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Thesis Defense

Preliminary & Qualifying Exam Thesis Defence

Preliminary & Qualifying Exam

Preliminary Exam

The Preliminary Exam serves as a tool for helping students prepare for the thesis proposal and qualifying examination. The exam evaluates the student's ability to read, interpret, and critique the scientific literature most important to the student's specific area of research. The format of the exam requires the student to work closely with their advisor and other faculty to first develop a reading list and then propose and answer in writing a series of questions based on the readings.

To be completed by June 1st prior to the start of the 3rd year.

Qualifying Exam: Thesis Proposal

The Qualifying Exam consists of 3 parts:

  • The thesis proposal is to be written in the form of a National Institutes of Health Kirschstein National Research Service Award pre-doctoral fellowship. Detailed instructions can be obtained by following the SF424 (R&R) link on the NRSA webpage.
  • An oral presentation to the Neuroscience community
  • A closed oral examination

To be completed by October 1st of the fall semester of the 3rdyear.

Scheduling Thesis Proposal/Qualifying Exam

  • At least 4 weeks (20 business days) prior to exam date: Submit in writing to the NGP Coordinator:
    1. the date and time agreed upon by your Committee for the public presentation and closed exam,
    2. the names of all Committee members, noting the advisor,
    3. the title page and abstract from the written proposal.
    The NGP Coordinator will schedule rooms for the seminar and exam and prepare necessary paperwork (Program of Study for the Master Degree Diploma Form and Qualifying Exam Appointment forms), and seminar announcements.
  • At least 3 weeks (15 business days) prior to the exam date: The Coordinator submits paperwork to the Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs, who will then appoint one of the existing Committee members to chair the proceedings.
  • At least 2 weeks (10 business days) prior to exam date: The written paper MUST be circulated to the Committee and the NGP Coordinator.

Thesis Committee

Examining Committee

The University Council on Graduate Studies has designated rules for the Committee. The student’s committee must consist of 4 tenured or tenure-track faculty of assistant professor or higher rank and is subject to approval from the NGP Director.

Neuroscience Track

Three of the 4 members are chosen by the student in consultation with their thesis advisor. Of these, 2 MUST be from the NGP core faculty list and 1 must be from outside of the primary department of the advisor and co-advisor. Please notice that NGP faculty members can serve as external committee members for NGP students. Note that the thesis advisor is NOT a member of the Examining Committee for students in the Neuroscience track, although he or she is expected to attend the closed session as a silent observer. The final member of the Committee will be appointed by the NGP Director from the NGP core faculty and will be a member of the examining committee for the purpose of the thesis proposal only.

NBA Track

At least two of the four members MUST have their primary appointment in NBA while the external member must be from outside the NBA faculty. The thesis advisor (who must have a primary or secondary appointment in NBA) is the fourth member of the Examining Committee.

A person from outside the University may be invited to join the Committee as the external member with prior written approval from the NGP Director and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies.

Thesis Defense


Students meet at least once a year with their thesis committee (usually in conjunction with their yearly seminar) to report on progress and on any changes in research direction. After the thesis committee approves the completion of the thesis research, the student submits a written dissertation of his or her findings. Students publicly present their thesis research in an open seminar and then defend their findings and conclusions to the committee in a closed exam.

It is the responsibility of the student to see that style, format, margins, paper, binding, etc. are in accordance with University regulations. If you have questions or concerns regarding the thesis preparation, please contact the Office of the University Dean for Graduate Studies, ext. 5-4279.

Please see Preparing Your Thesis: A Manual for Graduate Students as a reference.

Registration Guidelines

The University Dean of Graduate Studies has set deadlines during the academic year by which a thesis must be registered in order to participate in graduation at the next Commencement. Please refer to the Graduate Student Academic Calendar for dates regarding registering the thesis, holding the defense, and submitting corrected copies. These dates must be adhered to; there are no exceptions. Defenses will not be scheduled after 3:30PM and the time table for defenses held in the summer is subject to change.


When planning a PhD defense, please refer to A Guide for Graduate Students Preparing for a Defense and check the Graduate Student Academic Calendar for blackout dates.

As Soon As You Know You Are Going To Defend

Notify Victoria D'Agostino, the Graduate Program Coordinator of your intent to defend and the approximate date so that the appropriate paperwork can begin to be processed.

