VII. DISSERTATION

After completing the Master’s Degree and having the second qualifying paper approved, students write a dissertation proposal, and ultimately a dissertation. The dissertation must be an original and significant scholarly contribution to the sociological literature.  The following steps are required to complete the Ph.D.

1. Dissertation Committee

a.   Department Committee Members - The dissertation committee includes the student’s dissertation advisor (who serves as the chair) plus two other members of the sociology graduate faculty.  One of the two committee members (but not the chair) may be a member of the Sociology affiliated graduate faculty.  In rare instances, students invite a fourth member from the sociology graduate faculty.  The dissertation advisor is the main consultant for the student during all phases of the dissertation research and writing.  Substitutions in committee membership, once the committee has been formed, must be approved by the Graduate Director.  Substitutions normally occur only if a member is unable to serve or if a student’s dissertation topic or methodology changes dramatically.

b.   Committee Member from Outside the Department – The committee must also include an additional committee member who is not a regular or affiliated Rutgers sociology graduate faculty member.  This outside member may be chosen from another department at Rutgers or from outside the University.  The outside member should be a recognized authority on the subject of the dissertation.  The student is encouraged to talk with his/her dissertation chair and committee members about the selection of the outside member of the committee.  The student should also seek advice from the chair and committee members about how to request committee membership from individuals outside of the department.  The outside committee member can be selected at the time that the committee is formed or can be added later.  However, the outside committee member should be confirmed by two months before the dissertation defense at the very latest.  It is important that the student discusses the role of the outside member with him/her and with the dissertation chair because the extent of involvement can vary greatly—from providing early and regular feedback to reading and providing comments only on the final draft.  An outside member may not serve as the dissertation chair.

2. Dissertation Proposal

A dissertation proposal should be developed in close consultation with the student’s dissertation advisor and committee members. Dissertation proposals vary widely with respect to their length and level of detail, although they typically range from 20 to 30 pages.  They should specify the research question(s), discuss the potential contribution of the work to sociology relative to past research and theory, describe the data to be collected or analyzed and the proposed method of analysis, and provide a timeline of the proposed work.  If major parts of a QP will be included as a portion of the proposed dissertation, the student should make clear the distinct contribution of the dissertation work beyond that made by the QP.  The more detail provided in the proposal about all issues noted, the more help committee members can give.  Importantly, the dissertation proposal is not a formal contract, and both the student and committee members may adjust components of the project as the dissertation work progresses.

3. Dissertation Proposal Defense

The proposal must be defended in an oral examination with the student’s departmental dissertation committee members.  During the defense, the student briefly presents the central proposed elements of the dissertation (e.g., research question[s], substantive contribution, data/methods).  The student and committee members then discuss issues about the theory, methods, and overall direction of the project to provide guidance for moving the dissertation forward.  They should also discuss whether the dissertation will be organized as a “three-paper” project or the more traditional “book-style” dissertation.  The three paper model of a dissertation includes three interconnected papers/chapters that are linked by an overarching theme; additional introductory and concluding chapters develop the theoretical and empirical connections among the papers/chapters.  Note that both styles are valid models for a dissertation; the decision about which style to use varies across substantive areas and by the way in which the project develops.  In the proposal defense, the student and committee should additionally agree upon a projected timeline of progress towards the completion of the dissertation and develop a plan for communication of the student with committee members.  Upon approval of the proposal, the committee members and the Graduate Director sign the Dissertation Proposal Approval Form. This form is filed with the Graduate Administrator. The PhD Candidacy form (page 2) should be signed by the Graduate Director and submitted to the Graduate School. At this point, the student is designated as ABD (All But Dissertation).

4. Writing the Dissertation    

The dissertation writing process typically takes one to three years. That time period is spent conducting original research, writing an initial draft, and revising the chapters at least once in response to committee members’ feedback.  The committee (especially the dissertation chair) must be kept informed of the student’s progress at frequent intervals and should monitor the candidate’s work and assist in its development. In so far as possible, the committee should attempt to give the student ample and early warning of any reservations concerning the student’s progress and, if necessary, specify the changes required for dissertation acceptance.    

A first draft of the dissertation should be submitted to the dissertation advisor and/or to any or all members of the dissertation committee according to terms agreed upon by the student and by committee members.   After receiving suggestions from committee members, the student revises the dissertation draft. The process of receiving feedback and revising accordingly may happen more than once, with students sometimes drafting several versions of a particular chapter. The dissertation is revised until the advisor and committee members believe that the work is ready for defense.

5. Dissertation Defense

When the student, dissertation chair, and other committee members agree that the dissertation is complete and ready for public defense, the student contacts all committee members to schedule a dissertation defense at a mutually agreeable date and time.  The defense date, time, and location should be scheduled at least three weeks in advance.  Arrangements for the location of the defense are made with the sociology graduate administrator.  The dissertation defense must be publicly announced and all faculty and graduate students in the sociology department must be invited to attend.  The student should contact the sociology graduate administrator to arrange for this announcement and invitation.  The student should also contact the dissertation chair to discuss the structure of the defense.  The student and all departmental members of the committee must be present at the defense unless prior written permission for participation via conference call or Skype is granted by the dissertation chair and Graduate Director.  The outside member may be absent if necessary, provided that he or she sends the committee chair written comments.

The dissertation defense typically entails a lively discussion of the student’s work, with committee members and guests asking questions about the dissertation research.  Immediately following the formal defense, the committee members meet with the candidate to provide a list of changes (if any) that are required before the dissertation is approved.  Typically, these required revisions are reviewed by the dissertation advisor although committee members may request to review and approve revisions. Students should be advised that this stage of final revisions, after a successful defense, is not trivial or anticlimactic but is an important part of the dissertation process.  Making final revisions can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. During the immediate post-defense meeting, the committee may also provide advice about future revisions as the student prepares the dissertation for publication as a book or refereed journal articles. The committee and Graduate Director must sign the PhD Candidacy form that the student submits to the Graduate School.

6. Formatting the Official Dissertation

The final draft of the dissertation should be prepared in strict accordance with the instructions provided in the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Style Guide available on the Rutgers Graduate School-New Brunswick webpage.

< Previous Section: VI. Qualifying Papers  |  Next Section: VIII. Faculty & Student Communication and Support >

Contact Us

Department of Sociology
Davison Hall
26 Nichol Avenue,
New Brunswick, NJ 08901


P  848-932-4029
F  732-932-6067