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You're nearly ready for the final act. After several years of research and the hard slog of writing up your results, you have submitted your magnum opus to your thesis committee and now face the final step. Ready or not, it's time to put yourself and your work in the critical spotlight.

Depending on your personality and how you handle stress, the prospect of this ultimate "oral exam" may be no big deal, or it may be frightening. No matter how you feel as the day approaches, the better you prepare for your thesis defense, the stronger and more confident you will feel going into it and, very likely, the better you'll perform.

A variety of formal procedures and regulations, which vary by institution, dictate how and where your thesis defense is conducted. In some countries, and at some universities, the defense is almost a formality, with few tough questions and no real prospect of failing--just a pleasant hour or two in front of an audience of friends and relatives. At other institutions, a candidate is interrogated endlessly by an international committee of experts, and there is a small but finite chance the candidate will fail. There's more on the line at this type of institution, obviously, but either way, you want to perform well and bring your Ph.D. studies to the best possible conclusion. To ensure a successful thesis defense, you need to do three things: prepare, prepare, ... and prepare.

Respect the formalities


A thesis defense is a cross between an exam and a ceremony. As with all ceremonies, rules must be followed, such as standing when the examiners enter the room and not addressing the examiners by their first names.

Such rules are taken more seriously at some institutions than at others, but it's always a good idea to learn and observe them. But combining the observation of unfamiliar formalities with answering tough questions is not easy. So try to adjust to the formal procedures beforehand so you can focus on answering questions. If they're written down somewhere, study up. If it's permitted, attend a few thesis defenses before yours to familiarize yourself with details such as how to address the examiners, when to stand and when to sit, what the dress code is, and what will be expected of you during the ceremony. It's a good idea to observe more, not less, of the formalities than your examiners require. If the event calls for business casual, wear a business suit.

Prepare scientifically

With all you have to think about--and with all those experts questioning you--it's easy to forget that you are the foremost expert. After all, your research has been the focus of your time and attention for several years. So, take heart; you really do know your stuff.

It would be a mistake, however, to underestimate the examiners' knowledge of your subject. Moreover, in the formal setting of a thesis defense, you have one truly big disadvantage: Your examiners can prepare questions beforehand, but you have to reply to them on the spot. Some examiners are very good at finding awkward or controversial issues, and they will certainly question you about those aspects of your work. As you stand in the spotlight, you may even realize, to your discomfort, that it's been quite some time since you thought about those thorny issues.

So in the week or two before your thesis defense, read your thesis all the way through with a critical eye and a highlighter in hand to refresh your memory about experimental details, protocols, results, and your conclusions. Years have passed since you did some of that work, so it's important to remind yourself of the fine points.

As you read, put yourself in the role of an examiner. What would you ask the author of this thesis? Where are the trouble spots, the unresolved issues, the shaky conclusions? If you can predict some of the questions and prepare the answers, you will be in much better shape during the defense itself. Even if you don't get those questions, the exercise will give you confidence and reacquaint you with the fundamentals.

If you've made good use of previous opportunities, this won't be the first time you've spoken in front of a group and been questioned about your work. Each time you give a presentation, even a poster presentation, at a conference or department meeting, you're preparing for your ultimate oral exam.

Prepare your act

Because a thesis defense is a formal ceremony as well as an examination, you will have to play the highly scripted part expected of you. It's not sufficient to mumble a reply to a question while staring at the floor. Assuredly, your examiners will not be pleased if you reply to their questions with "Yes, ... No, ... No idea." Answering a question properly is a three-step process.

1. Listen to the question carefully. Too often, Ph.D. candidates stop listening halfway through because they believe they know what the question is about, or they are so nervous they start preparing the answer in their heads while the question is still being asked. But sometimes the real question comes only at the very end of a long exposé (in which the examiner may be trying to show off), and it may not be the question you anticipate. So listen attentively the whole time the examiner is speaking. To help you maintain your concentration, you might want to take simple notes or jot down key words to remind you what was said. Just don't let the note-taking distract you from careful listening.

2. Begin your answer by rephrasing the question succinctly and politely: "Professor Smith (or "Esteemed professor" or "Bob"--whatever address the formalities require), your question on the research described in Chapter 4 addresses enzymatic degradation from an interesting perspective. If I understand your query correctly, you wonder why ..." This rephrasing establishes whether you have understood the question properly, and it gives you a moment to collect your thoughts and prepare the best possible answer.

3. Finally, answer the question. This might seem obvious, but too often the candidate will make no serious attempt to answer the question properly, launching instead into a related or unrelated tangent or long-winded explication that--it is hoped--seems like an answer but isn't.

Some questions may be just too difficult to answer right away, or you may be caught off-guard. You could try to bluff your way through it, but a better solution is to admit that you don't know but discuss the issues raised by the query intelligently. Examiners will recognize the distinction between a candidate who prevaricates and one who makes a real attempt to address the question, even if there's no complete answer.