Overview of Due Dates

  • At least 6 months prior to scheduling a defense:
    Meet with the Advisory Committee to request approval to begin writing thesis.
  • At least 4 months prior to scheduling a defense:
    The Program director, with input from you and your advisor, will identify 3 individuals to serve as a Chair for your defense. Please fill out the Request for PhD Defense Chairperson and submit it to the program director along with a title page and abstract.
  • At least 6 weeks prior to the date of defense:
    Notify graduate program coordinator of defense plans. Provide the names of your committee members, title, and abstract of your dissertation. The coordinator will prepare the necessary forms for thesis registration (Biomedical Science Program of Study, Program Statement on Completion of PhD Requirements) and will start a record in the PhD Defense Processing System in a SharePoint website. The system allows student’s personal information, all necessary forms, and the required approvals to be collected electronically at various points through the process prior to defense.
  • At least 4 weeks prior to defense:
    Upload your PhD thesis and CV in pdf format to the PhD Candidate Processing System, and complete the Alumni Update Form for your exit interview. Please ask your committee whether they prefer paper or/and electronic version of the thesis. The committee members have 2 weeks to review your PhD dissertation. Please note that URMC Copy Center requires 4 business days to print and bind your thesis.
  • At least 10 full working days prior to the date of defense:
    At this point provide the Chair of the committee with a copy of your thesis (paper and/or electronic). The coordinator approves your record in PhD Defense Processing System which triggers the emails to the committee members asking for their approval. After committee approval, the NGP Program Director approves your defense. Next the Senior Associate Dean of the School and the University Dean review and approve your thesis online in the PhD Defense Processing System.
  • Students will receive notification from the University Dean's Office confirming scheduling of the defense and the appointment of the Chair. The Chair of the defense and the committee will receive exam information from the University Dean via email.

Nomination and Appointment of the Chair for Defense

A Chair is appointed for each PhD oral defense exam to monitor and promote fairness and rigor in the conduct of the defense. The Chair’s status as a nonmember of the advisor and student’s working group, program, or department enables distance from previously established judgments on the candidate’s work.

The program director (with input from the student and advisor) identifies three individuals to serve as Chair. These individuals must be current full-time, tenure-track faculty members at assistant professor rank or higher. For NGP students the external chair has to come from the outside the primary departments of the advisor and co-advisor. A holder of a secondary appointment in the advisor’s and co-advisor’s departments may serve as the  external chair, provided that his or her primary appointment is in another department. This is true for external committee members as well. Please notice that faculty members of NGP can serve as external chairs for NGP students as long as the above mentioned stipulations are met. For NBA students, the chair and external committee member have to come from outside the Neuroscience department. Secondary appointments in Neuroscience are acceptable as long as the primary appointment is in another department.

Nominations are submitted to the Senior Associate Dean via a PhD Chair Nomination Form along with a thesis title page and abstract. The nominations are reviewed by the Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs. One faculty member is approved as Chair; notice of the selection is provided to the Chair, the student, the advisor, the program director and the graduate program coordinator. The student will include the Chair in planning for specific dates for the defense.

After Thesis Registration

Students have to complete ProQuest form on the UR ProQuest. Completing the ProQuest form is required for a student to fulfill degree requirements and be included on the Ph.D. degree list.

It is strongly recommended that a student begin working on their ProQuest form before their defense to familiarize themselves with the site and learn what they have to do to complete the form. The form can be started, continued and/or amended.

Do not upload your abstract or pdf of your dissertation on the ProQuest site until after your defense when you have completed all final corrections and revisions.

After the Defense

After the Defense, the Committee Chair notifies the Dean of Graduate Studies of the outcome of the defense. If the outcome is a pass, the student will receive an email with further instructions from the University Graduate Studies.

After the successful completion of both the public and closed exams, the student needs to complete revisions (if necessary) and submit them to faculty for approval. The Dean’s Office receives the final approval from the faculty via email. The student uploads the final document to the UR ProQuest site before the degree period deadline. It is student’s responsibility to be aware of the deadline for the current degree period and submit all required forms and documentation on time. Deadlines are listed on the academic calendar.

To exit the program student will need to complete a two-part web-based survey. The first part of the survey contains a brief set of questions from the University of Rochester. When the first part is completed, the student will be automatically directed to the second part where questions about activities in the program, future plans and honest opinion on the quality of the PhD program will be asked. The responses are completely confidential, but the student number is requested to verify the survey has been completed.

University Graduate Studies monitors the completion of the post-defense requirements and updates the student’s record accordingly. Once they have all been met, and the final version of the student’s PhD thesis was sent to ProQuest, the site will generate the final completion memo, a copy of which is sent to the graduate coordinator, the student, the dean’s staff, International Services Office and University Housing. The Graduate Program Coordinator will prepare forms (Change of Status and 506 Appointment Forms) to terminate graduate student status.

The PhD stipend is to be terminated at the end of the pay period in which the student submits the final copy of the dissertation. SMD policy requires that students turn in the final copy of the dissertation within 30 days of the final oral examination.