major changes and to bring the complete T/D or the altered portions back to a committee meeting or for approval by individual members. This form of provisional approval is short of failure, but    if the revisions are not a sufficient improvement over what the committee reviewed at the oral examination, the candidate simply does not pass.

The process of getting back to the committee varies, but in any case, the responsibility is on the candidate to make the substantial revisions on a timely basis and get them to the advisor and, after advisor approval, back to the committee. In such cases, individual committee members do not sign the approval form until completely satisfied that the revised document reflects credit on the candidate, the advisor, the committee, and the university.

Formal Voting

Practice varies from institution to institution, but usually a final oral committee is comprised of an odd number of members, which implies that a vote, if taken, should not be a tie. Usually, only members of    the graduate faculty may vote, although others, even from outside the institution, may serve on the committee. Whether the chairperson votes depends on the institution, as does the issue of whether a passing vote must be unanimous, simply a majority, or a specified number of votes.

Our experience and research indicate that there is seldom an is- sue about the vote. The committee tends to work as a group and, with the help of the chairperson, arrives at a consensus acceptable to all. If one member, or a minority of members, is adamant about a point or decision, usually the committee hears all the arguments, weighs the issues, and comes to a conclusion that seems  fair.

A committee can be persuaded to take an action by one member if that member’s arguments are good enough and if those arguments support fairness and the concept of high quality in graduate research standards. Usually, the committee chairperson knows what the formal votes will be before passing the official approval form around because agreement on the wisest course of action has been reached by voice vote in committee. When the committee members sign the formal ap- proval form, they are, however, casting formal votes that become a matter of record and for which they are  accountable. 

Notification and Interpretation to the Candidate

At the end of the oral defense, the candidate should clearly understand the  decision  of the  committee.  Sometimes,  that  decision  has to  be interpreted to the student. The situation may be stressful, or the stu- dent may simply not understand the implications of the  decision.

A common point of misunderstanding, we have found, is when the committee is calling for major revisions and the student hears the call in terms of minor modifications that can be accomplished in a short time. Committees usually remain calm and quiet, at least in front of the candidate, and speak in low tones and short sentences. The atmosphere of the final defense session may mislead the candidate to believe everything is going well when in fact it is   not.

The research advisor ought to make clear to the student at the end of the meeting the decision of the committee. A good procedure  is to have the candidate recount what was decided and what changes are being required in the draft. Further sessions should also be scheduled with the advisor and, if advisable, with individual committee members to check progress. This keeps the candidate focused on the future rather than on rehashing the committee meeting. Some self-pity is natural and human, particularly if the final oral examination did not go well, but it is dysfunctional. It is best for the candidate to start immediately on what remains to be  done. 


Usually, the follow-up period is one of extremes of feeling on the part of the candidate. If the study is approved, the candidate may be so happy that it is easy to forget to make the revisions and do the other procedural things that are necessary before graduation is a reality. If the results of the oral examination seemed disastrous, the candidate may understandably exhibit avoidance behavior with respect to the whole process and everyone attached to it. Neither extreme is functional or task oriented with respect to reaching that difficult, time- consuming goal everyone agreed to at the beginning. The thing to do is to start picking up the pieces  immediately.

Candidate and Research Advisor’s Roles

Whatever happened at the defense, the advisor’s role is to help the candidate calm down, reassess, reevaluate, and redirect toward   whatever it takes to reach the goal. Failing the oral defense is not necessarily irretrievably final.

Candidates have renegotiated with their committee and redone the same or different research with success. It takes more time. Some- times, it means learning new skills, taking additional courses, and the appointment of a new committee, but it can be and often has been done.

On the other hand, it may be that the candidate cannot muster the resources, cannot take the time, or is too discouraged to begin again. In that case, the advisor has a counseling role to help the candidate arrive at a realistic self-perception. It may also be possible for   the candidate to do better in another department or another university or school.

Even when the T/D has been approved, there are usually some revisions to make, and sometimes these are substantial. All of  the rules of the university, too, concerning the filing of abstracts, corrected copies, and binding as well as rules concerning the mechanics of actually becoming a graduate of the university, have to be followed after the successful examination session. Both the candidate and the advisor have to guard against the temptation to let things slide because the major work has been done. For both, whether the time is one of sadness after disapproval or happiness after approval, this period is one that should be devoted to reexamination of original goals, the determination of the relevancy of these goals in light of the final defense committee’s decision, and, if appropriate, the renewed determination to reach the goals.

Disseminating the Results of the Study

In major universities, dissertations are copyrighted, microfilmed, and indexed in Dissertation Abstracts. There is a fee attached to these services. The copyright is designed to protect the author’s work from use by others without permission. Microfilming and indexing the document through the University Microfilms process makes it available  to other scholars and to libraries for review and even purchase. In using University Microfilms, the author agrees to permit these uses and, under certain circumstances, receives a royalty. The author is often offered the opportunity to have the dissertation listed in the survey of earned doctorates awarded in the United States, and these forms are available at universities that grant earned  doctorates.

University Microfilms will make available to authors printed copies of the abstract of the dissertation written by the author. These abstracts can be used effectively to disseminate the results of the study. In some cases, a dissertation will be accepted for inclusion in one of the storage and retrieval systems mentioned above. This can bring wide dissemination. Abstracts may also be sent to professional societies having a professional interest in the subject of the dissertation for printing in their publications.

Professional societies provide another dissemination opportunity. In almost every case there are annual meetings where authors read papers. There are journals and reviews of research that publish not only some of the papers given at the annual meetings, but also manuscripts submitted for review by the journal. While a journal would rarely publish a whole thesis or dissertation as such, it may be happy to publish an article or chapter from one. For publication, revision is usually necessary to make the work fit into the style and format of   the journal.

We recommend using the professional societies for dissemination purposes because the process not only makes the study available to others, but also contributes to the recognition, security, and stand- ing of the author. In fact, we recommend that the advisor and candidate explore the possibility of sharing findings, when appropriate, even before the completion of the T/D. For a student to give a paper  at an academic or professional meeting is a great learning experience. Often, the help of the research advisor is critical to providing the opportunity.

Finally, there are some investigations that by their nature lend themselves to publication commercially. Historical studies, for example, sometimes find their way into a book or a number of articles. If the work has enough general interest or is topical at the time of publication, it may be successful commercially. This means it will sell as    a general work, as a textbook, or as a professional work of merit. In this case, the author may be on the way to more publications and  some success as a writer. All of these possibilities are addressed in more detail in the next  chapter.


This chapter explains the process of T/D defense, including the oral examination, suggestions for preparing the examining committee session, and the conduct of the oral examination. The kinds of decisions and how they may be arrived at are discussed. Finally, the need for follow-up after the final defense and the need to disseminate results are described.


Mauch, J., & Park, N. (2003). Guide to the successful thesis and dissertation: A handbook for students and faculty (Vol. 62). CRC Press.

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