In case we haven't convinced you of the importance of preparation, imagine the following scenario: Your examiners ask you a critical question that is foundational for your field, and you don't know the answer. Some questions are still open--but not that one. Failing to answer a foundational question, whether it's due to a lack of preparation or nervousness, can have dire consequences. So don't let it happen. Read your thesis until you know your work backward and forward, reread your field's seminal papers, strive to stay relaxed, and keep your thoughts open and accessible.

Keeping your cool

No matter how well prepared you are, you'll almost certainly experience some anxiety. Each person reacts differently to stressful situations, and you have surely had some experience with this type of stress (before conference talks, say, or sitting examinations), but the scale and import of a thesis defense--and the degree of public exposure--puts it into a different class. So in the days before your defense, seek balance in your life. It's probably best not to develop a new relaxation regimen at this point; do what has worked for you in the past. Get some sleep, go for a walk, eat regular meals, talk to friends. Breathe.

Just before your oral examination is scheduled to begin, mingle with the public or chat with friends, especially if you're a nervous speaker. Engaging others right before your exam rather than locking yourself in the coatroom may help you feel more comfortable once you're in the spotlight.

When it's over and you've got your degree in your hand and a framed photo of the big day, do something to celebrate. Throw a party or take a vacation; it doesn't matter what you do, but do take time to savor your accomplishment before jumping into the next high-stress thing. Getting a Ph.D. is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so enjoy it and take satisfaction in what you've accomplished.

Patricia Gosling and Bart Noordam are the authors of Mastering Your Ph.D.: Survival and Success in the Doctoral Years and Beyond (Springer, 2006). Gosling is a senior medical writer at Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics in Germany and a freelance science writer. Noordam is a professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and director of development and engineering at ASML. He has also worked for McKinsey and Co.

Comments, suggestions? Please send your feedback to our editor.

Images. Top: Scott Schram. Middle, courtesy of Springer Publishing

DOI: 10.1126/science.caredit.a0800111

doi: 10.1126/science.caredit.a0800111

Patricia Gosling

Patricia Gosling is a coauthor of Mastering Your Ph.D.: Survival and Success in the Doctoral Years and Beyond (Springer, 2006). Gosling is a senior medical writer at CMPMedica in Malaysia and a freelance science writer.

Bart Noordam

Bart Noordam is a coauthor of Mastering Your Ph.D.: Survival and Success in the Doctoral Years and Beyond (Springer, 2006). He is a professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and director of a regional audit organization. He has also worked for McKinsey & Co.

Related Articles

For other uses, see Thesis (disambiguation).

"Dissertation" redirects here. For the novel, see The Dissertation.

A thesis or dissertation[1] is a document submitted in support of candidature for an academic degree or professional qualification presenting the author's research and findings.[2] In some contexts, the word "thesis" or a cognate is used for part of a bachelor's or master's course, while "dissertation" is normally applied to a doctorate, while in other contexts, the reverse is true.[3] The term graduate thesis is sometimes used to refer to both master's theses and doctoral dissertations.[4]

The required complexity or quality of research of a thesis or dissertation can vary by country, university, or program, and the required minimum study period may thus vary significantly in duration.

The word "dissertation" can at times be used to describe a treatise without relation to obtaining an academic degree. The term "thesis" is also used to refer to the general claim of an essay or similar work.

Etymology[edit]

The term "thesis" comes from the Greek θέσις, meaning "something put forth", and refers to an intellectual proposition. "Dissertation" comes from the Latindissertātiō, meaning "path".

Structure and presentation style[edit]

Structure[edit]

A thesis (or dissertation) may be arranged as a thesis by publication or a monograph, with or without appended papers, respectively, though many graduate programs allow candidates to submit a curated collection of published papers. An ordinary monograph has a title page, an abstract, a table of contents, comprising the various chapters (e.g., introduction, literature review, methodology, results, discussion), and a bibliography or (more usually) a references section. They differ in their structure in accordance with the many different areas of study (arts, humanities, social sciences, technology, sciences, etc.) and the differences between them. In a thesis by publication, the chapters constitute an introductory and comprehensive review of the appended published and unpublished article documents.

Dissertations normally report on a research project or study, or an extended analysis of a topic. The structure of a thesis or dissertation explains the purpose, the previous research literature which impinges on the topic of the study, the methods used and the findings of the project. Most world universities use a multiple chapter format : a) an introduction, which introduces the research topic, the methodology, as well as its scope and significance; b) a literature review, reviewing relevant literature and showing how this has informed the research issue; c) a methodology chapter, explaining how the research has been designed and why the research methods/population/data collection and analysis being used have been chosen; d) a findings chapter, outlining the findings of the research itself; e) an analysis and discussion chapter, analysing the findings and discussing them in the context of the literature review (this chapter is often divided into two—analysis and discussion); f) a conclusion.[5][6]

Style[edit]

Degree-awarding institutions often define their own house style that candidates have to follow when preparing a thesis document. In addition to institution-specific house styles, there exist a number of field-specific, national, and international standards and recommendations for the presentation of theses, for instance ISO 7144.[2] Other applicable international standards include ISO 2145 on section numbers, ISO 690 on bibliographic references, and ISO 31 on quantities or units.

