The Dissertation

The dissertation is a substantial work of original scholarship usually ranging in length from 200 to 450 double-spaced pages.

Admission to Candidacy

Admission to doctoral candidacy is the University's only formal requirement for the Ph.D. before the dissertation. To be admitted to candidacy, you must have passed the Department's course requirements and the preliminary examinations.

The Prospectus

Before commencing work on the dissertation, the Department requires you to write and defend a dissertation proposal, known as the prospectus. The prospectus stage of the dissertation commences immediately after you advance to candidacy. To maintain satisfactory progress in the program, you should complete the prospectus by the end of the second semester of your third year in the program.

A. Procedures

There are three procedural steps in the prospectus stage of the dissertation. Exceptions to any of the following procedures must be approved by the DGS.

1. Selection of the Dissertation Committee

Before beginning work on the prospectus, you should select a principal dissertation advisor. Oftentimes, students begin lining up their principal advisors during their second year in the program; in any event, you should wait no longer than the middle of your fifth semester to have yours in place. Prior to the prospectus defense (see no. 3 below), you must select two additional advisors to serve on your dissertation committee, for a total of three committee members. The principal advisor and at least one other committee member must be tenured or tenure-track faculty members in the Department of Political Science at Brown. One committee member may be from outside Brown.

2. Drafting of the Prospectus

In consultation with members of the dissertation committee, you must draft a prospectus that is consistent with the spirit if not the letter of the specifications outlined below ("Contents of the Prospectus").

3. Defense of the Prospectus

Formal approval of the prospectus follows after a successful oral defense of the proposal, which shall be advertised in advance and open to the public.

In consultation with the three committee members and the DGS, you are responsible for scheduling the oral defense well in advance (a minimum of ten days beforehand); please do not forget to inform the DGS well in advance, so that the event can be publicized. Normally, the defense will proceed with the participation of all three committee members. In extraordinary circumstances, the defense may proceed with two examination committee members. If fewer than two committee members are able to attend, the defense must be rescheduled.

The format of a typical oral defense is as follows: (1) introductory remarks by the principal advisor; (2) a brief overview of the proposed thesis project by you; (3) questions from the dissertation committee members; (4) questions from the general public.

Immediately following the question session, the dissertation committee shall meet in executive session to determine whether the prospectus should be approved. There are three options available to the committee:

Pass: the committee decides that the prospectus is acceptable as is, and that you may commence work on the dissertation.

Conditional pass: the committee decides that your prospectus requires additional work prior to final approval. Your principal advisor will provide you with a list of concrete suggestions for improvement. When you have revised the prospectus to the committee's satisfaction, the committee may approve the prospectus; a second oral defense is not required.

Fail: the committee decides that the prospectus is both unacceptable and unsalvageable in its present form, and requires you to undergo the defense process anew. NOTE: Close and frequent consultations between you and your committee prior to the scheduling of the defense will go a long way toward eliminating the chances of an outright fail.

Once the committee has reached a decision in executive session, you will be called back into the room and informed immediately. The principal advisor will also inform the DGS of the committee's decision.

B. Contents of the Prospectus

The purpose of what follows is to create a set of shared expectations among both students and faculty about the contents and organization of the prospectus. This statement is not meant to be compulsory, but it should work to the advantage of most students and their advisors.

The prospectus is typically 10-20 pages in length; indeed, the shorter the better, since it is then more easily converted into a formal proposal for external funding. The purpose of the prospectus is to pose a precise question, to set the proposed dissertation topic in an appropriate theoretical context, to allude to the relevant literature, and to describe the proposed research methods. The prospectus is not a legal contract, but a proposal. It is a beginning, the first step in a long journey. As your research progresses, you are almost certain to depart from your prospectus blueprint. Knowledge of this fact should make the exercise a less imposing hurdle. The goal of the prospectus is not to demonstrate that you know all the answers in advance. Rather, it is to establish that the question you intend to address is worth asking, and that your proposed course of action is feasible and potentially valuable in terms of its contribution to knowledge.

A satisfactory prospectus contains four basic components: a question; a statement of theoretical context; a research design; and a working bibliography.

1. The Question

"What is the dissertation about?" The prospectus should begin by stating the central question or puzzle that is to be addressed in the dissertation. The question should be phrased precisely, since it will determine what is or is not germane to the dissertation. Whether the puzzle is "Does Marx have a political theory?", "Why are some American regulatory agencies more effective than others?", or "What are the effects of the organization of worker training programs in Sweden, Germany, Japan, and the United States?", it should be stated within the first or second paragraph, and as clearly and succinctly as possible. This is also the appropriate place to identify the general approach adopted in the dissertation: historical, interpretive, quantitative, etc. It is also important to qualify the question in terms of geographical, temporal, and/or substantive scope: What country or countries will be examined, and over what time period? What range of an author's works will be evaluated? What kinds of bureaucratic agencies will be studied? What kinds of effects are at issue (social, economic, political)?

Treat this as an opportunity to state with clarity and conviction exactly what the core of the dissertation will be. Do not get carried away with the need to qualify here; there is plenty of time for that in Part C. This section should be no longer than two pages in length. If it feels like writing an abstract, then it's probably coming out right.

2. Statement of Theoretical Context

This part of the prospectus addresses the frustrating but important question, "so what?" In other words, why should one devote a thesis to the question set out in the preceding section? An effective answer requires two distinct arguments. First, you should provide a well-focused summary of the current debate(s) in your chosen subfield. This will allow your committee to see how you situate your project in the existing theoretical literature. Second, you should outline in precise terms the specific contribution(s) your dissertation will make to the subfield. If you believe you are studying a neglected yet significant subject, specify what of substance has been missed, and how your study will fill the gap. If you are building on an important literature in the field, say what has been achieved, and how your proposal adds to it. If your proposal is a case study or a comparison of multiple cases (countries, policy areas, etc.), this is an appropriate place to justify your selection of cases with reference to theory.

