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Dissertation Advisor 101

How to get the most from the student-supervisor relationship

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) | Expert Reviewer: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | January 2024

Many students feel a little intimidated by the idea of having to work with a research advisor (or supervisor) to complete their dissertation or thesis. Similarly, many students struggle to “connect” with their advisor and feel that the relationship is somewhat strained or awkward. But this doesn’t need to be the case!

In this post, we’ll share five tried and tested tips to help you get the most from this relationship and pave the way for a smoother dissertation writing process.

Overview: Working With Your Advisor

  • Clarify everyone’s roles on day one
  • Establish (and stick to) a regular communication cycle
  • Develop a clear project plan upfront
  • Be proactive in engaging with problems
  • Navigate conflict like a diplomat

1. Clarify roles on day one

Each university will have slightly different expectations, rules and norms in terms of the research advisor’s role. Similarly, each advisor will have their own unique way of doing things. So, it’s always a good idea to begin the engagement process by clearly defining the roles and expectations in your relationship.

In practical terms, we suggest that you initiate a conversation at the very start of the engagement to discuss your goals, their expectations, and how they would like to work with you. Of course, you might not like what you hear in this conversation. However, this sort of candid conversation will help you get on the same page as early as possible and set the stage for a successful partnership.

To help you get started, here are some questions that you might consider asking in your initial conversation:

  • How often would you like to meet and for how long?
  • What should I do to prepare for each meeting?
  • What aspects of my work will you comment on (and what won’t you cover)?
  • Which key decisions should I seek your approval for beforehand?
  • What common mistakes should I try to avoid from the outset?
  • How can I help make this partnership as effective as possible?
  • My academic goals are… Do you have any suggestions at this stage to help me achieve this?

As you can see, these types of questions help you get a clear idea of how you’ll work together and how to get the most from the relatively limited face time you’ll have.

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dissertation adviser

2. Establish a regular communication cycle

Just like in any relationship, effective communication is crucial to making the student-supervisor relationship work. So, you should aim to establish a regular meeting schedule and stick to it. Don’t cancel or reschedule appointments with your advisor at short notice, or do anything that suggests you don’t value their time. Fragile egos are not uncommon in the academic world, so it’s important to clearly demonstrate that you value and respect your supervisor’s time and effort .

Practically speaking, be sure to prepare for each meeting with a clear agenda , including your progress, challenges, and any questions you have. Be open and honest in your communication, but most importantly, be receptive to your supervisor’s feedback . Ultimately, part of their role is to tell you when you’re missing the mark. So, don’t become upset or defensive when they criticise a specific aspect of your work.

Always remember that your research advisor is criticising your work, not you personally . It’s never easy to take negative feedback, but this is all part of the learning journey that takes place alongside the research journey.

Fragile egos are not uncommon in the academic world, so it’s important to demonstrate that you value and respect your advisor’s time.

3. Have a clear project plan

Few things will impress your supervisor more than a well-articulated, realistic plan of action (aka, a project plan). Investing the time to develop this shows that you take your project (and by extension, the relationship) seriously. It also helps your supervisor understand your intended timeline, which allows the two of you to better align your schedules .

In practical terms, you need to develop a project plan with achievable goals . A detailed Gantt chart can be a great way to do this. Importantly, you’ll need to break down your thesis or dissertation into a collection of practical, manageable steps , and set clear timelines and milestones for each. Once you’ve done that, you should regularly review and adjust this plan with your supervisor to ensure that you remain on track.

Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll stick to your plan 100% of the time (there are always unexpected twists and turns in a research project. However, this plan will lay a foundation for effective collaboration between yourself and your supervisor. An imperfect plan beats no plan at all.

Gantt chart for a dissertation

4. Engage with problems proactively

One surefire way to quickly annoy your advisor is to pester them every time you run into a problem in your dissertation or thesis. Unexpected challenges are par for the course when it comes to research – how you deal with them is what makes the difference.

When you encounter a problem, resist the urge to immediately send a panicked email to your supervisor – no matter how massive the issue may seem (at the time). Instead, take a step back and assess the situation as holistically as possible. Force yourself to sit with the issue for at least a few hours to ensure that you have a clear, accurate assessment of the issue at hand. In most cases, a little time, distance and deep breathing will reveal that the problem is not the existential threat it initially seemed to be.

