Completion of Programs

General Information

All Master's and PhD students are required to accomplish the following IN SEQUENTIAL ORDER before defending and/or submitting a thesis or dissertation for graduation.

  1. Successfully pass the qualifying examination or comprehensive examination as deemed by your program.
  2. Approval of the thesis or dissertation committee. “Request for Approval of a Thesis or Dissertation Committee” form.
  3. Approval of the research proposal/outline “Approval of Proposal/Dissertation Outline.” Outline approval must be granted by the Dean, at least 18 months before the defense is held.
  4. Intent to graduate. “Intent to Graduate” form.
  5. A photograph suitable for use in the Commencement Program must be submitted to the Graduate School prior to thesis defense, or March 15th, whichever is earlier in the calendar year. See “Photo Guidelines” information.
  6. Submission of the defense program where appropriate.
  7. Submission of the preliminary copy of the thesis or dissertation to the Dean, 2 weeks before the defense.

Requirements (PDF)

Submission of the Proposal

Students writing a thesis or dissertation are required to submit an approved Proposal to the Graduate School by the deadline set by the program. For PhD students, this deadline will occur no later than 18 months prior to the PhD dissertation defense date.

(Graduate Studies Council 12/2003)

The proposal should follow the organization of a grant application to the National Institutes of Health, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, or other funding agency, depending on the format specified by each particular graduate program. It should be typed single-spaced with 12 point font or the equivalent. Unless specified otherwise by a particular graduate program, the recommended length of the proposal is 20 to 25 pages, excluding the literature cited and appendices. Figures and tables should be included in the appendix and numbered according to their order of appearance in the text.

Specific Aims: The hypothesis that the student intends to test should be stated. A set of Specific Aims that define the key components of the experimental strategy needed to test the hypothesis should be listed and briefly described. This section should not exceed 1 page.

Background and Significance: This section should consist of a review of the literature that is relevant to the proposed research. The review should include sufficient information to put the proposed research into perspective within the current status of the field. This section should also indicate the scientific merit of the proposed research. There is no page limit for this section, but in general 5 pages should be sufficient for the text portion of this section.

Preliminary Results: This section should include unpublished data obtained by the student that are relevant to the proposed Specific Aims. It may also be appropriate to include unpublished results from other investigators in the advisor's lab, provided credit is given. It is recommended that the text portion of this section not exceed 8 pages.

Experimental Methods: This section should consist of a description of the experimental protocols that will be used to achieve the Specific Aims. Experimental details about reagents, cells, environmental conditions, equipment, and controls that are required to establish the feasibility of the experiments should be provided when possible. Alternative experimental approaches that may be needed to circumvent technical problems should be presented. Methods for analysis of data, including statistical methods, should be included. Sources for critical reagents that are not available commercially or in the advisor's lab should be identified.

Literature Cited: This section should be a list of all published information referred to in the preceding sections. It is recommended that the format for the references follow departmental guidelines.

Appendix: This section should include tables, figures, and diagrams (and their accompanying legends) numbered to correspond with their order of appearance in the text. In some cases a list of abbreviations used in the text may be included in this section.

Submission: The student will give the completed proposal to all members of the Committee at least 1 week before the Committee meets to discuss the proposal. At this meeting, the student will present an overview of the proposal and address any questions or concerns that the Committee may have. During this meeting, Committee members should identify any potential problems with the proposal and agree upon any modifications that are needed before the proposal is accepted. The student should make these recommended changes in the proposal within 2 weeks of the Committee meeting and resubmit the revised proposal to Committee members. If necessary, a second Committee meeting may be held to review the changes. Committee members will indicate their acceptance of the final proposal by signing the Proposal Approval form. This form and a copy of the completed proposal will be submitted to the department chair/program director for approval and then forwarded to the Graduate School Dean for final approval.

During the course of the student's research, it may be necessary to modify or change either the hypothesis to be tested or the Specific Aims. These changes should be discussed with the members of the student’s Thesis or Dissertation Committee. In instances where the committee determines that major modifications are recommended, the student should prepare a brief document that includes, as necessary, (1) the revised hypothesis to be tested, (2) modified or new Specific Aims, and (3) modified or new methods. This modified document does not need to be approved by the department chair/program director or the Dean of the Graduate School but will become a part of the student's permanent record in the Graduate School Office.

