The next step is the research itself. There are many different methods and approaches. Some types, especially theoretical research, are conducted in incremental steps. Other types, especially experimental research, require planning and executing experiments, with results evaluated to determine what findings can be concluded.
For most students, the first research results are obtained working closely with an advisor. As students learn how to do the research and to identify credible research results, they will often design and implement their own experiments to obtain original results. Students become researchers in their own right, making original contributions to their field.
Many CSE students are working on interdisciplinary projects. In cases where faculty members are not fully trained as interdisciplinary researchers, several members of an Advisory Committee may become actively involved in making suggestions regarding the student’s research. In these situations the advisor remains the overall director of the student’s research.
The student and Advisory Committee should meet at least once each semester to assess progress. Prior to these meetings the student should prepare a summary of research activities. The level of detail depends on the student’s recent activities and what the committee expects to see following the previous meeting. The student should always be prepared to go into detail. The non-University committee member receives copies of the summaries.
At least three months before the final oral defense or examination, the student and Advisory Committee meet for the research review. It is an opportunity for the student to present the PhD dissertation research to the committee. Though the student may very well obtain additional research results between the research review and the oral defense, the research presented at the review should be sufficient for a PhD dissertation.
Goals of the Research Review
The research review brings all the research together in unified form, allowing the Advisory Committee to see it as a whole, make suggestions for organization and presentation in the upcoming dissertation and to raise any concerns.
The student should prepare an outline of research accomplishments, provided to all committee members at least one week prior to the review.
The research review does not guarantee the student will pass the oral examination, but passing or failing may be affected by the way research is presented.
Dissertation and presentation formats are essential components of the research review. The traditional format of a dissertation presents background and new results in a unified whole. An alternative is presenting a collection of research papers tied together by an overarching introduction. Format questions should be resolved no later than the time of the research review. Student, advisor and committee member preferences can be taken into account even earlier.
Research Review Resolution
There is no passing or failing of the research review, but the student should ensure that each committee member is satisfied. Any questions on the part of student or committee should be raised and answered before the student prepares the final draft. The student may meet individually with committee members who have particular concerns or suggestions. The Advisory Committee may opt to repeat the research review. It is expected that the Advisory Committee will assist in polishing the presentation as much as possible in advance of the final defense. However, when questions are raised, the student is responsible for resolving issues or concerns.
Writing the Dissertation
After the research review the student’s main efforts are directed toward writing the dissertation. The level of Advisory Committee involvement should be agreed upon by the committee and the student at the research review. For example, a student may send individual chapter drafts to each Advisory Committee member or share several complete dissertation drafts with the advisor, incorporating the advisor’s suggestions and comments, before the rest of the Advisory Committee sees any part of the dissertation. No matter what model of interaction is agreed upon, the student should anticipate that substantial time might be required to incorporate corrections, revisions and improvements.
Scheduling the Final Oral Examination
Once the dissertation is finished and the Advisory Committee’s suggestions have been incorporated, it is time for the final oral examination.
Four weeks prior to the final oral defense or examination, the student must give each member of the Advisory Committee a copy of the final dissertation. This allows two weeks to review the final dissertation and decide if it is of oral exam quality. If so, the CSE Program Director and advisor sign the Pre-defense form. This form and a defense draft of the dissertation is due in the Graduate School office two weeks before the final oral examination. In scheduling the final oral the student should keep in mind faculty member commitments including travel and begin coordination for the presentation several weeks in advance.
After the Pre-defense form has been signed and at least two weeks before the final oral, a copy of the dissertation must be available in the main office of the advisor and in the main office of the CSE Program Director. This copy of the dissertation may not be the final copy; changes might be made after the final oral. However, this copy is the one upon which passing or failing of the final oral is determined.
In an effort to meet deadlines, students sometimes are tempted to give committee members a copy of the dissertation which is incomplete, with plans to make further changes before the oral itself. This should not be done, and after signing the Pre-defense form, committee members are free to not accept any subsequent copy of the dissertation until after the oral. Of course, if mistakes or major problems are discovered, it is good for the student to make these known to the committee members. However, the committee members are free to consider these changes as possible post-oral changes.
Final Oral Examination
The final oral examination, or defense, is a public presentation of the research and results. The presentation should contain general background information tailored to the comprehension level of other PhD students in the CS&E program, followed by new research results. Complex research details may be fully understandable only by those familiar with the research area, but the candidate should make every effort to present the material in a way that is clear and engaging to the general audience.
After the presentation, committee members and anyone in the audience may ask questions. The general audience is then excused. Advisory Committee members and CS&E Faculty have another opportunity to ask questions in this more private setting. Finally, everyone is excused except the Advisory Committee and the student, with another opportunity to ask further questions about the research and the student’s PhD work.
The student is excused, and the Advisory Committee privately deliberates and votes. A student passes the final oral examination if no more than one member of the Advisory Committee dissents and if the student addresses the dissenting member’s concerns in writing to the satisfaction of the committee chair and the Dean of the Graduate School. (Results are noted in the Report on Final Oral Examination.) The committee may make its passing contingent upon certain changes being made in the dissertation.
Pass or Fail
After passing the oral examination, the student submits to the Graduate School the Report on Final Oral Examination.
Candidates who do not pass the first time may take the final examination again. If the second try is not successful the student is dropped from the program.