When contacting your supervisor, you should ideally present both the problem and one or two potential solutions . The latter is the most important part here. In other words, you need to show that you’ve engaged with the issue and applied your mind to finding potential solutions. Granted, your solutions may miss the mark. However, providing some sort of solution beats impulsively throwing the problem at your supervisor and hoping that they’ll save the day.

Simply put, mishaps and mini-crises in your research journey present an opportunity to demonstrate your initiative and problem-solving skills – not a reason to lose your cool and outsource the problem to your supervisor.

5. Navigate conflict like a diplomat 

As with any partnership, there’s always the possibility of some level of disagreement or conflict arising within the student-supervisor relationship. Of course, you can drastically reduce the likelihood of this happening by implementing some of the points we mentioned earlier. Neverthless, if a serious disagreement does arise between you and your supervisor, it’s absolutely essential that you approach it with professionalism and respect . Never let it escalate into a shouting contest.

In practical terms, it’s important to communicate your concerns as they arise (don’t let things simmer for too long). Simultaneously, it’s essential that you remain open to understanding your supervisor’s perspective – don’t become entrenched in your position. After all, you are the less experienced researcher within this duo.

Keep in mind that a lot of context is lost in text-based communication , so it can often be a good idea to schedule a short call to discuss your concerns or points of contention, rather than sending a 3000-word email essay. When going this route, be sure to take the time to prepare a clear, cohesive argument beforehand – don’t just “thought vomit” on your supervisor.

In the event that you do have a significant disagreement with your advisor, remember that the goal is to find a solution that serves your project (not your ego). This often requires compromise and flexibility. A “win at all costs” mindset is definitely not suitable here. Ultimately, you need to solve the problem, while still maintaining the relationship .

If you feel that you have already exhausted all possible avenues and still can’t find an acceptable middle ground, you can of course reach out to your university to ask for their assistance. However, this should be the very last resort . Running to your university every time there’s a small disagreement will not serve you well.

Communicate your concerns as they arise and remain open to understanding your supervisor's perspective. They are the expert, after all.

Recap: Key Takeaways

To sum up, a fruitful student-supervisor relationship hinges on clear role definition , effective and regular communication , strategic planning , proactive engagement , and professional conflict resolution .

Remember, your dissertation supervisor is there to help you, but you still need to put in the work . In many cases, they’ll also be the first marker of your work, so it really pays to put in the effort and build a strong, functional relationship with them.

dissertation adviser

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Choosing a Dissertation Advisor


While some graduate groups may assign an advisor to a student upon admission to the program, in many graduate groups the responsibility for finding a dissertation advisor rests with the student. The choice of a faculty member who will supervise the dissertation work required to fulfill degree requirements is one of the most critical decisions a graduate student will make. A student will spend several years working with the faculty member of choice, and that choice will significantly affect the direction of the student’s career. Choosing a dissertation advisor, therefore, is an extremely important decision for doctoral students, although it is not immutable, as will be discussed later.

A student undertaking dissertation work needs an advisor who will be not only academically competent in a particular area but also willing to act as the student’s advocate when necessary. It is important that the student be able to work and communicate effectively with the advisor and not feel overwhelmed or intimidated in the relationship. Dissertation work can be lonely and isolating, and support from an advisor can be a crucial connection.  Each student requires the guidance of someone who will stimulate thought, who has sufficient interest in the student’s topic to produce new insights jointly, and who will challenge the student to think in a novel manner about the research.

Obtaining Information on Potential Advisors

Advisors generally serve as the dissertation supervisor. Students should be familiar with the University rules about who can supervise dissertation research and serve on a dissertation committee.  Several resources and strategies can help students identify an appropriate faculty advisor, as follows.

The graduate group website or handbook is a valuable source of information on potential advisors. Many graduate groups have developed websites that profile affiliated faculty members, including their areas of research, recent publications, and other academic activities. Literature searches can provide further information on the publications and preferred journals of particular faculty members. The graduate group chair can also provide valuable advice on potential advisors and can help students to become familiar with any specific graduate group policies on supervision.

