Dissertation Defenses

Getting Started

By the end of your first year, you should select a research area and a mentor, who will help you select the other members of your Ph.D. Dissertation Committee. It must have at least four (4) faculty members at the time of your dissertation defense, including at least two (2) members from the Department and at least one (1) member from outside the Department. The chair of that committee will be the most senior faculty member of the committee excluding your faculty mentor. As soon as you establish your Ph.D. Dissertation Committee or if you change members, please notify the CGSS in writing. The composition of your Ph.D. Dissertation Committee is subject to approval by CGSS and the Chair. Your initial Ph.D. Dissertation Committee must be established no later than the end of your first year in the Department (including the summer term); the composition of the committee must be submitted to CGSS by Oct. 15 of the second year. The composition of your Ph.D. Dissertation Committee is fluid, especially in your first few years, and can be changed as your research develops. 

Your committee must meet at least once each year to evaluate your overall progress towards your degree. Students should schedule committee meetings and ensure committee members can attend. At least three members of the Ph.D. Dissertation Committee must be present to constitute a Ph.D. Dissertation Committee meeting. An affirmative vote by a majority of the committee is required to designate a dissertation as acceptable for defense and that a student passed his (her) defense. Immediately after the meeting, minutes from the meeting should be provided by the committee members to the student and a copy placed in the student’s record in the Biology Office. The minutes should include: date, names of Ph.D. Dissertation Committee members present, and a list of the important decisions and recommendations made. The contents of the minutes should be confirmed by all committee members in attendance. Please provide this information to the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Administrative Assistant so that it can be included in your file. 

A student is required to conduct at least 50% of his (her) dissertation research in the Department, which may include time spent doing field work under the direction of a faculty member in the Department. Collaborative research or training experience may be arranged with scientists outside of the Department (including off-campus research labs), subject to approval by your dissertation committee and the DGS. Research accomplished by a student as a paid employee (either on or off campus) may not be used for a dissertation.

Publishing Your Results

You are required to prepare and submit at least one scientific paper based on your dissertation to a scientific journal. Learning to write such a paper is an important part of your education. Clearly, it is also highly beneficial for a new Ph.D. to have one or more papers published, in press, or both, in refereed journals before graduating. Most students opt for their dissertation to be a series of papers rather than traditional chapters. In this case, there is typically a short introduction, a review chapter, and a short conclusion/summary chapter, with at least two data-driven papers (i.e., chapters) in between. Because publications can take time (multiple revisions or resubmissions), we strongly encourage you to begin submitting papers as early as possible in your graduate career.

Writing Your Dissertation

Writing your dissertation is very time-consuming. Before you begin to write your dissertation, you would be wise to (1) determine with your Ph.D. Dissertation Committee if you have enough data, (2) determine how to present your data, (3) discuss the format and contents of your dissertation with your adviser, (4) review the format regulations of the Graduate School, and (5) consult an excellent manual of scientific writing approved by your adviser. You should allow ample time for writing your dissertation because it will take longer than you expect. It is important to get as much feedback as possible from your adviser as you are writing. Other members of your Ph.D. Dissertation Committee will choose which drafts they wish to read as you progress. Some may wish to see many drafts in progress, others may wish to see only later drafts that you and your adviser have edited well. You should keep your Ph.D. Dissertation Committee members well informed of your progress. The Department of Biology requires that at least two of your dissertation chapters are empirical (data-driven).

Format Requirements from the Graduate School

Your dissertation MUST be in accordance with the directions in Georgetown’s Guidelines for Dissertation and Thesis Writers. One of the Associate Deans in the Graduate School will examine your dissertation (usually page by page) to verify that it conforms to the rules; therefore, it is extremely important that you follow the directions provided by the Graduate School carefully. It provides a checklist for submitting your dissertation.

Style Manual for Biology: Council of Biology Editors


The pagination used in the dissertation or thesis must meet the following guidelines:

Placement of Page Numbers

You may choose either of the following standards for placement of the page numbers:

  1. You may place all page numbers, including lower-case Roman numerals, at the bottom center of the page, or,
  2. You may place page numbers at the top of the page, but if you do so, (a) the numerals must be either centered (preferred) or just above the upper right-hand corner of the text, and (b) on any page containing a major heading, the page number must be placed at the bottom center of the page. A major heading includes any heading on any section of the work that is important enough to start a new page, e.g., the table of contents, the introduction, the individual chapters, and the bibliography.


The fonts used in the dissertation or thesis must meet the following guidelines:


The text of the dissertation or thesis must be double-spaced. Long quotations, footnotes or endnotes, figure captions, table captions, and bibliographies may be single-spaced or double-spaced, according to the style manual or style sheet you are following.

Title Page

The title page should include the title, the volume number (if you have more than one volume), the submission statement, the degree, the name of your department or program, your name, the location (“Washington, D.C.”), and the appropriate date (see below for more information on which date to use). The title page is not numbered. Note that the department is not necessary on Public Policy theses because the program is included in the degree.