Five or six pages should suffice for this part of the prospectus, although in cases where the resolution of contending interpretations is an especially important part of the thesis, a bit more detail is appropriate. Whatever you do, do not set out to review the literature in depth here. Instead, write this part on the assumption that both you and your committee are familiar with the field.

3. Research Design

This part answers the question, "How will you answer the question set out in Part A?" Part B showed that the game is worth the candle; Part C must show that you will, in fact, finish the contest with some answers in hand. Depending on the field, this part will cover different elements, but all will need to address the following: What do you intend to do, and what does each step contribute to the project as a whole? In what order do you intend to proceed? If your investigation is empirical, what sort of evidence will you consider? If theoretical, what material will you cover and what will you do with it? Are you planning to do library work, field work, and/or quantitative analysis?

Obviously, you will not know everything you would like about this part at the time you have to defend your prospectus. But you should be able to provide your best, educated guess. In the end, your committee will be looking for evidence that (1) if everything goes according to plan, you will be able to complete a satisfactory dissertation, and (2) there is a reasonable chance that everything will in fact go well.

Six to ten pages should be enough to cover this material. You should try to provide the following sorts of information:

Data: What will be the raw material for your analysis? How do you propose to obtain it? Any information you can provide that pertains to reading, coding, interviewing, observing, and the like is helpful. Feasibility: Is there adequate data or other materials available? Do you know where to find it? Can you obtain it? Do you possess the necessary linguistic and/or quantitative skills, if relevant? Do you have any preliminary hunches or results with which to substantiate your claims?

Selection of Method: If there are other obvious ways to investigate your topic, why is yours preferable?

Chapter Summary: Even at this earliest of stages in the dissertation, it is helpful to construct a chapter-by-chapter organization of the project, however provisional. This will communicate to your committee the relative importance you attach to various aspects of your investigation, and the structure with which you will offer answers to your central thesis.

Timeline: How long do you expect various parts of your proposed research to take? Is there a part of it which is already substantially completed?

Funding Sources: If appropriate, specify the granting/funding agencies to which you have applied or intend to apply in the near future.

4. Working Bibliography- This is self-explanatory, but essential.

Extension of Candidacy

It is University policy that the dissertation should be completed within five years of advancing to candidacy. Since students often require more time, candidacy may be extended in cases where the faculty believes the student will finish and accepts the reasons for delay. Annually the Graduate School will remind active students whose candidacy is about to expire that they must write to the DGS, explain why they are taking so long, and request an extension if they intend to finish. If the DGS, after consulting with the principal dissertation advisor, believes an extension is justified, s/he will make a formal request to the Graduate School. Extensions to seven years may be granted by the Graduate School; extensions longer than seven years require a vote of the Graduate Council.

Dissertation Defense and Submission Procedures

To receive a May degree, you must submit a final copy of the dissertation to the Graduate School by April 29th. An extension of this deadline to May 15 is possible upon written request by the principal dissertation advisor to the Graduate School before mid-April. Two weeks before the dissertation defense, you must submit to the Graduate School a copy of the thesis title page with your thesis director's signature. Graduation paperwork will then be mailed to your department to be completed and returned to the Graduate School. Registration in Semester I allows you to submit a dissertation until the start of classes in the spring without having to pay further enrollment fees; registration in Semester II enables you to submit a dissertation until the start of classes in the following fall. Extensions of these deadlines for one month into the official start of classes in the new semester are possible upon written request by the principal dissertation advisor to the Graduate School. If you fail to submit the dissertation before the extension expires, you will have to register and pay tuition/enrollment fees or request a leave of absence or traveling scholar status.

The final copies must be made available at the time of the defense. If you anticipate problems meeting any of these deadlines, consult the DGS or the Graduate School.

Filing Fee

There is a $50 dissertation fee which helps pay for the cost of microfilming, cataloging, binding, and storing the dissertation. When you submit your dissertation the Graduate School requires a receipt from the Cashier's Office indicating that the fee has been paid.

Filing while on Leave of Absence

Students who wish to submit their thesis or dissertation while on leave must also pay the readmission fee (3.125% of annual tuition) in the semester in which they file. You should consult the Graduate School to be approved for the filing fee in the semester you intend to submit the dissertation.

Format

A complete description of the format of the dissertation can be found on the Graduate School Website. All directions from the Graduate School must be followed exactly.

The Defense

Once your dissertation committee has approved your thesis-in-draft in principle, you should agree on a date for the defense well in advance (a minimum of ten days beforehand) with your committee members and also inform the Graduate Program Coordinator so that the event can be publicized. You are responsible for scheduling the oral defense.

The defense is two-part. The first part of the defense is open to the public, which typically includes faculty members and other graduate students. During this first part of the defense, the student will make a 10-15 minute presentation on the dissertation and may be asked questions by any faculty member or fellow graduate student in the room.

The second part of the dissertation defense is private, and is limited to the student and the members of the dissertation committee. This part of the defense may go as long as an hour, during which time the committee members may ask questions that address the strengths and weaknesses of your dissertation, your future plans for it, and the direction you expect your work to take in the next few years. The Department views this part of the defense as an opportunity to look back at a project that has achieved a level of closure and that has received the approval of your committee.