The dissertation is a scholarly contribution to knowledge in the student’s area of research and specialization. It should demonstrate original and substantial research, in-depth knowledge of the field of study and an ability to work independently.
After passing their candidacy examinations, the student begins work on the dissertation. The Advisory Committee, with any necessary or appropriate membership adjustments, now becomes the Dissertation Committee. All committees will be assembled according to the content of exams and of the dissertation. (For additional requirements pertaining to the Dissertation and the Dissertation Committee, consult the GSH, VII).
The student will prepare a written prospectus of the dissertation topic in consultation with members of the Dissertation Committee and present it to the Committee for approval at a formal one-hour defense, arranged by the student and dissertation advisor and chaired by the Graduate Advisor. The prospectus (normally a 15- to 20-page, double-spaced document plus a bibliography) should contain a detailed description of the topic, scope, and methodology of the proposed dissertation; a brief description of each of the chapters; and a bibliography. It is the responsibility of the student to deliver copies of the prospectus to all members of the Committee and the Graduate Advisor no later than ten days before the defense date. The formal defense of the prospectus must be held no later than the end of the semester following that in which the student passed the Candidacy Examination. If the student fails the prospectus defense, s/he may be allowed, at the discretion of the Dissertation Committee, to revise/rewrite the prospectus and to defend it again no later than the end of the following term (semester or summer). If s/he fails this second attempt, s/he will be dismissed from the program.
Students’ guide to writing the prospectus:
The prospectus is a document that outlines your project, assuring your committee that you are ready to write the dissertation. In professional terms, it is similar to proposals that authors send to editors when they hope to have a book published. It should contain the following elements.
1. Provisional title
The title should: a) be succinct, b) be appealing, c) contain key search terms.
Open with some material that introduces and demonstrates the problem worth solving. This is often a key bit of text or an anecdote. Then, ask your question(s): what is puzzling here? Why does this deserve further inquiry? Why is this important? For whom is this important? (As William Germano says, "a scholarly book for anybody is a scholarly book for nobody," so specify your imagined audience).
3. Material for examination
Briefly introduce your objects of study (texts, films, etc.). Give very short plot summaries. Introduce the authors and their historical context. You might mention reception (who read/ watched them, and when? have they been popular, or not?) as you make the case for why these texts deserve further attention, and why they should be studied together.
4. Literature Review/ Historiography
How has this question, or the various elements of this problem, been studied in the past? Briefly review the history of the treatment of the question, highlighting trends in the profession and opposing views and controversies. Build a case for why this deserves further inquiry or a new perspective. Has this question been neglected? Here, you are building a case that your research is an original contribution to scholarship.
What critical, theoretical framework will you use to address the question? What previous authors' thinking will be useful for looking at this question in a new way? Is your approach comparative, interdisciplinary, semiotic, philological, feminist, historicist, materialist, revisionist…? What "shoulders of giants" will you stand upon (in Bernard of Chartres' formulation) to avoid reinventing the wheel, and moreover to reach higher? How are you being "scientific" in evaluating your material, i.e. what standards of accuracy or veracity will you use?
6. Limits of the study
Describe what you will NOT be able to do in the dissertation. You must impose some geographical and chronological boundaries, due to limits of time and space. What problems do your sources pose (editions, manuscripts, lacunae, access, biases…)? What questions cannot be posed of these sources? Keep in mind that there will be questions you would like to pursue but which must be kept for another time.
7. Chapter descriptions
Devote a paragraph to each chapter. Ask a guiding question for each chapter. Discuss what specific text(s) will be the focus and demonstrate how your critical framework will operate to elucidate your sources in the chapter.
At the prospectus stage, you should not have arrived at your final conclusion already; it should evolve and develop as you go through the research and writing process. You can end the prospectus with an invitation: why is exploring this material compelling? How might it help readers? Some writers include a bit of personal examination at this point, for instance talking about what inspired them to undertake this research, or what qualifications they have that give them a unique perspective. If included, however, such an examination should be brief and professional.
The goal of a dissertation bibliography is to be comprehensive. You are becoming an expert on the current state of your question. You should include everything you find that is related to your topic: this in itself is a contribution to scholarship. Include everything relevant, even if you have not read it yet. The prospectus represents a plan for what you are undertaking rather than just an account of what you have already done.
If there are changes in topic, scope, or methodology that substantially modify a dissertation, a revised prospectus must be submitted for approval to the Dissertation Committee and the Graduate Advisor.
FRIT 8899 is a faculty-led workshop in which Ph.D. candidates meet bi-weekly to discuss and critique their current dissertation research. All Ph.D. candidates in the department must register for one credit of 8899 each semester until they graduate. It will provide a forum in which candidates will be able to present their work orally and have at least one prospectus, chapter, conference paper, or article draft read and critiqued by their peers and a faculty member each semester. It is designed to keep dissertation writers on task and to help them develop and maintain an intellectual community with their professors and peers. It will also help them improve their writing and public speaking skills.
1. Readers' Copies: In order to ensure that the readers have sufficient time to read the dissertation and that the candidate has sufficient time to make possible changes in the manuscript, the provisional first draft must be in the hands of the readers by the beginning of the second week of the semester in which the degree is sought. For important further details about timing, see GSH VII.9-12).
2. The Final Oral Examination will not be scheduled until the dissertation advisor and the readers have approved the first draft by signing the Draft Approval Form. At that time, the student must also submit the complete, typed dissertation to the Graduate School for format review.
3. The Final Oral Examination Committee is composed of the three-member Dissertation Committee, plus the Graduate School Representative. The Graduate Advisor only takes part in the Candidacy Examination if s/he is one of the student’s Dissertation Committee members.
4. It is the responsibility of the candidate to deliver a copy of the approved dissertation draft to the Graduate School Representative no later than one week before the Final Oral Examination.
5. The student is considered to have completed the Final Oral Examination successfully only when the vote by the Final Oral Examination Committee is unanimously affirmative.
The Graduate School stipulates that after being admitted to candidacy, a student has five years total to complete the dissertation (GSH, VII.14). If the dissertation is not completed within five years of the Candidacy Examination, the Department is required by the Graduate School to re- administer a second Candidacy Exam if the student wishes to continue. If s/he passes this second examination, s/he will then have no more than two additional years to finish and successfully defend the dissertation.