Selection of thesis topic and advisor
All incoming students will be classified into two groups before the start of the semester, preplaced and unplaced. If both the student and the advisor agree to work together more than one week before the semester starts and they notify the department head of this decision, then the student is preplaced. As a result, that project will not be advertised to the other students, and the student will not be eligible to select projects available to the unplaced students. Those not preplaced automatically join the unplaced group. The unplaced students are given seven weeks from the start of the semester to mid-semester break to meet faculty and learn about available projects. During this period, faculty may not promise placement to any of the students in the unplaced group. Before the mid-semester break, all unplaced students specify their project preferences and are then placed by agreement of the faculty.
Selection of dissertation committee
The candidate, in consultation with the advisor, should arrange a doctoral thesis committee before the beginning of the fifth semester. The doctoral thesis committee will be chaired by the advisor, and will have at least three additional members. The requirements for the committee are that at least two of the members have a primary affiliation with the MSE department* and at least one of the members is not primarily affiliated** with the MSE department. The candidate should carefully choose committee members who can provide supplemental resources, stimulate critical thinking, and assist in the candidate’s development. As such, the candidate is strongly encouraged to interact regularly with his/her committee members.
The candidates should continue to further develop their proposal presented at the RPE detailing the research plan and updating the timeline, results, and analysis sections. These developments should be discussed with doctoral thesis committee members, either individually or as a group, by the beginning of the fifth semester.*“Primarily affiliated” MSE faculty are those whose salary is at least partially paid by the MSE department.
**“Not primarily affiliated” includes qualified people who may not be employed by CMU, CMU faculty from other departments, CMU faculty who have a courtesy appointment in MSE, and MSE adjunct faculty.
Before the beginning of the seventh semester, the candidate must convene their thesis committee for an overview of her/his dissertation.
The candidate should prepare a written document and an oral presentation that convey and justify her/his plan for completing her/his dissertation. The written document and the 20-30 minute presentation should be prepared in accordance with the standards for a final dissertation but are expected to be briefer; the document must be distributed to committee members at least 10 days prior to the oral presentation; if the deadline is not met, then the committee shall cancel the scheduled event, and a new date shall be set. A plan and a projected timeline to carry out the necessary work to complete their dissertation should be given in the presentation. It is the candidate’s responsibility to post a public announcement in the department at least two weeks prior to the date of the exam that includes the following information: the date, time, place, candidate name, title, and dissertation committee.
The student must attach as a separate appendix or a clearly labeled chapter within the main body of the document, a copy of each manuscript for which that student is an author. The candidate must attach a detailed plan for how the research results will be disseminated in peer-reviewed journals. The committee will provide feedback on the publication plan.
It is important to emphasize that, at the time of the overview, there may be considerable work remaining before the thesis is completed and conclusive findings may not yet have been reached. However, the overview presentation and document should demonstrate the following five items:
- The candidate is able to place their research in the context of the background literature and defend how their research represents (will represent) an advancement of the state of knowledge in the field.
- A clear hypothesis (or clear hypotheses) has guided the production and analysis of publishable research results.
- The path to reach the stated goals of the thesis is clear and the candidate has mastered the skills required to complete the research; questions of feasibility should be largely absent.
- The scope of the research, analysis, and integration are deemed appropriate by the committee to form an acceptable Ph.D. dissertation.
- The student must attach as a separate appendix or a clearly labeled chapter within the main body of the document, a copy of each manuscript for which that student is an author. The candidate must attach a detailed plan for how the research results will be disseminated in peer-reviewed journals. The committee will provide feedback on the publication plan.
At the conclusion of the overview, the committee shall meet in private to prepare written comments for the candidate that include feedback on the four points above, as well as suggestions for enhancing the quality of the thesis. Each committee member will fill out a Thesis Overview Feedback Form (see Appendix D of Ph.D. Student Handbook); after the overview, the advisor fills out a Thesis Overview Feedback Summary Form (see Appendix E of Ph.D. Student Handbook) that is afterwards provided to the student. This form, with a written response, must accompany the final thesis hard copy when submitted to the committee. If the committee is not satisfied that the overview demonstrates a feasible plan for the thesis, the candidate may be asked to repeat the overview between four and six months after the initial examination. Approval of the committee is a requirement for continuation in the doctoral program.
The final dissertation
The doctoral dissertation must embody the results of extended research, be an original contribution to knowledge, and include material worthy of publication. It should demonstrate the candidate’s ability to conduct an independent investigation, to abstract principles upon which predictions can be made, and to interpret in a logical manner facts and phenomena revealed by the research.
The written dissertation must be prepared according to the college guidelines. The thesis document (hard copy + soft copy) along with a response to the Thesis Overview Feedback Summary Form must be submitted to the committee at least three (3) weeks (i.e., 21 days) before the tentative defense date; if the deadline is not met, then the committee shall cancel the scheduled event, and a new date shall be set. The committee members have one week to verify that the overview comments were properly incorporated in the thesis document. If the dissertation is accepted by the Committee, the candidate is eligible for a final public examination. If not, then the committee informs the student in writing of deficiencies that need to be resolved before a new thesis defense date can be scheduled. The committee decides by majority vote, with a tied vote resolved by the Department Head. It is the candidate’s responsibility to post a public announcement in the department at least two weeks prior to the date of the defense that includes the following information: the date, time, place, candidate name, title, and dissertation committee.
Upon satisfactorily passing this examination, the candidate will be recommended for the doctoral degree.