Students are encouraged to give careful thought early on in their graduate work to possible dissertation topics. Successful doctoral candidates discuss their interests with faculty, pursue related coursework and possible certificate programs in interdisciplinary studies outside the department, and use their work cumulatively to prepare for doctoral candidacy.
By the end of the third year, having passed the comprehensive examination, the student should select a dissertation topic.
The student selects a dissertation committee consisting of three faculty members within the department, one of whom acts as chair, and a fourth member from outside the department. All members of the committee must have full graduate-faculty status.
The student prepares a dissertation proposal, overview, or prospectus, including a plan for the research, for presentation to the dissertation committee at a formal dissertation overview meeting. Preparation for the overview meeting enables the dissertation committee to provide guidance in shaping the problem formulation, conceptualization, and methods proposed by the student. The committee's acceptance of the overview document is to be interpreted as an agreement that the successful completion of the research will lead to the granting of the PhD degree.
Upon the committee's approval of the dissertation topic and research plan, the student is granted admission to candidacy for the PhD degree. This is also the appropriate stage for completing and submitting for review (exempt or expedited as the case may be) by the institutional review board a protocol describing the proposed research and any consent forms.