Some older house styles specify that front matter (title page, abstract, table of content, etc.) uses a separate page number sequence from the main text, using Roman numerals. The relevant international standard[2] and many newer style guides recognize that this book design practice can cause confusion where electronic document viewers number all pages of a document continuously from the first page, independent of any printed page numbers. They, therefore, avoid the traditional separate number sequence for front matter and require a single sequence of Arabic numerals starting with 1 for the first printed page (the recto of the title page).

Presentation requirements, including pagination, layout, type and color of paper, use of acid-free paper (where a copy of the dissertation will become a permanent part of the library collection), paper size, order of components, and citation style, will be checked page by page by the accepting officer before the thesis is accepted and a receipt is issued.

However, strict standards are not always required. Most Italian universities, for example, have only general requirements on the character size and the page formatting, and leave much freedom for the actual typographic details.[7]

Thesis committee[edit]

A thesis or dissertation committee is a committee that supervises a student's dissertation. In the US, these committees usually consist of a primary supervisor or advisor and two or more committee members, who supervise the progress of the dissertation and may also act as the examining committee, or jury, at the oral examination of the thesis (see below).

At most universities, the committee is chosen by the student in conjunction with his or her primary adviser, usually after completion of the comprehensive examinations or prospectus meeting, and may consist of members of the comps committee. The committee members are doctors in their field (whether a PhD or other designation) and have the task of reading the dissertation, making suggestions for changes and improvements, and sitting in on the defense. Sometimes, at least one member of the committee must be a professor in a department that is different from that of the student.

Regional and degree-specific practices and terminologies[edit]

Argentina[edit]

In the Latin American docta, the academic dissertation can be referred to as different stages inside the academic program that the student is seeking to achieve into a recognized Argentine University, in all the cases the students must develop original contribution in the chosen fields by means of several paper work and essays that comprehend the body of the thesis.[8] Correspondingly to the academic degree, the last phase of an academic thesis is called in Spanish a defensa de grado, defensa magistral or defensa doctoral in cases in which the university candidate is finalizing his or her licentiate, master's, or PhD program. According to a committee resolution, the dissertation can be approved or rejected by an academic committee consisting of the thesis director, the thesis coordinator, and at least one evaluator from another recognized university in which the student is pursuing his or her academic program. All the dissertation referees must already have achieved at least the academic degree that the candidate is trying to reach.[9]

Canada[edit]

At English-speaking Canadian universities, writings presented in fulfillment of undergraduate coursework requirements are normally called papers, term papers or essays. A longer paper or essay presented for completion of a 4-year bachelor's degree is sometimes called a major paper. High-quality research papers presented as the empirical study of a "postgraduate" consecutive bachelor with Honours or Baccalaureatus Cum Honore degree are called thesis (Honours Seminar Thesis). Major papers presented as the final project for a master's degree are normally called thesis; and major papers presenting the student's research towards a doctoral degree are called theses or dissertations.

At Canadian universities under the French influenced system,[10] students may have a choice between presenting a "mémoire"', which is a shorter synthetic work (roughly 75 pages) and a thèse which is one hundred pages or more.[citation needed] A synthetic monograph associated with doctoral work is referred to as a "thèse". See also compilation thesis. Either work can be awarded a "mention d'honneur" (excellence) as a result of the decision by the examination committee, although these are rare.

A typical undergraduate paper or essay might be forty pages. Master's theses are approximately one hundred pages. PhD theses are usually over two hundred pages. This may vary greatly by discipline, program, college, or university. However, normally the required minimum study period is primarily depending on the complexity or quality of research requirements.

Theses Canada acquires and preserves a comprehensive collection of Canadian theses at Library and Archives Canada' (LAC) through partnership with Canadian universities who participate in the program.[11]

Croatia[edit]

At most university faculties in Croatia, a degree is obtained by defending a thesis after having passed all the classes specified in the degree programme. In the Bologna system, the bachelor's thesis, called završni rad (literally "final work" or "concluding work") is defended after 3 years of study and is about 30 pages long. Most students with bachelor's degrees continue onto master's programmes which end with a master's thesis called diplomski rad (literally "diploma work" or "graduate work"). The term dissertation is used for a doctoral degree paper (doktorska disertacija).

Czech Republic[edit]

In the Czech Republic, higher education is completed by passing all classes remaining to the educational compendium for given degree and defending a thesis. For bachelors programme the thesis is called bakalářská práce (bachelors thesis), for master's degrees and also doctor of medicine or dentistry degrees it is the diplomová práce (master's thesis), and for Philosophiae doctor (PhD.) degree it is dissertation dizertační práce. Thesis for so called Higher-Professional School (Vyšší odborná škola, VOŠ) is called absolventská práce.

