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Thesis Defense

This is a comprehensive guide, written specifically for SMD graduate students. The guide covers everything from before the defense, to the defense itself, to after the defense, providing information about the process, outlining requirements and offering useful tips. Please refer to the Timeline for PhD Defense

Before Defense

Get Permission to Start Writing

After completing all course, seminar, TA, publication and research requirements for your program of study, there are many things that must be done before a thesis defense can occur. Most importantly, you must meet with your advisory committee at least 6 months before you intend to defend your thesis. Your advisor and committee need to agree to your intentions to conclude experiments and data collection and begin writing. Once you get the go-ahead to start writing your thesis, you will need to decide on a date by which the defense should occur. You will also need to inform your program director and graduate program coordinator that you have started the process to defend.

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. The Chair’s status as a nonmember of the advisor’s and student’s working group, program, or department enables distance from previously established judgments on the candidate’s work.

At least 4 months prior to your defense, your program director (with input from you and your advisor) will identify 3 individuals to serve as Chair for your defense. These individuals must be current full-time tenure-track faculty members at assistant professor rank or higher from outside the department offering the degree program or not a core member of the interdisciplinary degree program faculty.  

The suggested faculty are submitted to the Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education via a Request for PhD Defense Chairperson Form along with an abstract of your work and your Program of Study form (Biomedical or Health Sciences), which your graduate program coordinators will prepare for you. The suggested faculty are reviewed by the Senior Associate Dean and 1 faculty member is appointed as Chair.  Notice of the appointment is provided via email to the Chair, the student, the advisor, the program director and the graduate program coordinator. You must include the appointed Chair in planning for specific dates and times for your defense.

Selecting a Defense Date

If all goes as planned and you have made sufficient progress in your writing, schedule the actual defense date at least three months in advance to ensure that your advisor, all committee members and your appointed 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 begin thinking about defending, check the academic calendar for deadlines and blackout dates (periods of time when defenses are not permitted). This will make identifying possible dates for defense a lot easier for you, your committee members and your Chair.

When all members of your committee and your Chair agree to a specific date and time for defense, inform your graduate program coordinator of the scheduled defense date as soon as you possibly can but no later than 8 weeks prior to your defense date. They will advise you of any program-specific requirements for the defense as well as prepare your Program Statement on Completion of PhD Requirements. This form requires your program director’s signature. Check with your graduate program coordinator to determine if you or they will obtain the signature for your form. Once approved and signed, this form along with others will be scanned and submitted via an online thesis registration system along with a pdf of your thesis and an Exit Interview Form and your CV/Resume.

International Students and Work Visas

It is strongly recommend that international students meet with an International Services Office rep 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 a placeholder registration category rather than PhD Research. The categories are:

“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 and planning for a defense in the upcoming semester.  If a defense does not occur, the Registrar will change your registration for the semester to reflect credit hours. 
  • You are eligible for student health insurance, loan deferments, and University housing, but not eligible for financial aid in the form of student loans.  

“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 not full-or part-time.

  • Appropriate for the student who has left the University prior to completion for a job or personal reasons but has a defense planned during the upcoming semester.  
  • Requires permission of the advisor, the program director, and the Dean.
  • You are not eligible for student health insurance, loan deferments, University housing, or financial aid in the form of student loans. 


Thesis Writing and Guidelines

The Preparation of Doctoral Theses–A Manual for Graduate Students

The University of Rochester offers this manual to graduate students and it is meant to help you to bring your thesis up to the required standard of organization, appearance, and format for the University of Rochester. Before preparing the defense copy of your thesis, check the contents of the manual systematically. 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 department regarding preferred styles.

Thesis Writing Timeline | Make an appointment with our Life Sciences Writing Specialist for help writing your thesis.

Including material produced by other authors in your dissertation or thesis 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.