Defense Program for a Thesis or Dissertation

The Defense Program

A program for the defense should be prepared as described below, and distributed 30 days in advance of the date of the defense. The student should provide a copy to all members of the student's Committee and to all faculty in the department/program. In addition, an electronic copy sent via e-mail attachment ( or provided on CD needs to be delivered to the Graduate School Office for electronic distribution to interested parties.

The Format

Page 1: The information and layout of this page should conform to the example here: Defense Title Page.

Page 2: Entitled: Graduate Studies: The courses taken during the graduate program should be listed on this page.

Page 3: Entitled: "Thesis" or "Dissertation" - Directly under this heading, provide the title of the thesis or dissertation, as it should appear in official MCW information. The title is followed by a 300-600 word abstract of the research which may be continued on an additional page if necessary.

Page 4: Entitled: Curriculum Vitae of the student - The Curriculum Vitae should be approved by the faculty advisor, who will ensure that it appears in the usual and customary format. The information to be included is:

Date and Place of Birth
Education - institution, degrees, dates of degrees
Relevant Employment - If any: employer(s) and date(s)
Fellowships, Awards, Honors
Publications - divided as follows:

  • Abstracts
  • Publications (in print and in press)
  • Manuscripts submitted (not those in preparation
Sample Cover Page for Defense Program

View Sample Cover Page (PDF)


The general organization of the thesis/dissertation is:

Title page
Table of Contents
List of Tables
List of Figures
Acknowledgments (if any)
Signature Page

The Body
The body may take either of two forms below:

1. A unified form, as follows:

Materials and Methods
Results (including tables and figures)


2. A multi-part form, as follows:

General Information
Individual chapters each consisting of:

  • Introduction
  • Materials and Methods
  • Results (including tables and figures)
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • General Discussion
  • General Conclusions

Specific Instructions

  • Paper: The original should be on 20+ pound, 8 x 11 inch bond paper. Additional copies that are good quality photocopies are acceptable.
  • Photos: Original photographs must be included in at least 3 of the bound copies.
  • Printing: Word processing must include printing with a laser printer.
  • Margins: 1 inch on the top, bottom, and right-hand side. The left-hand side margin must be 1.5 inches, to allow for space required in the binding.
  • Page numbering: Number pages, including figures and figure legends, in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Each chapter or section should start on a new page.
  • All tables, figures and figure legends related to research findings should be in the results section(s) in a location appropriate to the content of the text
  • The Bibliography should contain complete references, including all authors, a complete title, and the inclusive page numbers. The specific format employed should be that appropriate to the journal in which the work will be published.
  • Signatures: Original signatures must appear on the signature page of the original copy; this page may be photocopied for inclusion on the additional copies.
  • The final unbound copies must be submitted to the Dean within 2 weeks after the date of the defense. An alternative submission date may be negotiated if additional time is required.
Sample Signature Page

Sample Signature Page (PDF)

Binding of Theses and Dissertations

The student should submit all copies of the final version of a thesis or dissertation to the Dean after the signatures of the Committee members have been obtained.

A Dissertation / Thesis Binding form (available from the Graduate School or Web site) must be submitted with the final copies of your dissertation/thesis.

  • One copy is bound at MCW expense and retained by the College.
  • One copy may be bound by the program. See your department business manager.
  • Additional copies will be bound at the expense of the student, the faculty advisor, or the department/program. The student will be advised by the library when the thesis or dissertation has been returned from the bindery. Copies may be collected from the library after the binding charges have been paid.
  • One additional unbound copy of the doctoral dissertation is required by the Graduate School office for microfilming. Include an abstract and CV.
  • If you wish your dissertation to be considered for the annual dissertation awards given by the Friends of MCW, you must submit an additional copy for this purpose. This copy will not be bound. Complete the Doctor of Philosophy Outstanding Dissertation Award form. Each PhD candidate must submit on a CD the items listed below in order to be considered for the dissertation award:
  1. An abstract of the dissertation. The abstract should include the hypothesis or goal, a summary of the results, and a statement of the significance of the research.
  2. Curriculum Vitae. The CV should include the formal education at this institution, teaching experience, and a list of publications.
  3. A copy of the dissertation. A preliminary copy is acceptable.
  4. Include a letter of support from Graduate Student’s mentor that highlights the important findings of the student’s research.

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Page Updated 05/13/2015