Finland[edit]

The following types of thesis are used in Finland (names in Finnish/Swedish):

  • Kandidaatintutkielma/kandidatavhandling is the dissertation associated with lower-level academic degrees (bachelor's degree), and at universities of applied science.
  • Pro gradu(-tutkielma)/(avhandling )pro gradu, colloquially referred to simply as 'gradu', is the dissertation for master's degrees, which make up the majority of degrees conferred in Finland, and this is therefore the most common type of thesis submitted in the country. The equivalent for engineering and architecture students is diplomityö/diplomarbete.
  • The highest-level theses are called lisensiaatintutkielma/licentiatavhandling and (tohtorin)väitöskirja/doktorsavhandling, for licentiate and doctoral degrees, respectively.

France[edit]

In France, the academic dissertation or thesis is called a thèse and it is reserved for the final work of doctoral candidates. The minimum page length is generally (and not formally) 100 pages (or about 400,000 characters), but is usually several times longer (except for technical theses and for "exact sciences" such as physics and maths).

To complete a master's degree in research, a student is required to write a mémoire, the French equivalent of a master's thesis in other higher education systems.

The word dissertation in French is reserved for shorter (1,000–2,000 words), more generic academic treatises.

The defense is called a soutenance.

Germany[edit]

In Germany, an academic thesis is called Abschlussarbeit or, more specifically, the basic name of the degree complemented by -arbeit (e.g., Diplomarbeit, Masterarbeit, Doktorarbeit). For bachelor's and master's degrees, the name can alternatively be complemented by -thesis instead (e.g., Bachelorthesis).

Length is often given in page count and depends upon departments, faculties, and fields of study. A bachelor's thesis is often 40–60 pages long, a diploma thesis and a master's thesis usually 60–100. The required submission for a doctorate is called a Dissertation or Doktorarbeit. The submission for a Habilitation, which is an academic qualification, not an academic degree, is called Habilitationsschrift, not Habilitationsarbeit. PhD by publication is becoming increasingly common in many fields of study[citation needed].

A doctoral degree is often earned with multiple levels of a Latin honors remark for the thesis ranging from summa cum laude (best) to rite (duly). A thesis can also be rejected with a Latin remark (non-rite, non-sufficit or worst as sub omni canone). Bachelor's and master's theses receive numerical grades from 1.0 (best) to 5.0 (failed).

India[edit]

In India the thesis defense is called a viva voce (Latin for "by live voice") examination (viva in short). Involved in the viva are two examiners and the candidate. One examiner is an academic from the candidate's own university department (but not one of the candidate's supervisors) and the other is an external examiner from a different university.[12]

In India, PG Qualifications such as MSc Physics accompanies submission of dissertation in Part I and submission of a Project (a working model of an innovation) in Part II. Engineering qualifications such as Diploma, BTech or B.E., MTech or M.Des. also involves submission of dissertation. In all the cases, the dissertation can be extended for summer internship at certain research and development organizations or also as PhD synopsis.

Indonesia[edit]

In Indonesia, the term thesis is used specifically to refer to master's theses. The undergraduate thesis is called skripsi, while the doctoral dissertation is called disertasi. In general, those three terms are usually called as tugas akhir (final assignment), which is mandatory for the completion of a degree. Undergraduate students usually begin to write their final assignment in their third, fourth or fifth enrollment year, depends on the requirements of their respective disciplines and universities. In some universities, students are required to write a proposal skripsi, proposal thesis or thesis proposal before they could write their final assignment. If the thesis proposal is considered to fulfill the qualification by the academic examiners, students then may proceed to write their final assignment.

Italy[edit]

In Italy there are normally three types of thesis. In order of complexity: one for the Laurea (equivalent to the UK Bachelor's Degree), another one for the Laurea Magistrale (equivalent to the UK Master's Degree) and then a thesis to complete the Dottorato di Ricerca (PhD). Thesis requirements vary greatly between degrees and disciplines, ranging from as low as 3–4 ECTS credits to more than 30. Thesis work is mandatory for the completion of a degree.

Malaysia[edit]

Malaysian universities often follow the British model for dissertations and degrees. However, a few universities follow the United States model for theses and dissertations. Some public universities have both British and US style PhD programmes. Branch campuses of British, Australian and Middle East universities in Malaysia use the respective models of the home campuses.

Pakistan[edit]

In Pakistan, at undergraduate level the thesis is usually called final year project, as it is completed in the senior year of the degree, the name project usually implies that the work carried out is less extensive than a thesis and bears lesser credit hours too. The undergraduate level project is presented through an elaborate written report and a presentation to the advisor, a board of faculty members and students. At graduate level however, i.e. in MS, some universities allow students to accomplish a project of 6 credits or a thesis of 9 credits, at least one publication [citation needed] is normally considered enough for the awarding of the degree with project and is considered mandatory for the awarding of a degree with thesis. A written report and a public thesis defense is mandatory, in the presence of a board of senior researchers, consisting of members from an outside organization or a university. A PhD candidate is supposed to accomplish extensive research work to fulfill the dissertation requirements with international publications being a mandatory requirement. The defense of the research work is done publicly.