SMD Guidelines for the Content of a PhD Thesis

The School of Medicine and Dentistry offers this manual to graduate students in the basic sciences, Epidemiology, Health Services Research and Policy, and Statistics programs.  These guides focus on how a thesis should be structured for writing and for the content that comprises a well-written thesis. They are meant to be a supplement to the general guidelines of the University of Rochester for preparation of a thesis (The Preparation of Doctoral Theses:  A Manual for Graduate Students).

Statistics students should consult their program director for thesis requirements specific to the discipline. In the event you need assistance in writing your thesis, a Life Sciences Writing Specialist is available to work with you.

Rooms for Your Defense

Two rooms must be reserved: the first for your oral presentation and the second for your closed exam. Most often, the oral presentation is held in an auditorium and the closed exam is held in a departmental conference room. Check with your graduate program coordinator to determine if you or she will schedule rooms for your thesis defense.

Registering Your Thesis for the Final Oral Exam

You, your graduate program coordinator, or both of you together, will create your record in the University of Rochester Graduate Studies PhD Completion website. This record will include your degree information, past degrees, important contact information, and attachments including the defense version of your thesis in pdf format, and other relevant documents. The version of your thesis submitted to your online record is considered the registration copy. “Registering” simply means that you have presented a thesis, which you intend to defend, to the Dean of your School and to the University Dean that governs all doctoral candidates.

When the PhD Completion record is finalized (submitted) by your graduate program coordinator, your advisor and committee members will receive emails with links to access your record and to approve your thesis to progress to defense. Well before the online record is submitted, you must provide copies of the thesis identical to the registration copy to all members of your committee, as well as to your appointed Chair. Please consult with them for their preferred format. Some will accept a pdf and others will request a hard copy. Each of these individuals must have possession of your thesis for a minimum of two weeks before they are asked to sign off on the readiness of the work for defense.
There may be deadlines for registering your thesis specific to your graduate program. Consult with your graduate program coordinator to ascertain those deadlines and follow them carefully. Please plan the completion of your degree by following your program’s deadlines in tandem with the academic calendar.

After all committee members have given approval, your program director, and the Registrar, will approve the thesis for registration using the same online system. Then, requests for review and approval will go to the Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and then to the office of the University Dean of Graduate Studies. When all of these officials have approved your committee and thesis for defense, it 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.

Comments indicating required corrections to your thesis may be made by your advisor, committee members and the Deans along the way of the approval process. This annotated copy of the thesis, 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 prior to the defense, but be sure to incorporate any corrections in the final copy after the defense before uploading it to ProQuest®.

After the defense, if the committee required major revisions to be approved by one or more of its members, it is your responsibility to provide 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.

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The Defense

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. After all, 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.

Below you will find suggestions to help you get ready for the defense and information to give you a sense of what to expect:

Know the Rituals

What happens at a thesis defense? The best way to know what happens and the best way for you to prepare for your defense is to regularly attend the defenses of your colleagues—those internal and external to your field of expertise. You should be doing this throughout your graduate program, not just several weeks prior to your own defense.

Talk to people from your lab and in your department who already defended to find out what their defense was like. They know well what occurs in the closed exam and will likely want to share their experiences with you. You should also speak with your advisor to get a sense of his/her specific expectations of a defense. Don’t be afraid to ask!

Guidelines for Presentations

Use PowerPoint

PowerPoint is a professional approach to presenting the research that comprises the thesis. Your slides should encapsulate the study and focus on its most salient findings. In preparing, ask yourself these questions: “What do I want people to know about my thesis? What is the most important information that I can present and talk about?” Keep in mind the rules of chartsmanship and create a goal-oriented presentation that navigates attendees through a logical, point-by-point sequence of information that builds to the conclusion in a clear and focused direction.

  • Use text large enough to be readable (especially text from figures)
  • Ensure graphics and tables are clear
  • Don’t clutter your slides – if necessary have things come up on mouse clicks
  • Use spell check and also proof-read
  • Practice presentation with your lab and peers
  • Work on pronunciation, if required
  • Time presentation to ensure it is long enough but will also allow time for questions

Public Lecture

It is recommended that you do a trial run of your presentation a day or two before your defense in the auditorium or room that has been booked for your public lecture. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the space and the equipment and to address any problems that arise during the trial run.

