What Is A Doctoral Dissertation Defense

Registration Requirements

Students must be registered from the term in which the Preliminary Examination is taken through the term of a successful defense of the dissertation, excluding summers, unless the Preliminary Examination or defense occur in a Summer term. If the defense will occur on or before the last day of registration for the term (first ten days in Fall and Spring Semesters, first five days in the eight-week Summer session) and the student was registered the previous term (e.g. Summer term for a Fall defense), registration is not required.  A defense after the last day of registration for the term requires registration that term. 

If the student has a fellowship, assistantship and/or tuition waiver for the term, the student must be registered for the required hours or resign the award or assistantship.  If the student is on a student visa, consult with the Office of International Services.  Students should also consult with their program to determine if the program requires registration.

Students may petition for zero (0) hours once the preliminary exam is passed, assuming all requirements are completed except for the dissertation. See additional information on zero-hour registration.

Registration for terms after the term of a successful defense is not required if official graduation does not occur the term of the defense, unless the student is the recipient of a fellowship, assistantship and/or tuition and service-fee waiver, or is on a student visa.

Note for Student Visa Holders:  Current SEVIS (federal immigration) regulations do not allow an international student on a student visa to register for more than zero (0) hours in a subsequent term, if the student was registered for zero (0) hours previously, unless the student is admitted into a different program.  This  precludes accepting an assistantship or tuition waiver for future terms after a zero-hour registration occurs.  The rationale for the regulation is that zero-hour registration is allowed for students on a visa only if all requirements other than the thesis or master's project are completed, and registration for more than zero hours indicates that they did not originally qualify, and, are thus out of status.  Unfortunately, flexibility to take a course for intellectual development or to register for hours to qualify for an assistantship or tuition waiver after zero hour registration does not exist currently.

Dissertation Advisor 

All candidates for the Ph.D. degree must have an advisor who is a full member of the UIC graduate faculty. The advisor is considered the primary reader of the dissertation.

Defense

The defense must be open to the academic community of the University and be publicly announced one week prior to its occurrence.

Committee Composition

The dissertation committee is appointed by the Dean of the Graduate College on the recommendation of the student's department or program. The defense committee consists of at least five persons, of whom one must be from outside their program. The chair of the committee must be a full member of the UIC graduate faculty. At least two members of the committee must be tenured faculty at UIC; at least one must be from outside the degree-granting program, which may include graduate faculty from other UIC departments or colleges. The outside member can also be from outside the University in which case the member must demonstrate equivalent academic standards; the member's curriculum vitae must accompany the Committee Recommendation form.

See list of UIC Graduate College Faculty.

A Committee Recommendation Form must be submitted to the Graduate College at least three (3) weeks prior to the dissertation defense.  The staff in the Graduate College reviews the Committee Recommendation form and, if the recommended committee meets Graduate College guidelines, approval is given by the Dean. The academic status of the student is checked to ensure that s/he is in good academic standing. A letter is then prepared by the Graduate College to each member of the committee asking him or her to serve on the committee. The letter is sent to the graduate program for distribution to each committee member.

The Examination Report form is sent to the graduate program support person after the committee is approved by the Graduate College Dean. It should be filed in the student's folder so it is available when the examination is held and all committee members may sign. This form cannot be duplicated and changes cannot be made without prior approval of the Graduate College.

Changes to the student name as submitted, thesis title, or committee may be requested before the exam occurs using the Request Change of Student Name on Thesis, Thesis Title, or Committee Member(s) Form.

Grading 

The committee vote is "pass" or "fail". A candidate cannot be passed if more than one vote of "fail" is reported. After the candidate's defense, the Examination Report form signed by all members of the committee must be submitted to the Graduate College immediately. Once the examination report is returned to the Graduate College, the results are posted to the student's record in the Graduate College. If the vote is "pass", that degree requirement is now satisfied and the student may take the next step toward graduation. If the vote is "fail", the committee may recommend that the Dean permit a second defense. This second examination must be initiated by submission of a new Committee Recommendation form, even if there is no change in membership. A third defense will not be permitted.

A committee may recommend "pass - with specified conditions". If this does occur, the conditions must be specified on the Examination Report Form along with the name of a committee member who will monitor the fulfillment of any such conditions. This named person must then report to the Graduate College in a memo when conditions have been satisfied.

Forms

Go to http://grad.uic.edu/exams-defense for a link to the forms.

What is a thesis defense?

Chris Riesbeck


What is a thesis defense?