Philippines[edit]

In the Philippines, an academic thesis is named by the degree, such as bachelor/undergraduate thesis or masteral thesis. However, in Philippine English, the term doctorate is typically replaced with doctoral (as in the case of "doctoral dissertation"), though in official documentation the former is still used. The terms thesis and dissertation are commonly used interchangeably in everyday language yet it generally understood that a thesis refers to bachelor/undergraduate and master academic work while a dissertation is named for doctorate work.

The Philippine system is influenced by American collegiate system, in that it requires a research project to be submitted before being allowed to write a thesis. This is mostly given as a prerequisite writing course to the actual thesis and is accomplished in the term period before; supervision is provided by one professor assigned to a class. This is later to be presented in front of an academic panel, often the entire faculty of an academic department, with their recommendations contributing to the acceptance, revision, or rejection of the initial topic. In addition, the presentation of the research project will help the candidate choose their primary thesis adviser.

An undergraduate thesis is completed in the final year of the degree alongside existing seminar (lecture) or laboratory courses, and is often divided into two presentations: proposal and thesis presentations (though this varies across universities), whereas a master thesis or doctorate dissertation is accomplished in the last term alone and is defended once. In most universities, a thesis is required for the bestowment of a degree to a candidate alongside a number of units earned throughout their academic period of stay, though for practice and skills-based degrees a practicum and a written report can be achieved instead. The examination board often consists of 3 to 5 examiners, often professors in a university (with a Masters or PhD degree) depending on the university's examination rules. Required word length, complexity, and contribution to scholarship varies widely across universities in the country.

Poland[edit]

In Poland, a bachelor's degree usually requires a praca licencjacka (bachelor's thesis) or the similar level degree in engineering requires a praca inżynierska (engineer's thesis/bachelor's thesis), the master's degree requires a praca magisterska (master's thesis). The academic dissertation for a PhD is called a dysertacja or praca doktorska. The submission for the Habilitation is called praca habilitacyjna" or dysertacja habilitacyjna". Thus the term dysertacja is reserved for PhD and Habilitation degrees. All the theses need to be "defended" by the author during a special examination for the given degree. Examinations for PhD and Habilitation degrees are public.

Portugal and Brazil[edit]

In Portugal and Brazil, a dissertation (dissertação) is required for completion of a master or PhD degree. The defense is done in a public presentation in which teachers, students, and the general public can participate. For the PhD a thesis (tese) is presented for defense in a public exam. The exam typically extends over 3 hours. The examination board typically involves 5 to 6 scholars (including the advisor) or other experts with a PhD degree (generally at least half of them must be external to the university where the candidate defends the thesis, but may depend on the University). Each university / faculty defines the length of these documents, but typical numbers of pages are around 60–80 for MSc and 150–250 for PhD.

Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine[edit]

In Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine an academic dissertation or thesis is called what can be literally translated as a "master's degree work" (thesis), whereas the word dissertation is reserved for doctoral theses (Candidate of Sciences). To complete a master's degree, a student is required to write a thesis and to then defend the work publicly. Length of this manuscript usually is given in page count and depends upon educational institution, its departments, faculties, and fields of study[citation needed]

Slovenia[edit]

At universities in Slovenia, an academic thesis called diploma thesis is a prerequisite for completing undergraduate studies. The thesis used to be 40–60 pages long, but has been reduced to 20–30 pages in new Bologna process programmes. To complete Master's studies, a candidate must write magistrsko delo (Master's thesis) that is longer and more detailed than the undergraduate thesis. The required submission for the doctorate is called doktorska disertacija (doctoral dissertation). In pre Bologna programmes students were able to skip the preparation and presentation of a Master's thesis and continue straightforward towards doctorate.

Slovakia[edit]

In Slovakia, higher education is completed by defending a thesis, which is called bachelors thesis "bakalárska práca" for bachelors programme, master's thesis or "diplomová práca" for master's degrees and also doctor of medicine or dentistry degrees and dissertation "dizertačná práca" for Philosophiae doctor (PhD.) degree.

Sweden[edit]

In Sweden, there are different types of theses. Practices and definitions vary between fields but commonly include the C thesis/Bachelor thesis, which corresponds to 15 HP or 10 weeks of independent studies, D thesis/'/Magister/one year master's thesis, which corresponds to 15 HP or 10 weeks of independent studies and E Thesis/two-year master's thesis, which corresponds to 30 HP or 20 weeks of independent studies. After that there are two types of post graduate degrees, Licentiate dissertation and PhD dissertation. A licentiate degree is approximately "half a PhD" in terms of size and scope of the thesis. Swedish PhD studies should in theory last for four years, including course work and thesis work, but as many PhD students also teach, the PhD often takes longer to complete.

