Dissertation Defense

Defense Process

The final examination is normally administered by the supervising committee of five members, though a four-member committee is permissible if the primary advisor is present. Only one member of a dissertation examination committee may participate by telephone; that member may not be the chair. The DGS must obtain the permission of the Senior Associate Dean for telephone participation at least a week before the oral exam. This oral exam lasts between two and three hours. Since this is a public defense, other persons may attend to listen but they should notify both the student and the chairperson in advance. Questions and discussion concentrate primarily on the dissertation; however, the committee may also ask questions that relate broadly to the major field of study.

Once the exam is over, the candidate and any guests will be asked to leave so the committee can discuss the exam and vote by written ballot as required. If all of the members vote affirmatively, they sign their names on at least the first and second copies of the dissertation and on the title page of the original copy of the abstract, signifying the abstract is suitable for publication. The easiest and least confusing procedure if for the committee member to sign all of the copies. They then sign the final examination certificate, which is returned signed to the student who should promptly turn in to the Graduate Studies Office.

Four of five (or four of four) affirmative votes of those present – including the main supervisor – constitute a pass. The Graduate School Bulletin states that "A student who fails the final examination may be allowed to take it a second time, but no earlier than six months from the date of the first examination. Permission to take the second examination must be obtained from the professor who directed the dissertation and from the Dean of the Graduate School. Failure to pass the second examination renders the student ineligible to continue work for the Ph.D. exam at Duke University."

Revising and Correcting the Dissertation

The committee may accept the dissertation on the understanding that the student will make minor revisions and corrections to be reviewed and approved by their advisor before the dissertation is deposited with the Graduate School. In this case, they will sign the exam certificate and the abstract sheets and dissertation signature pages. The student will then have up to 30 days after the examination to make the requested changes and improvements.

NOTE: this 30-day period for corrections cannot be granted when there are fewer than 30 days left in the semester. In such cases you must check with the Graduate School to determine the deadline for submitting the completed dissertation.

Depositing the Dissertation

After passing the final examination, and making any necessary corrections and improvements, a student takes the original and first two copies (three sets in all) of the finished dissertation, with 3 abstracts signed by the committee, to the Graduate School office.

At this time the student will be required to sign a microfilming agreement and to pay a fee to cover microfilming costs. Duke dissertations are published on microfilm by University Microfilms (Ann Arbor, MI). At this time the student will also be required to pay to have the original and two copies of the dissertation bound in black covers with gold lettering on the spine. The original and one copy go on file in Perkins Library; the other copy goes to your dissertation advisor. Additional copies may be bound through the Duke Bookstore in the Bryan Center. The student may also pay to copyright their dissertation at this time; this is optional but recommended.