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Format of Dissertation/Thesis

An essential requirement for the Master's or Doctoral degree from the College of Graduate Studies is the successful completion of a written dissertation/thesis followed by an oral defense. In keeping with the high academic and educational objectives of the College of Graduate Studies, the dissertation/thesis should constitute a cohesive scholarly work that reflects a student's original writing and independent research with a thorough understanding of the field of study. The dissertation/thesis should include a review of the relevant scientific literature that establishes the context in which the student's research work may be assessed. It should include a record of their laboratory experience and their intellectual contributions to the field. It should be clearly written and follow standards of superior scientific scholarship.

The "Policy for the Written Dissertation" provides general information regarding the thesis/dissertation. For more specific information, please visit the College of Graduate Studies.

Defense of Dissertation/Thesis Committee Composition – Ph.D.

The examining committee shall consist of at least six persons, with the Advisor being one member of the committee. The committee must be approved by the Advisor, Program Director or Department Chair, and the Dean.  The Dean of Graduate Studies will select the chair of the committee. Three or more departments of this or other qualified institutions shall be represented and not more than half of the committee may be selected from persons with primary appointments in the same department. One member should be a recognized authority in the field of the dissertation research from another institution; however, upon petition to the dean, the requirement may be waived for good reason. The chairperson of the examining committee shall not be on the faculty of the department or program in which the student is enrolled but must hold an appointment with the Graduate Faculty Organization.

Note: The MD/PhD program requires a faculty member from the MD/PhD Admissions and Advising Committee to serve on each MD/PhD student's dissertation defense committee. The student should contact the most appropriate member based on their research. For a list of qualified members, students can email the MD/PhD program coordinator.


The examining committee shall consist of at least three members, with the Advisor being one member of the committee. At least three members must be present at the defense. The committee members shall be appointed by the Dean on the recommendation of the advisor. The total committee shall represent two or more departments of this or other qualified institutions, and not more than two-thirds of the committee members shall be from the student's department. The chairperson of the examining committee shall not be on the faculty of the student's graduate program but must be a member of the Graduate Faculty Organization.

Scheduling of Defense and Acceptability of Dissertation/Thesis

The dissertation/thesis advisor and student, in consultation with all the other committee members, will determine a date and time at which they can all attend the entire defense proceeding which could be as long as four to five hours. This date and time must be communicated by the dissertation advisor, in writing, to each committee member who, in turn must confirm in writing their continued commitment to attend. If a committee member cannot devote the required hours on the date and time specified, either that committee member must be replaced with another faculty member approved by the Dean or another date and/or time must be selected which allows all the committee members to fully attend. Having determined the dissertation date and time, if a committee member later finds they cannot fully participate and it is not feasible to find a replacement, the defense can go forth with as few as four committee members, one of which must be the dissertation advisor, provided the remaining committee members and the student agree to do so.

The chair/director of the student's department/program can choose to attend the defense as an observer. They can neither participate in the closed-door evaluation discussion nor in the voting. Any questions the department chair/program director might have about the procedure (as distinguished from the evaluation) must be addressed to the chair of the defense committee after the student leaves the examination room but before the final vote. If in the rare case these concerns about the procedure cannot be resolved, the defense will continue as usual with the committee's final vote remaining unofficial pending a review of the department chair's/program director's concerns by the Dean.

The dissertation/thesis, in final form, shall be submitted to the committee members two weeks prior to the defense.

Nature of the Defense

The defense shall consist of a public oral presentation of the most important findings. This is followed by questions by the examiners to establish the validity and significance of the dissertation/thesis submitted, as well as the candidate's ability to explain and defend their methods, findings and conclusions. The dissertation/thesis seminar shall be open to interested individuals. The voting is closed, however, with only the committee participating.

Voting Procedures

  1. Each member of the examining committee, including the chairperson, is entitled to one vote. For a committee member's vote to be counted, they must have participated in the entire defense.
  2. To reach a decision on any of the motions listed below, more than one-half of the committee members present must approve the motion. The vote shall be by ballot or roll call at the discretion of the chairperson.

Motions for Dissertation Defense (Ph.D.)

  1. Approve
  2. Approve with Honors*
  3. Approved pending completion of recommendations.
  4. Disapprove with recommendation for additional specified work to correct designated deficiencies.
  5. Failure - The future status of the student is determined by graduate council.

*"With Honors" requires a high quality performance in each of the four elements of the dissertation defense: the oral presentation (seminar), oral defense, quality of dissertation writing and quality of research. To determine whether this level of performance has been achieved, each of these categories will be graded separately as follows: (0) Failure, (1) Inadequate, (2) Pass, (3) Above Average, (4) Outstanding. A final score will be determined from the average of these grades.

Students achieving an outstanding grade (3.75 or higher) will be awarded the "With Honors" designation.

Motions for Thesis Defense (M.S.)

  1. Approve
  2. Approve with Honors (Unanimous Decision)
  3. Approve pending completion of recommendation
  4. Disapprove with recommendation for additional, specified work to correct designated deficiencies.
  5. Failure

Final Requirements

Before the degree can be awarded, the student must deposit five copies of the completed, approved, dissertation/thesis (the original plus four duplicates) with a completed Binding Form to the College of Graduate Studies' Dean's Office. The bound original plus one duplicate of the dissertation/thesis will remain in the library, one bound duplicate will become the property of the student's program. One bound duplicate is for the student's advisor, and one bound duplicate is for the student. In addition, an electronic pdf of the entire dissertation/thesis shall be submitted with the printed copies.

Degree Award

The Upstate Medical University has three graduation dates, one each in December, May, and August. There is, however, only one commencement ceremony for all three graduation dates which occurs in May. To be eligible for the conferral of the degree, all degree requirements, including the successful defense of the dissertation/thesis and its final preparation for binding, must be completed by that graduation date's deadline. The deadlines are as follows:  December 22 for January, May 1 for May, and August 13 for August respectively. Students are expected to participate in an exit interview with the College of Graduate Studies.