Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

Doctoral Dissertation

Dissertation Prospectus Defense

This milestone takes place upon completion of the comprehensive exam, no later than the end of the long semester in which the comprehensive exam was passed. The prospectus must be successfully defended before being eligible to advance to doctoral candidacy in the Graduate School. All dissertation committee members must attend the prospectus defense. However, with Graduate Adviser approval, one member may be excused, provided it is not a supervisor or, if applicable, a co-supervisor. Also, one member may attend electronically, provided it is not a supervisor/co-supervisor. If a regular committee member is absent, s/he must read and approve the prospectus prior to the prospectus defense. The MES Graduate Office will maintain the approved version of the prospectus in the student's file.


Formats vary widely depending on the field and project; therefore, please consult with your supervisor concerning specific content and formatting. Some supervisors/committees will request a 15-20 page document, others will ask that the document not exceed 3,000 words (for text/footnotes/schedule, not bibliography). It should include a title page listing the name of the members of the dissertation committee, specifying the supervisor. It should conform (as later also the dissertation) to the standards in scholarly writing within the field in terms of style, including, for example:  transliteration, transcription, translation of languages, and the form of footnotes, references, and bibliographies.

A standard prospectus will include:

  • The nature of the problem that the student intends to study, outlining the basic parameters of the project;
  • The importance to the overall field of study in which the student is working;
  • Theoretical-methodological-disciplinary approach to the project;
  • Preliminary conclusions or hypotheses;
  • A broad review of scholarship on the question being examined, such as:
  1. Which (principal) scholars have dealt with this or similar issues?
  2. What, in the student's opinion, remains to be done (i.e., why the student is writing this particular dissertation)?
  • A discussion of the methodologies the student will use to tackle the problem (i.e., how does the student intend to argue the point?);
  • An outline of each of the chapters. If there are foreseeable difficulties in gathering the material necessary, this should also be noted;
  • A schedule of approximate dates for submission of first drafts of each chapter;
  • A select and relevant bibliography;
  • If applicable (HB/ANE), tablet samples should be included.


Candidacy Registration

Students must apply for doctoral candidacy in the Graduate School before being able to enroll in dissertation coursework. At least two semesters of the dissertation are required before becoming eligible to graduate: one semester of Reading (MEL 399R, 699R, or 999R) and one semester of Writing (MEL 399W, 699W, or 999W). The Reading course is taken only once, and a typical student will take multiple semesters of the Writing course before defending and graduating. These courses are graded only on the CR/NC basis.

The Graduate School requires continuous registration of doctoral candidates (not including summers unless the student defends and/or graduates in the summer). Leaves of absence are only granted by the Graduate School for students in candidacy when regarding matters of life or death (serious illness, etc).

Limits on Candidacy

A student's candidacy may not exceed 3 years. Most students' candidacies do not exceed 2 years.

Dissertation Committee

A minimum of four faculty members must comprise a student's committee. Three of these must serve on the Department's Graduate Studies Committee. Members will work with the student in different ways; some will want to be involved with every stage of writing, others will want to review the student’s work only after the supervisor has done so. As such, students must establish each members' expectations early (which is one of the functions of the prospectus defense) and stay in touch with committee members on a regular basis.

Students who remain in regular contact with their committee members will be well prepared for the dissertation defense and have a good idea about the likely result of the defense.

Dissertation Defense

A complete working draft of the dissertation must be received by the full committee no less than one month before the date that the student aims to schedule the dissertation defense. Except for supervisors, co-supervisors, and the student him/herself, the Graduate School no longer distinguishes between physical and electronic (e.g. Skype) attendance. (This is to say that at least the supervisor, student, and co-supervisor (if applicable) must be together in the room.) While a limit of one non-supervisory committee member may be excused from physical/electronic attendance, all other members must otherwise attend. If a non-supervisory member does not participate at the defense, his/her absence must be explained to the MES Graduate Office, together with an assurance that the dissertation will be read and, if approved, signed before the last day of the semester (submission deadline). 

To schedule the defense, the student must:

  1. Coordinate with all committee members to settle upon a date and 2-3 hour block of time during which time the defense will occur;
  2. Work with the Graduate Coordinator to schedule a room for the defense;
  3. Review the instructions for requesting the defense;
  4. Request for Final Oral:  collect the committee members' signatures and submit this form to the Graduate School at least two weeks before the defense date. As this PDF states at the top, it must be printed on PINK paper after it's filled out, and this paper can be obtained by the Graduate Coordinator. Preliminary copies of the title page, abstract, and an unsigned dissertation signature page must accompany this form. Please reference the format guidelines (PDF), the electronic templates, and the template user guide.

During the defense, the student presents a synopsis of his/her findings and then responds to questions presented by committee members. When the session ends, committee members deliberate behind closed doors and come to a decision that is then conveyed to the student. The dissertation supervisor indicates the committee’s decision on the Report of Dissertation Defense (aka "the Gold Sheet"), a form provided to the supervisor by OGS. The following decisions are possible and taken from this page:

Pass. Both the defense and the dissertation are acceptable. In some cases, the committee may require minor revisions, which will be checked by the supervising professor.

Reconsideration. Extensive revision of the dissertation is necessary, but the committee is willing to re-evaluate the revised document without requiring another oral examination. The student should complete these revisions in no more than three months.

Not Pass. The committee is not satisfied with the dissertation but believes that rewriting may make it acceptable. A second defense is required after the dissertation is rewritten.

Fail. At least one member of the committee has decided that the dissertation is unsatisfactory and may not be rewritten.

Applying to Graduate

The candidate must apply to graduate early in the semester that he/she aims to earn the degree. Summer graduates must be registered in MEL w399W. Please see this page for complete information.

In Absentia Registration (summer graduates only)

In absentia is is a useful option that is available to summer degree candidates who aren't able to submit a finished and approved dissertation by the last class day of summer. This essentially "buys" the student an extra 10-12 days to complete revisions and obtain final signatures. The deadline is the day before the 1st class day of the fall semester. There is a $25 fee associated with in absentia, but by making this deadline, the student avoids having to register another dissertation course in the fall, thereby saving a lot of money. OGS will provide the student with an official letter stating that all degree requirements have been satisfied, which is useful for those applying for jobs. The downside is that you are still registered in absentia and, therefore, do not officially graduate until December of that year. Diplomas are sent to the student's permanent address in January. You may need to update this information in UT Direct on this page.

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