United Kingdom[edit]

Outside the academic community, the terms thesis and dissertation are interchangeable. At universities in the United Kingdom, the term thesis is usually associated with PhD/EngD (doctoral) and research master's degrees, while dissertation is the more common term for a substantial project submitted as part of a taught master's degree or an undergraduate degree (e.g. BA, BSc, BMus, BEd, BEng etc.).

Thesis word lengths may differ by faculty/department and are set by individual universities.

A wide range of supervisory arrangements can be found in the British academy, from single supervisors (more usual for undergraduate and Masters level work) to supervisory teams of up to three supervisors. In teams, there will often be a Director of Studies, usually someone with broader experience (perhaps having passed some threshold of successful supervisions). The Director may be involved with regular supervision along with the other supervisors, or may have more of an oversight role, with the other supervisors taking on the more day-to-day responsibilities of supervision.

United States[edit]

In some U.S. doctoral programs, the "dissertation" can take up the major part of the student's total time spent (along with two or three years of classes), and may take years of full-time work to complete. At most universities, dissertation is the term for the required submission for the doctorate, and thesis refers only to the master's degree requirement.

Thesis is also used to describe a cumulative project for a bachelor's degree, and is more common at selective colleges and universities, or for those seeking admittance to graduate school or to obtain an honors academic designation. These are called "senior projects" or "senior theses;" they are generally done in the senior year near graduation after having completed other courses, the independent study period, and the internship or student teaching period (the completion of most of the requirements before the writing of the paper ensures adequate knowledge and aptitude for the challenge). Unlike a dissertation or master's thesis, they are not as long, they do not require a novel contribution to knowledge, or even a very narrow focus on a set subtopic. Like them, they can be lengthy and require months of work, they require supervision by at least one professor adviser, they must be focused on a certain area of knowledge, and they must use an appreciable amount of scholarly citations. They may or may not be defended before a committee, but usually are not; there is generally no preceding examination before the writing of the paper, except for at very few colleges. Because of the nature of the graduate thesis or dissertation having to be more narrow and more novel, the result of original research, these usually have a smaller proportion of the work that is cited from other sources, though the fact that they are lengthier may mean they still have total citations.

Specific undergraduate courses, especially writing-intensive courses or courses taken by upperclassmen, may also require one or more extensive written assignments referred to variously as theses, essays, or papers. Increasingly, high schools are requiring students to complete a senior project or senior thesis on a chosen topic during the final year as a prerequisite for graduation.[13] The extended essay component of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, offered in a growing number of American high schools, is another example of this trend.

Generally speaking, a dissertation is judged as to whether or not it makes an original and unique contribution to scholarship. Lesser projects (a master's thesis, for example) are judged by whether or not they demonstrate mastery of available scholarship in the presentation of an idea.[dubious– discuss]

The required complexity or quality of research of a thesis may vary significantly among universities or programs.

Thesis examinations[edit]

One of the requirements for certain advanced degrees is often an oral examination (a.k.a. viva voce examination or just viva). This examination normally occurs after the dissertation is finished but before it is submitted to the university, and may comprise a presentation (often public) by the student and questions posed by an examining committee or jury. In North America, an initial oral examination in the field of specialization may take place just before the student settles down to work on the dissertation. An additional oral exam may take place after the dissertation is completed and is known as a thesis or dissertation "defense," which at some universities may be a mere formality and at others may result in the student being required to make significant revisions. In the UK and certain other English-speaking countries, an oral examination is called a viva voce.

Examination results[edit]

The result of the examination may be given immediately following deliberation by the examiners (in which case the candidate may immediately be considered to have received his or her degree), or at a later date, in which case the examiners may prepare a defense report that is forwarded to a Board or Committee of Postgraduate Studies, which then officially recommends the candidate for the degree.

Potential decisions (or "verdicts") include:

  • Accepted/pass with no corrections.
The thesis is accepted as presented. A grade may be awarded, though in many countries PhDs are not graded at all, and in others, only one of the theoretically possible grades (the highest) is ever used in practice.
  • The thesis must be revised.
Revisions (for example, correction of numerous grammatical or spelling errors; clarification of concepts or methodology; an addition of sections) are required. One or more members of the jury or the thesis supervisor will make the decision on the acceptability of revisions and provide written confirmation that they have been satisfactorily completed. If, as is often the case, the needed revisions are relatively modest, the examiners may all sign the thesis with the verbal understanding that the candidate will review the revised thesis with his or her supervisor before submitting the completed version.
  • Extensive revision required.
The thesis must be revised extensively and undergo the evaluation and defense process again from the beginning with the same examiners. Problems may include theoretical or methodological issues. A candidate who is not recommended for the degree after the second defense must normally withdraw from the program.
The thesis is unacceptable and the candidate must withdraw from the program. This verdict is given only when the thesis requires major revisions and when the examination makes it clear that the candidate is incapable of making such revisions.