Your Name

Your name, exactly as it appears in on your transcript in MyAccess, is the name that must appear on your signed cover sheet form, title page, copyright page and abstract page. The name must match exactly in all locations. On the title page of your dissertation, doctoral project or thesis, your name should be followed by the single highest degree you have previously received, not a list of all the degrees you have received. You should list only the initials of the degree itself, for example: Ph.D., J.D., M.D., M.S., M.A., Ed.M., B.S., B.A., etc. Do not list the majors, concentrations, specialties, or the institution where the prior degree was earned. Following are two examples of the correct format for your name on the dissertation or thesis title page:

                                                               Jane Doe Smith, M.A.                                  John D. Smith, Jr., M.A. The Date:

At the bottom of the title page of your dissertation or thesis, underneath “ Washington, D.C.,” type the date you defended your thesis. If no defense was required, you should insert the date the faculty signed the cover sheet to approve the thesis.

Copyright Page

You possess copyright to your dissertation or thesis from the time you record it in some tangible form. You can, however, receive additional remedies against infringement by formally registering your work. It is your decision as the author of your dissertation whether or not to seek formal copyright protection. If formal copyright is sought, this can be done in either of two different ways:

  1. You can authorize ProQuest to submit an application for the copyright in your name. This is done when you upload your final document to the ProQuest website.
  2. You can apply directly to the Library of Congress for copyright by submitting the necessary application and fee and depositing copies at the Library of Congress. If you claim copyright, either informally or through formal application, the appropriate notice should be printed on its own numbered page immediately following the title page of the dissertation. For example:

Copyright 2015 by Jamie Doe Student

All Rights Reserved

Using Material Copyrighted by Others:

If any material copyrighted by others is used in a dissertation or thesis (beyond fair use as legally defined), the author must obtain written permission for such use from the copyright holders. This includes any of your own work that has appeared in any other publication (journal, book, etc.) for which that publisher claims copyright.  Letters granting permission to use any previously-published material must be included in the thesis or dissertation. Such letters will usually be incorporated as an appendix, and will be listed as such in the table of contents. 


The purpose of the abstract, which must be written in English, is to provide a brief summary of the contents of the dissertation. The abstract, along with your title, also constitutes the text on which keyword searching for your topic can be done.  It should, therefore, be as rich as possible in relevant words and phrases. The maximum permissible length of the abstract is 350 words (2,450 characters).  

The abstract should start with the title of the dissertation (in caps, centered), followed by your name and highest degree (centered), followed by the word “Thesis Advisor(s):” and the name(s) and highest degree of the Thesis Advisor(s) (centered). The word ABSTRACT then follows (centered, in caps), followed by the text of the abstract itself.

Table of Contents

The body of text, appendix material, bibliography, with corresponding page numbers, in the table of contents. The table of contents must appear in plain typeface without stylistic treatments such as bold, underlining, italicization, etc. You must list all main headings in your table of contents, and may choose to list subheadings. If you choose to list subheadings, you must consistently list a given level, for example #.# or #.#.#, for each chapter of the text that has subheadings at that same level. Headings and subheadings must appear in the table of contents word-for-word as they appear in the body of text. Do not use MS Word’s built-in Table of Contents formatting options, but use Custom Table of Contents instead. 

Page Margins

The Graduate School does not have any specific requirements for page margins. Page margin size can vary according to academic discipline; consult the style guide you are using for further information.

Defending Your Dissertation

You must notify The Graduate School of your departmental seminar and dissertation defense times and date(s); this is a Graduate School requirement – all dissertation defenses are open to the public. Because the degree is certified by the Department of Biology, it is important that all members of the Department are also aware of your accomplishments. You may not defend your dissertation unless it is properly announced and the dissertation is available for reading. The Graduate Administrative Assistant may be able to assist you in announcing your defense and scheduling the seminar and conference rooms for the defense. Note also that faculty and peers need early notification to add your defense to their schedules. 

Defending Your Dissertation You must notify The Graduate School of your departmental seminar and dissertation defense times and date(s); this is a Graduate School requirement – all dissertation defenses are open to the public. Because the degree is certified by the Department of Biology, it is important that all members of the Department are also aware of your accomplishments. You may not defend your dissertation unless it is properly announced and the dissertation is available for reading. The Graduate Administrative Assistant may be able to assist you in announcing your defense and scheduling the seminar and conference rooms for the defense. Note also that faculty and peers need early notification to add your defense to their schedules.

Department Notification

At least two weeks prior to defense of your dissertation, you and your adviser are responsible for announcing your departmental seminar and defense of dissertation. Please place these four (4) items in the Biology Office mailbox reserved for dissertations:

  1. An announcement of your defense including date, time, and location. This item should be placed in all faculty mailboxes and on Department bulletin boards. 
  2. Abstract of your dissertation.
  3. Your curriculum vitae.
  4. A complete copy of your dissertation. 