Plan your public lecture to allow a 50 minute talk with 10 minutes for questions. Present enough information so that the audience understands what you did, why you did it, what the implications are and what your suggestions are for future research.

Audience

The date/time/location of your defense and thesis topic are published on the school’s website to invite the larger community to attend. Departmental/program announcements are sent by your Graduate program coordinator to invite faculty and students. Friends and family are welcome to attend the public lecture. Faculty and students in the audience are given the opportunity to ask questions when committee members conclude their questions.

Friendly Advice: Just before your talk, chat with friends and mingle with the crowd. This may reduce your anxiety and nervousness.

Prior to the defense, plan to provide friends and family with a map and directions to visitor parking lots at the Medical Center or Saunders Building as well as the name, room number and directions to the auditorium or room booked for your defense. You may also want to ask another student or postdoc to assist your friends and family on the day of your defense to get to your public lecture and to gather somewhere while you are engaged in the closed exam.

Dress Professionally

Plan to dress professionally for the defense in the same way you would if presenting a paper at a conference or for a job interview. Suits, ties, dresses, and skirts are the norm. You will be standing for a long time on the day of your defense. You might want to keep this in mind when selecting the shoes you’ll wear for your defense.

Items to Bring to the Defense

Your presentation, a laser pointer, a copy of your thesis, a pen or pencil, a note pad and a bottle of water are essentials that you should bring to the public lecture. Other things you feel you need (e.g. Kleenex tissues, a lucky charm, etc.) are acceptable to bring with you as well.

The Closed Examination

You will be asked to leave the room while your Committee reviews your program of study, grades and decides whether the thesis is acceptable/not acceptable. The Committee decides whether members will ask sequential questions or whether each member will be allotted a specific time period for questioning.

The person to start the questioning is designated. You will be called back into the examining room and questioning will begin. After all questions have been addressed you will be asked to leave the room. Your Committee decides the outcome of the exam. You will be asked to return to the room to be informed of the outcome by the Chair of your exam committee.

Address Questions with Confidence

  • Listen to the entire question no matter how long it takes the faculty member or student to ask it. (Take notes if necessary.)
  • Pause and think about the question before answering.
  • Rephrase the question succinctly.
  • Answer the question to the best of your ability. If you do not know the answer, remain calm and say so in a professional way.
  • Remember no one will know the ins and outs of the thesis and your research materials as well as you. You are the foremost expert in the thesis topic and YOU really do know the science involved. Be positive!

Outcomes

  • Passed – successfully performed in the final oral examination and thesis was acceptable
  • Passed pending revisions to the thesis - successfully performed in the final oral examination and thesis will be acceptable with revisions which are approved by the advisor and sometimes by all members of the committee
  • Did not pass – often based upon performance in the final oral examination

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After the Defense

Paperwork

You will receive annotated copies of your thesis from the members of your examination committee. The Chair will give you a packet of paperwork that includes:

  • Survey of the Earned Doctorate
  • Instructions for submission of the final thesis to ProQuest Dissertation Publishing
  • University of Rochester publishing agreement

The survey and UR publishing agreement are expected to be submitted to the University Dean by the date the final copy of the thesis is submitted to ProQuest. Students have 30 calendar days after the defense to complete all final requirements (revisions and upload to ProQuest) except when defenses are scheduled late in the semester and are subject to a deadline date that is shorter than 30 calendar days. Review the School’s academic calendar to be aware of deadline dates.

Exit Interview with the Dean

After your defense, and most likely after the final thesis is submitted to ProQuest, you will meet with the Dean for an exit interview. The meeting is intended as an opportunity for you to share your graduate school experiences with the Dean. This is a confidential meeting at which you may express your comments and discuss your concerns openly and honestly.