At most North American institutions the latter two verdicts are extremely rare, for two reasons. First, to obtain the status of doctoral candidates, graduate students typically write a qualifying examination or comprehensive examination, which often includes an oral defense. Students who pass the qualifying examination are deemed capable of completing scholarly work independently and are allowed to proceed with working on a dissertation. Second, since the thesis supervisor (and the other members of the advisory committee) will normally have reviewed the thesis extensively before recommending the student proceed to the defense, such an outcome would be regarded as a major failure not only on the part of the candidate but also by the candidate's supervisor (who should have recognized the substandard quality of the dissertation long before the defense was allowed to take place). It is also fairly rare for a thesis to be accepted without any revisions; the most common outcome of a defense is for the examiners to specify minor revisions (which the candidate typically completes in a few days or weeks).

At universities on the British pattern it is not uncommon for theses at the viva stage to be subject to major revisions in which a substantial rewrite is required, sometimes followed by a new viva. Very rarely, the thesis may be awarded the lesser degree of M.Phil (Master of Philosophy) instead, preventing the candidate from resubmitting the thesis.

Australia[edit]

In Australia, doctoral theses are usually examined by three examiners although some, like the Australian Catholic University and the University of New South Wales, have shifted to using only two examiners; without a live defense except in extremely rare exceptions. In the case of a master's degree by research the thesis is usually examined by only two examiners. Typically one of these examiners will be from within the candidate's own department; the other(s) will usually be from other universities and often from overseas. Following submission of the thesis, copies are sent by mail to examiners and then reports sent back to the institution.

Similar to a master's degree by research thesis, a thesis for the research component of a master's degree by coursework is also usually examined by two examiners, one from the candidate's department and one from another university. For an Honours year, which is a fourth year in addition to the usual three-year bachelor's degree, the thesis is also examined by two examiners, though both are usually from the candidate's own department. Honours and Master's theses sometimes require an oral defense before they are accepted.

Germany[edit]

In Germany, a thesis is usually examined with an oral examination. This applies to almost all Diplom, Magister, master's and doctoral degrees as well as to most bachelor's degrees. However, a process that allows for revisions of the thesis is usually only implemented for doctoral degrees.

There are several different kinds of oral examinations used in practice. The Disputation, also called Verteidigung ("defense"), is usually public (at least to members of the university) and is focused on the topic of the thesis. In contrast, the Rigorosum is not held in public and also encompasses fields in addition to the topic of the thesis. The Rigorosum is only common for doctoral degrees. Another term for an oral examination is Kolloquium, which generally refers to a usually public scientific discussion and is often used synonymously with Verteidigung.

In each case, what exactly is expected differs between universities and between faculties. Some universities also demand a combination of several of these forms.

Malaysia[edit]

Like the British model, the PHD or MPhil student is required to submit their theses or dissertation for examination by two or three examiners. The first examiner is from the university concerned, the second examiner is from another local university and the third examiner is from a suitable foreign university (usually from Commonwealth countries). The choice of examiners must be approved by the university senate. In some public universities, a PhD or MPhil candidate may also have to show a number publications in peer reviewed academic journals as part of the requirement. An oral viva is conducted after the examiners have submitted their reports to the university. The oral viva session is attended by the Oral Viva chairman, a rapporteur with a PhD qualification, the first examiner, the second examiner and sometimes the third examiner.

Branch campuses of British, Australian and Middle East universities in Malaysia use the respective models of the home campuses to examine their PhD or MPhil candidates.

Philippines[edit]

In the Philippines, a thesis is followed by an oral defense. In most universities, this applies to all bachelor, master, and doctorate degrees. However, the oral defense is held in once per semester (usually in the middle or by the end) with a presentation of revisions (so-called "plenary presentation") at the end of each semester. The oral defense is typically not held in public for bachelor and master oral defenses, however a colloquium is held for doctorate degrees.

Portugal[edit]

In Portugal, a thesis is examined with an oral defense, which includes an initial presentation by the candidate followed by an extensive questioning/answering period. Typical duration for the total exam is 1 hour 30 minutes for the MSc and 3 hours for the PhD.

North America[edit]

In North America, the thesis defense or oral defense is the final examination for doctoral candidates, and sometimes for master's candidates.

The examining committee normally consists of the thesis committee, usually a given number of professors mainly from the student's university plus his or her primary supervisor, an external examiner (someone not otherwise connected to the university), and a chair person. Each committee member will have been given a completed copy of the dissertation prior to the defense, and will come prepared to ask questions about the thesis itself and the subject matter. In many schools, master's thesis defenses are restricted to the examinee and the examiners, but doctoral defenses are open to the public.

The typical format will see the candidate giving a short (20–40-minute) presentation of his or her research, followed by one to two hours of questions.

At some U.S. institutions, a longer public lecture (known as a "thesis talk" or "thesis seminar") by the candidate will accompany the defense itself, in which case only the candidate, the examiners, and other members of the faculty may attend the actual defense.