Dissertation Reviewers Report Form

At least 7 days prior to the date of the oral defense, the Dissertation Reviewers Report form must be completed and signed by the thesis committee and submitted to the Graduate School. Using this report form, the student’s committee must certify that the dissertation is “ready for defense.” A majority of the members of the dissertation committee must sign this form, but this does not guarantee that the dissertation is acceptable in its submitted form. This report is necessary to officially announce your defense. 

University Notification

At least 7 days prior to your defense, you must announce the defense to the Graduate School by:

  1.  Listing your defense on the Doctoral Defense Schedule
  2.  Online form (Doctoral Dissertation Reviewers Report) http://grad.georgetown.edu/academics/academic-forms/

The defense of the Ph.D. dissertation is an opportunity for the entire University community to examine the candidate. Thus, the defense is a public presentation of the thesis with open questioning to follow. In the Department of Biology, the candidate is also examined in private by the dissertation committee. The public portion of the defense is part of the examination and should not be trivialized. The private defense should take place immediately following the public examination. Exceptions to this must be approved by petition of the committee on graduate students and studies AND the Department chair. In either event, the ballot cannot be signed until after both the public and private portions of the defense. 

A Thesis or Dissertation Defense Report form indicating a successful defense of the dissertation will be submitted directly to the University Registrar’s Office by the department or program (not the student) before the student can be cleared for graduation. 

If the candidate fails the dissertation defense, the graduate program (not the student) will report the failure by submitting the Thesis or Dissertation Defense Report form directly to the Graduate School. 

Submitting Your Dissertation

After the defense, the dissertation will often require revision. It must then be approved by the following:

  1. the dissertation committee,
  2. the adviser, and
  3. the Director of Graduate Studies

It is strongly recommended that you allow, at the VERY LEAST, 2 weeks after your defense to make revisions and corrections as recommended by your Ph.D. Dissertation Committee, and to obtain final signatures approving your dissertation. Signatures from committee members from outside institutions may be obtained at the time of the defense After the appropriate forms are signed, call the Graduate School for an appointment. It will examine the dissertation to make sure you have followed all of the directions. YOU MAY NEED TO MAKE MORE CHANGES. After your dissertation is completed, hand-carry it and its cover sheet to the Graduate School and obtain a receipt. DO NOT send your dissertation to the Graduate School by regular mail. Dissertations are also submitted electronically and this enhances their accessibility.

Electronic Submission of Work:

The Graduate School requires electronic submission of doctoral projects and dissertations via the ProQuest website. Please refer to the Graduate School website for information on the submission process: https://grad.georgetown.edu/academics/current-students/submission-of-thesis/

 The ProQuest website is an essential source of reference for dissertation and doctoral project writers. Visit http://www.etdadmin.com/cgi-bin/main/home to learn more about the following:

There is no cost associated with publishing your work. There is a cost if you elect certain publishing or copyright options. Refer to the ProQuest website link above for more information.

Review of the Dissertation or Thesis by the Graduate School

The Graduate School reviews all theses, doctoral projects and dissertations submitted to ProQuest. We ensure that the works are formatted according to Graduate School standards and are ready for publication. The care you take to prepare your work according to these guidelines generally determines the amount of time we will need to review your dissertation or thesis, and the number and nature of any changes you may be required to make. Do not wait until the deadline day to submit your dissertation or thesis! Your work must be formatted correctly and approved by the Graduate School in order for you to be eligible to graduate. If you submit your work on the last day of the month and it requires corrections, you will not be able to graduate that month.

Required Forms

The Graduate School cannot review your work without the following forms which are available on the Graduate School website: http://grad.georgetown.edu/academics/academic-forms/

1. Doctoral Project or Dissertation Cover Sheet

This cover sheet shows the title of your work, your official name, your department or program, and the degree you are seeking. It also includes the signatures of your Thesis Advisor, other members of your review committee, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the date on which the department or program has given their academic approval to the work.

The cover sheet may be printed on regular paper and delivered to the Car Barn or submitted electronically to gradstudentservices@georgetown.edu.

Original signatures are not required on the cover sheet. Approval in the form of emails, faxed or scanned signatures may be appended to the cover sheet when it is submitted to the Graduate School. Emails must come from a faculty member’s Georgetown.edu email account and should be sent to gradstudentservices@georgetown.edu. External committee members can sign electronically as well, so long as their email comes from their respective organizational email account (eg. NIH).

2. ETD Release Form

This form authorizes Georgetown to release your work to ProQuest for electronic distribution.

Template for Thesis Title Page, Name, etc.: MS Word and LaTeX

Official Document for Dissertation Guidelines, including an example Thesis and Frequently Asked Questions, can be found here.

A checklist for writing the dissertation can be found here

Completed Dissertations

Take a look at completed Graduate Theses and Dissertations.