Ph.D. Dissertation Research information.

Each Ph.D. candidate is required to write a dissertation that is the culminating product of their independent research. Ph.D. candidates enrolled in a dual-title degree program must write a dissertation that reflects their original research, integrating concepts from both graduate programs.

Acceptable Ph.D. research must be original in its conception. Such research consists of scholarly inquiry, hypothesis testing, investigation, or experimentation, having as its objective, the revision of existing concepts, development of new concepts, or development of new or improved techniques in some specialty area. It is research that is well structured, uses appropriate techniques, and is adequately described. It should illuminate areas of controversy, or areas that seem significant and lack information, based on an adequate literature review and interpretation. The outcome of such research should be deemed suitable for publication in a reputable scientific journal, thus serving as a valuable contribution to the ever-expanding frontier of scientific knowledge.

It is highly recommended that students commence their dissertation research as early as possible in their academic program. To ensure the development of a suitable research problem, students should seek guidance from their advisor at the onset of their academic residence. Furthermore, it is crucial to initiate a comprehensive literature review and draft a well-structured Research Proposal, which should include hypotheses and/or objectives, as well as research procedures. This proposal should be submitted to the students' committee within a maximum of 6 months following the successful completion of the Qualifying Examination.

Once the Qualifying Examination has been passed, the committee will convene for their inaugural meeting. In preparation for this meeting, a copy of the Research Proposal must be provided to each committee member at least one (1) week prior. Feedback and recommendations for any necessary changes should be actively sought during this meeting. If a new draft is required, it shall be accomplished within 3 months. It is crucial to obtain approval from the students' committee for the final dissertation plan before proceeding with the research.

Regular meetings of the students committee are required at least once per academic year to assess the advancements made in course work and dissertation research. During these meetings, the student is expected to present a comprehensive progress report to the committee. In the event of minor changes in objectives, consultations with individual committee members may be undertaken to facilitate revisions to the plan. However, major revisions must receive explicit approval from the committee. The adviser is responsible for retaining copies of these revisions in the student's file for future reference.

Taking both the dissertation and the final oral examination into consideration, the Ph.D. Committee shall evaluate the accomplishments of the student relative to the program’s defined Learning Objectives, particularly with respect to the student’s mastery of the major, and if appropriate, dual-title and minor fields of study. 

Students are required to submit both a preliminary format draft and a final polished version of their dissertations during the last semester prior to graduation. For the final dissertation to be accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree, it must be approved by the following:

  • at least two-thirds of the Ph.D. committee;
  • the head of the student’s graduate program; and,
  • the Graduate School.
    • Specifically, the dissertation must meet editorial standards specified by the Graduate School so that it constitutes an official University record for inclusion in the University Libraries.

The dissertation must be made available to the public through inclusion in the University Libraries.

When appropriate, programs may ask qualified individuals to read and approve a student’s dissertation in addition to the Ph.D. committee members. Those individuals are designated Special Signatories. Special Signatories do not have to be affiliated with Penn State.