Dissertation and Graduation

Dissertation Research

Dissertation research for a degree in Public Policy Studies may appropriately be conducted in a library, archive, research center, or other thesis-specific research site in or outside of Chicago. Many fellowship sources exist, and the student is urged to plan ahead and apply for these fellowships well in advance. These fellowship sources often have deadlines for applications nine months or more before the funding is available. Students who are receiving a Harris School fellowship stipend are expected to be in residence during the academic year (autumn through spring quarter). Exceptions must be approved by the DGS.

The dissertation research period generally is spent in residence at the Harris School where students can participate in workshops, seminars, etc., and, through such participation, discuss and refine their research design and findings.

During the period of dissertation research and until the Ph.D. is completed and awarded, doctoral students must be registered continuously in the University. Those who will be conducting research away from Chicago for extended periods of time must make registration plans with the Dean of Students Office prior to departure. Students are advised that serious financial problems may arise through failure to do this. Loan repayment schedules may be affected, for example, and other consequences may follow if students fail to make necessary arrangements.

Dissertation Defense

It is the responsibility of the student to plan and coordinate a date and time for the dissertation defense with the dissertation committee. The date and time must be cleared with the DGS and scheduled with the Program Director. 

In addition to materials distributed to dissertation committee members, the student must submit the approval form for dissertation defense hearing, an electronic copy (e.g., a PDF) of the dissertation and abstract (100-250 words) to the Program Director 14 calendar days prior to the defense date. The electronic copy will be circulated to the faculty and students with the notice of defense time and date.  

The dissertation defense is a public meeting of faculty and students, directed by the chair of the dissertation committee. It consists of an opening statement by the candidate, questions and comments by the faculty (both those from the dissertation committee and others), and a general discussion. The opening statement, generally, 30 minutes to an hour in length, should cover such points as: (1) the nature of research in the field before the dissertation work was conducted; (2) the nature of the present findings; (3) the original contribution to the fields in theory, methods and/or findings; and (4) implications of the findings for public policy studies more generally; (5) directions for future research.

Immediately following the hearing, members of the student’s dissertation committee and the other faculty members present will meet in closed session to evaluate the dissertation and its defense. The results of this evaluation will be announced to the candidate immediately following the meeting. At this point, it would not be unusual for a student to be asked to undertake revisions or additional work based on the collective assessment of the faculty. Such work would be carried out under the supervision of the student’s dissertation committee members. Final approval for award of the Ph.D. is granted after those revisions and any additional work is completed to the satisfaction of the dissertation committee.

Ph.D. students are encouraged to visit the University’s dissertation secretary (located in JRL 309) well in advance of the dissertation defense. The University has strict standards concerning the format of the dissertation, and the candidate should incorporate them into the dissertation manuscript as it is being prepared.  


Convocation occurs the last day of spring quarter. Graduation requirements include completion of course requirements, successful completion of qualifying exams, approval of the qualifying paper, and the dissertation committee’s signed approval of the dissertation. The student must be in full-time academic status in the quarter in which he or she graduates, which excludes Pro Forma status.

Doctoral candidates who submit their approved dissertation by Friday of the first week of a quarter and apply to graduate in that quarter will not be registered as students in that quarter.

The student must apply to graduate online (my.uchicago.edu). This must be done no later than 5:00 pm on the first Friday of the quarter in which the student plans to graduate. The Program Director will notify the student of any incompletes and missing grades remaining on the student’s transcript, GPA requirements, and deadlines for completion of present and past course work.

All grades for graduating students are due at the end of the 10th week of the quarter in which they plan to graduate; grades for courses taken in prior quarters which replace an incomplete or blank must be turned in by the end of the 9th week of that quarter.

The deadline to withdraw from convocation is the Friday, 5:00 p.m., fifth week of the quarter. After that date, the student will be assessed a $50 fee by the Bursar’s office.

In addition to the above information, Ph.D. students must fulfill the requirements for depositing the dissertation with the University dissertation secretary (see previous section). Outcomes can be found here: Ph.D. placements