Department/Program Requirements prior to Termination of Student Status

Each program has its own process for students who are ending their student status. Be sure to check with your Graduate program coordinator to determine if there is additional paperwork that you’ll need to complete before your student status is terminated.

Publishing Your Final Thesis

The University of Rochester requires all doctoral candidates to deposit their theses for publication with ProQuest Dissertation Publishing and with the University libraries. Hard copies of the thesis are not required by the Dean’s Office or the Miner Library. Miner Library receives an electronic copy of the thesis from ProQuest but students must give the University their permission in writing to obtain it.

SMD graduate students are given 30 calendar days following the defense to submit the final copy of the thesis to ProQuest (except when a semester deadline does not allow 30 days for revisions).

  • For questions regarding publishing through ProQuest, contact Author Relations at disspub@proquest.com or +1 (800) 521-0600 ext. 77020.
  • For questions regarding University publishing, contact Michele Shipley (585) 275-6878 in the Miner Library.

Binding Your Final Thesis

Your department may want a bound copy of your thesis. Please check with your Graduate program coordinator to determine this and how the cost of binding is covered. You may also want a bound copy for yourself and others. Printed and bound color copies are available for purchase through ProQuest.

Date of Degree Completion

Degree requirements are met on the day your final thesis is submitted online to ProQuest.

Date of Degree Conferral

Conferral is the act of officially awarding a degree. The University of Rochester Board of Trustees confers degrees 3 times each year (October, March and May). Your conferral date will be determined by the semester in which all degree requirements are completed.

Completion late-May through late-August = October conferral date
Completion Sept 1 through mid-January = March conferral date
Completion late-January through late-April = May conferral date

Exact deadlines for completion in a given semester are published in the School’s academic calendar.

Commencement

The graduation ceremony for all University of Rochester doctoral candidates is held in May of each year. Only the students that have completed degree requirements including the submission of the final thesis to ProQuest are eligible to participate in the ceremony. Diplomas are distributed at Commencement or mailed to those that do not attend.

Information on the Commencement Ceremony and graduation regalia will be mailed to you in early-March.

Proof of Completion

Many employers want “proof” of the degree earned. The Registrar can provide you with a letter indicating the date degree requirements were satisfied and the date the Board of Trustees will confer/conferred the degree. This is your best option for proof of degree immediately following graduate school.

You may also supply employers with your official transcript, which will be notated to include the date of degree conferral after conferral occurs (October, March or May).

Your diploma can also be used as proof of the degree if you wish to copy it for an employer.

Some employers work with agencies that search for, screen and hire employees. They often submit forms to the academic institution that request enrollment information as well as degree verification. The Registrar will provide this information to an agency if your signature is provided with the forms indicating approval of the release of information.

Student Loans

If your student loans have been in deferment, you’ll need to notify your loan servicer of a completion date. Some loan servicers accept the completion date via your phone call while other servicers require that you submit a final loan deferment request form or letter from your Registrar before the repayment process can begin. Once a completion date is reported, your loan servicer will provide you with the information needed to start repayment or to continue deferred status, when applicable.

URMC Email Address

Student URMC email addresses will remain active for a short time after completion of the degree if the email address is hosted by the Miner Library. You can determine this by contacting the Miner Library email support or University IT. If you remain at the URMC after your defense, your email address will be transferred to a non-student server by the hiring department.

Non-URMC Email Address

You will be asked for a non-URMC email address when you submit your Exit Interview form. Correspondence from the Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs Office will be directed to your non-URMC email address after your student status terminates. You will provide us with this email address on the Exit Interview Form.

Mailing Address

We ask that you provide a forwarding address so that we may mail Commencement and other correspondence to you. If you move again, please remember to update us. We want to keep in touch with you as you move ahead in your career. You will provide us with this address on the Exit Interview Form.

Stay in Touch

Please provide us with your whereabouts so we can keep in touch, cheer you on your way up the career ladder, and provide you with useful, up-to-date information about professional development and about the School.

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University Wide Resources

The Preparation of Doctoral Theses: A Manual for Graduate Students

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