A thesis defense has two parts: a thesis and a defense. The second mistake many students make is not knowing what their thesis is. The third mistake is not knowing how to defend it. (The first mistake is describe later.)


What is a thesis?

Your thesis is not your dissertation. Neither is it a one liner about what you are doing. Your thesis is "a position or proposition that a person (as a candidate for scholastic honors) advances and offers to maintain by argument." [Webster's 7th New Collegiate Dictionary]. "I looked at how people play chess" is not a thesis; " people adapt memories of old games to play new games" is. Similarly, "I wrote a program to play chess" is not a thesis; "playing chess requires a database of actual games" is. A thesis has to claim something.

There are many kinds of theses, especially in computer science, but most of them can be lumped into one of the following classes:

  1. process X is a feasible way to do task Y
  2. process X is a better way to do task Y than any previously known method
  3. task Y requires process X
  4. people use process X to do task Y
  5. process X is a terrible way to do Y
  6. people don't use process X

Feel free to substitute "process X" with "memory organization X" or what ever else might make one theory different from another. Make sure you clearly specify the class of tasks Y to which your thesis applies.

Besides being a proposition, a thesis has to have another property: it must say something new. "Understanding natural language requires context" is not a thesis (except maybe in a linguistics department); "process X is a feasible mechanism for adding context sensitivity to natural language understanders" is, as is "context is not required for visual understanding.


What is a defense?

A defense presents evidence for a thesis. What kind of evidence is apprpropriate depends on what kind of thesis is being defended.

Thesis: process X is a feasible way to do task Y

One defense for this kind of claim is an analysis of the complexity, or completeness, or whatever, of the theoretical algorithm. In computer science, the more common defense is based on empirical results from running an experiment. A good defense here means more than one example, and answers to questions such as the following. What are the capabilities and limits of your experiment? How often do the things that your experiment does come up in the real world? What's involved in extending it? If it's easy to extend, why haven't you? If your example is a piece of a larger system, how realistic are your assumptions about input and output?

Thesis: process X is a better way to do task Y than any previously known method

The same kind of defense applies here as in the previous case, but now serious comparisons with previous systems are required. Can your result do the same examples the previous results did, or can you make them do yours? Can you prove they couldn't do your examples? If you claim to be more efficient, what are you measuring?

Thesis: task Y requires process X

This is usually defended by a logical argument. It is usually very tough to do, even if the argument doesn't have to be formalized.

Thesis: people use process X to do task Y

Many students make the mistake of picking this kind of thesis to defend. It requires serious experimental evidence to defend, unless your real thesis is of the previous form, i.e., only process X is possible. Selected excerpts from protocols and surveys of your officemates are not psychological evidence, no matter how much they might have inspired your work.

Thesis: process X is a terrible way to do Y, or people don't use process X

This is a reasonable thesis if process X is a serious contender. The defense would be an analysis of the limits of process X, i.e., things it can't do, or things it does wrong, along with evidence that those things matter.


I have lots of theses in my dissertation. Which one should I pick for my defense?

Defending a real thesis is hard. If you think you have a lot of theses, you probably just have a bunch of undefended claims. One good thesis, or two so-so theses, with adequate description and defense, is more than enough to fill up a dissertation.


I have the opposite problem. I don't think I have any thesis by these standards.

Highly unlikely. If you're bright, educated, and have worked hard on a topic for more than a year, you must have learned something no one else knew before. The first mistake that students make is to think that a thesis has to be grander than the theory of relativity. A thesis should be new and interesting, but it doesn't have to change the foundations of all we believe and hold dear.

Don't try to come up with a thesis first, and then investigate it. Start by exploring some task domain. Take some initial ideas and push them hard for a year or so. Now, stop and think about what you've done and what you've learned. Among your accomplishments and experience, there will be several good candidate theses. Pick one. Test it out on your advisor and other faculty members. Test it out on other students. Is it a claim that you can describe clearly and briefly? Is it a claim that anyone cares about? Is it a claim that people don't find perfectly obvious, or if they do find it obvious, can you convince them that it could easily be false.

Once you've refined your claim into a good thesis, now you can determine what kind of defense is appropriate for it and what more you need to do. This is where the hard part comes, psychologically, because to create a defense for your thesis, you're going to have to attack it harder than anyone else. What happens if the thesis fails? Negate it and defend that! In a year or so of focused research, you should be ready for a real thesis defense.

See how easy it is, once you know how?


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