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image: Psychology Logo
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image: Psychology Logo

Dissertation & Oral Exam


Minimum Credit Requirements

The Graduate School requires a minimum of 32 credits taken within UW-Madison at a 300 level or above in order to qualify for a PhD degree.

About the Dissertation and Exam

Each Doctoral student shall complete a dissertation covering original research. The student will be examined by a committee of five faculty members at the University of Wisconsin, at least three from Psychology and at least one from another department. No more than one joint/affiliated faculty member may count as a Psychology faculty member. The committee will advise and evaluate satisfactory progress, administer the final oral examinations, evaluate the dissertation, and sign the degree warrant. The program/department Chair must sign the “Ph.D. Final Oral Committee Approval Form,” thus representing the approval of the program/department, before the form is submitted to the Graduate School for final approval.The "PhD Final Oral Committee Approval Form" must be submitted at least 3 weeks before the defense. 

Committee Composition

Minimum requirements for a Dissertation Committee are as follows:

1. The chair or co-chair of the committee must be Graduate Faculty from the student's major program. The UW-Madison Faculty Policies and Procedures 3.05A stipulates that “the faculty of the Graduate School includes all university faculty defined in 1.02 holding professional rank (professor, associate professor, assistant professor or instructor) in any department with graduate program authority, including those with zero-time appointments in such departments.”

2. Doctoral committees must have at least five members, four of whom must be Graduate Faculty or former Graduate Faculty up to one year after resignation or retirement. At least one of the five members must be from outside of the student's major field.

3. No more than one joint/affiliated faculty member may count as a Psychology faculty member.

4. The required fifth member of a doctoral committee, retains voting rights. They may be from any of the following categories, as approved by the program Executive Committee (or its equivalent): Graduate Faculty, faculty from a department without a graduate program, Academic Staff (including emeritus faculty), visiting faculty, faculty from other institutions, Scientists, Research Associates, and other individuals deemed qualified by the Executive Committee (or its equivalent).

5. A sixth committee member is optional.

Guidelines for Dissertation Proposals and Dissertation Proposal Meetings

All Psychology graduate students are required to prepare a prospectus of their proposed dissertation work and convene a dissertation proposal meeting with their 5-person dissertation committee to discuss the proposed research. The purpose of the meeting is for the dissertation committee to provide feedback on the proposed dissertation research. The format of the prospectus should be like a grant proposal (e.g., Summary of Specific Aims, Background and Significance, Preliminary Work when applicable, and Research Plan). The expectation is that the dissertation proposal meeting will be convened early enough in the development of the dissertation project so the dissertation committee can provide significant input on the research plan (design and analysis, where feasible). The student should provide a hard copy of the prospectus to the Dissertation Committee at least 1 week prior to the proposal meeting.

Scheduling Defense and Deposit Dates

Students who intend to defend, deposit, and graduate prior to the next semester (therefore not pay the coming semester's tuition) must hold their formal defense while regular academic instruction is in process (i.e., before finals week). The last day of class for Spring 2011 is Friday, May 6.  For a degree to be granted in the same semester as the defense, the student must deposit by the degree deadline, which is established by the Graduate School.

If revisions are necessary after the defense, a student may deposit within the Graduate School's degree window period. The window period is the time between the end of one degree period and the beginning of the next. If a student deposits within the degree window period, the degree will be granted for the following semester, however, the student will not have to register or pay fees for that semester.

If more extensive revisions are necessary and the student cannot deposit by the degree deadline or the degree window period, the student must register for three credits of 990 and expect a tuition bill for the upcoming semester.

The degree window period allowed by the Graduate School is to be used only for revisions after the defense has taken place (i.e., defense dates cannot be scheduled during a window period with the intention of depositing by the end of that window period). The student CAN defend during a window period if they intend to deposit the following semester.  For example, the Spring 2011 window period is May 16-June 10, a student may defend during that window period if they are planning to deposit after June 10, during the summer semester. 

Special circumstances may allow for defending and depositing during the window period if a petition is filed with the department (e-mail Kevin) and each member of your committee signs it. 

Current degree deadlines and window periods can be found within the Graduate School's webpage for Deadlines, Defending, & Depositing.

Final Oral Examination

The final oral examination normally covers a student's dissertation and major and minor areas of study. Students may not take the final oral examination until they have satisfied all other requirements for their degree. Students' records must be cleared of incomplete grades and progress grades (other than research) before they can take the final oral exam.

Students have five years from the date of passing their preliminary examinations to take their final oral examination and deposit their dissertation. Arrangements for the final oral examination and the oral examination committee's approval of the dissertation are the responsibilities of a student's program. A form for establishing the examination committee, Ph.D. Final Oral Committee Approval Form, is available through the student's Graduate Coordinator, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . A student's advisor and the department chair must sign this form and file it with the Graduate School at least three weeks before the final oral examination.
Upon approving the examination committee, the Graduate School forwards to the program a student's final examination packet, which contains the examination warrant, UMI publishing forms, and a dissertation checklist. The student's advisor arranges the time and place of the examination.
To pass the examination, students must receive no more than one dissenting vote from their final oral examination committee. A missing signature is considered a dissent. After students pass the examination, it is recorded by their program on the warrant in their final packet.

Warrant Process

  1. Notify the graduate coordinator via This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it early in the semester of your intentions to complete your PhD and defend your dissertation.
  2. The graduate coordinator will provide you with a form entitled "PhD Final Oral Committee Approval Form" once you have emailed with your intentions.
  3. Complete the form and obtain the appropriate signatures.
  4. Return the form to the graduate coordinator in person or via mailbox at least three weeks prior to your dissertation defense date.
  5. The coordinator will submit the form to the Graduate School.
  6. An official warrant for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy will be issued along with a packet of materials. The graduate coordinator will notify you when the information has been recieved and placed in your mailbox.
  7. Read all the materials in the packet carefully and fill out the necessary paperwork. You will have trouble graduating if you don't read the materials.
  8. Upon successful defense of your dissertation, present your warrant for signatures.
  9. Make a copy of the completed and signed PhD warrant, place it into the graduate coordinator's mailbox for record keeping purposes.
  10. Call the Graduate School at 262-2433 to make an appointment to deposit your dissertation. Call at least one day in advance.
    1. There is a check list in the hand out "3 D's" for depositing the dissertation that you will recieve in the packet of information. You must bring the signed warrant, the signed committee's page, and all the other documents together with the dissertation for the final review (depositing).






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