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Dissertation Committee

In the long semester after the Qualifying Exam is passed, the student forms a Dissertation Committee in consultation with the Major Professor and with approval of the Graduate Advisor.  This committee consists of at least four faculty members (including the major professor), and is chaired by the student’s Major Professor.  Additional members can be added to the Dissertation Committee at the request of the student and/or the Major Professor.  At least one member of the Dissertation Committee must be from outside the EEB GSC.  If the outside committee member is with UT Austin, then he/she cannot serve on the EEB GSC.  If the outside committee member is from another university, he/she will be required to submit a CV and sign the UT No Expense Form.


The Dissertation Committee has three functions.  First, it advises the student on their dissertation plans and must approve or reject the student’s dissertation proposal.  Second, the committee monitors the student’s progress after admission to candidacy, and, ultimately, it certifies that an acceptable dissertation has been submitted and that all degree requirements are completed.  Third, all members of the Dissertation Committee are available for consultation, and students should feel free to seek advice.


It is often necessary or desirable to change the membership of the Dissertation Committee prior to completion of the dissertation.  There is a special Graduate School form for this purpose (available from the Graduate Coordinator).  Any change in the Dissertation Committee made after a student has advanced to candidacy must be approved by the Graduate School.  Students should consult with the Graduate Advisor before taking this action.  The Graduate Dean’s office will not approve changes for the sole purpose of constituting a more agreeable committee.  Changes in the committee should be completed at least three months before the final oral examination.

Dissertation Proposal

In contrast to the Qualifying Exam synopsis, the goal of the dissertation proposal is for the student to prepare a detailed research plan that maps out the student’s particular research methods. This document cannot be the same as the research proposal in part (a) of the Prelim Exam, though they may concern the same overall question(s). The former proposal is intended to assess the student’s ability to identify an interesting question and place it in a broader context, but not to evaluate the particulars of the research methods. In contrast the dissertation proposal is specifically intended to present a detailed research agenda and methodology.


The student must present a dissertation research proposal to the Dissertation Committee (see above) for approval.  The dissertation proposal must be defended no later than the end of the fifth long semester in residence.  The student will notify the Graduate Coordinator of the composition of his/her Thesis Committee at least three weeks prior to the date of the proposal review.  At least two weeks prior to meeting with the committee, the student should distribute to the committee a detailed proposal for the dissertation research.  The proposal should include a short review of the literature, a description of the goals, hypotheses to be tested, procedures, and methods to be used to analyze the results, and expected outcomes.  Typically, the proposal is no longer than ten single-spaced pages.  The student should consult with their committee members to agree upon a format.  Students may, in particular, wish to format their proposals following a NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG) format, to receive comments on the proposal style for later submission to NSF. A copy will also be provided to the Graduate Coordinator for the student’s file.


In the dissertation proposal defense, the student will present a brief oral summary of the research goals and methods, and answer Dissertation Committee members about the significance of the work, intellectual context, methods, and expected outcomes. Questions can touch on any area of science relevant to the proposed work, but should have the primary purpose to uncover any weaknesses or gaps in the research plan. The proposal defense typically takes approximately two hours, but may be longer or shorter as the committee requires. If a student chooses, they may present their opening oral summary of their proposal in a public venue (e.g., at a seminar or at an ad-hoc time), followed by private discussion with their committee.


At the end of the defense, the committee may then choose one of the following recommendations:

  1. Pass the student unconditionally.
  2. Pass the student with requirements that must be fulfilled before defending the dissertation. Requirements may include, but are not limited to, taking additional lecture courses or seminars, or writing the short essays described in part (c) above.
  3. Termination from the pre-doctoral program, with approval to pursue a master's degree.
  4. Dismissal from the graduate program.

When the dissertation proposal has been accepted by the committee, the Graduate Coordinator will send the student the online form to apply for candidacy.  Approval of the dissertation proposal should occur no later than the end of fifth long semester in residence, with admission to Candidacy no later than the sixth long semester. 

Admission to Candidacy

As soon as the dissertation proposal has been approved, the student may advance to Candidacy.  The Graduate Coordinator will forward the online form to the student, once he/she has received the signed form from the committee. The online form must be filed with the Graduate School no later than August 31st to receive the pay raise associated with Candidacy, otherwise you will have to wait another year to receive the pay raise, as raises are only given in September of each year.


Dissertation Proposal Application

Disseration Proposal Results