Russia and Ukraine[edit]

A student in Ukraine or Russia has to complete a thesis and then defend it in front of their department. Sometimes the defense meeting is made up of the learning institute's professionals and sometimes the students peers are allowed to view or join in. After the presentation and defense of the thesis, the final conclusion of the department should be that none of them have reservations on the content and quality of the thesis.

A conclusion on the thesis has to be approved by the rector of the educational institute. This conclusion (final grade so to speak) of the thesis can be defended/argued not only at the thesis council, but also in any other thesis council of Russia or Ukraine.

Spain[edit]

The Diploma de estudios avanzados (DEA) can last two years and candidates must complete coursework and demonstrate their ability to research the specific topics they have studied. After completing this part of the PhD, students begin a dissertation on a set topic. The dissertation must reach a minimum length depending on the subject and it is valued more highly if it contains field research. Once candidates have finished their written dissertations, they must present them before a committee. Following this presentation, the examiners will ask questions.

United Kingdom, Ireland and Hong Kong[edit]

In Hong Kong, Ireland and the United Kingdom, the thesis defense is called a viva voce (Latin for "by live voice") examination (viva for short). A typical viva lasts for approximately 3 hours, though there is no formal time limit. Involved in the viva are two examiners and the candidate. Usually, one examiner is an academic from the candidate's own university department (but not one of the candidate's supervisors) and the other is an external examiner from a different university. Increasingly, the examination may involve a third academic, the 'chair'; this person, from the candidate's institution, acts as an impartial observer with oversight of the examination process to ensure that the examination is fair. The 'chair' does not ask academic questions of the candidate.[14]

In the United Kingdom, there are only two or at most three examiners, and in many universities the examination is held in private. The candidate's primary supervisor is not permitted to ask or answer questions during the viva, and their presence is not necessary. However, some universities permit members of the faculty or the university to attend. At the University of Oxford, for instance, any member of the University may attend a DPhil viva (the University's regulations require that details of the examination and its time and place be published formally in advance) provided he or she attends in full academic dress.[15]

Submission[edit]

A submission of the thesis is the last formal requirement for most students after the defense. By the final deadline, the student must submit a complete copy of the thesis to the appropriate body within the accepting institution, along with the appropriate forms, bearing the signatures of the primary supervisor, the examiners, and, in some cases, the head of the student's department. Other required forms may include library authorizations (giving the university library permission to make the thesis available as part of its collection) and copyright permissions (in the event that the student has incorporated copyrighted materials in the thesis). Many large scientific publishing houses (e.g. Taylor & Francis, Elsevier) use copyright agreements that allow the authors to incorporate their published articles into dissertations without separate authorization.

Failure to submit the thesis by the deadline may result in graduation (and granting of the degree) being delayed. At most U.S. institutions, there will also be various fees (for binding, microfilming, copyright registration, and the like), which must be paid before the degree will be granted.

Once all the paperwork is in order, copies of the thesis may be made available in one or more university libraries. Specialist abstracting services exist to publicize the content of these beyond the institutions in which they are produced. Many institutions now insist on submission of digitized as well as printed copies of theses; the digitized versions of successful theses are often made available online.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^Originally, the concepts "dissertation" and "thesis" (plural, "theses") were not interchangeable. When, at ancient universities, the lector had completed his lecture, there would traditionally follow a disputation, during which students could take up certain points and argue them. The position that one took during a disputation was the thesis, while the dissertation was the line of reasoning with which one buttressed it. Olga Weijers: The medieval disputatio. In: Hora est! (On dissertations), p.23-27. Leiden University Library, 2005
  2. ^ abcInternational Standard ISO 7144: Documentation—Presentation of theses and similar documents, International Organization for Standardization, Geneva, 1986.
  3. ^Douwe Breimer, Jos Damen et al.: Hora est! (On dissertations). Leiden University Library, 2005
  4. ^"The Graduate Thesis". 
  5. ^Thomas, Gary (2009) Your Research Project. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
  6. ^Rudestam & Newton (2007) Surviving your dissertation. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
  7. ^"Italian Studies MA Thesis Work Plan". 
  8. ^http://www.gfme.org/global_guide/pdf/13-18%20Argentina.pdf
  9. ^Comisión Nacional de Evaluación y Acreditación Universitaria (in Spanish)Archived 25 August 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^"Carleton University – Canada's Capital University". Carleton.ca. Retrieved 24 November 2010. 
  11. ^"Our Universities – About Theses Canada – Theses Canada Portal". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 24 October 2008. Retrieved 24 November 2010. 
  12. ^"MSc Engg and PhD in IISc". Ece.iisc.ernet.in. Retrieved 24 November 2010. 
  13. ^Admin. "How to Write Methodology for Dissertation". researchprospect.com. Research Prospect. Retrieved 16 March 2017. 
  14. ^Pearce, Lynne (2005) How to Examine a Thesis, McGraw-Hill International, pp. 79–85
  15. ^"Oxford University Examination Regulations, 2007". Admin.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 24 November 2010. 

External links[edit]

Look up thesis in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Cover page of a Licentiate dissertation in Sweden

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