Students can get to know potential advisors by taking a course, doing a lab rotation, acting as a teaching assistant, and/or attending seminars and other presentations by the faculty member.

Graduate students currently working with the potential advisor are an invaluable source of information. Students who are working or have worked with a particular advisor can be asked about their experience with that advisor and about the advisor’s expectations and working methods. Getting to know these students is also useful because anyone choosing to work with a faculty advisor would likely have close, future interactions with their students. Talking to multiple students is always encouraged given the possibly strong and differing opinions one might hear.

Students should make an appointment to meet potential advisors. Meeting a potential advisor is an essential step in determining whether a faculty member would be a good fit in terms of mentoring and interpersonal style and research interested. The following is a list of issues that might be covered in such a meeting: 

  • How many graduate students do you advise? (Students may not want to pick a faculty member who has too many students already.)
  • Typically, how often do you meet with your students?
  • Typically, how much time do you expect students to take to complete their dissertation?
  • How will we agree upon my research topic?
  • Are there sufficient funds available for the research project?
  • What will be the sources of my stipend/funding? What are ways you can provide assistance for finding additional funding if/when my stipend expires?
  • What level of independence is expected of your graduate students?
  • Is there any specific knowledge I need to have before starting to work with you?
  • Will I have the opportunity to attend conferences? Publish papers? Present work at colloquia? Are there funds available for me to do so?
  • Are you planning a sabbatical leave soon? If so, what arrangements for continued supervision will be made during your absence?
  • What opportunities would I have in this area of research when I graduate?
  • How do you typically assist students on the job market?
  • Will guidelines be drawn up for working together?
  • How will I receive feedback on my progress?

These questions are designed to help the student and the potential advisor determine whether a good match exists. Where appropriate, the student may also want to ask about the order of authorship on publications and intellectual property issues.

For students who are able to pick an advisor, the choice of a dissertation advisor is a decision to be made with a great deal of care and consideration. Discussion of the topics listed above will also give faculty members a sense of what students expect in terms of meetings, feedback, turn-around time on submitted work, etc. Taking time to explore these issues should result in a productive relationship for both student and advisor that culminates in a dissertation of original research, completed within a reasonable period of time.

Changing Advisors

There may be situations in which a student must change advisors. Some situations are beyond the student’s control; for example, when an advisor leaves the University or otherwise becomes unavailable. In other situations, the student may want to choose a different advisor; for example, if the focus of the research project changes to something outside of the current advisor’s expertise, or if work styles do not mesh well.

In these latter situations, students should understand that while there can be risks in changing advisors, it usually can be negotiated in a positive manner. Students deciding to change advisors should be sure to consult the graduate group for any specific policies and procedures that apply and be sure to ascertain if funding may change under a new advisor. Students should always be professional and respectful in interactions with the current advisor and potential new advisor and be certain that the proposed new advisor is willing and able to add them as a new advisee before discussing such a change with the current advisor. Students should focus discussions on interests and goals and not on negative incidents or difficulties. The potential new advisor, as well as leaders or other members of the graduate group, may have advice regarding how to broach this change with the current advisor.

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Thesis and Dissertation: Getting Started

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The resources in this section are designed to provide guidance for the first steps of the thesis or dissertation writing process. They offer tools to support the planning and managing of your project, including writing out your weekly schedule, outlining your goals, and organzing the various working elements of your project.

Weekly Goals Sheet (a.k.a. Life Map) [Word Doc]

This editable handout provides a place for you to fill in available time blocks on a weekly chart that will help you visualize the amount of time you have available to write. By using this chart, you will be able to work your writing goals into your schedule and put these goals into perspective with your day-to-day plans and responsibilities each week. This handout also contains a formula to help you determine the minimum number of pages you would need to write per day in order to complete your writing on time.

Setting a Production Schedule (Word Doc)

This editable handout can help you make sense of the various steps involved in the production of your thesis or dissertation and determine how long each step might take. A large part of this process involves (1) seeking out the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding specific document formatting requirements, (2) understanding research protocol limitations, (3) making note of deadlines, and (4) understanding your personal writing habits.

Creating a Roadmap (PDF)

Part of organizing your writing involves having a clear sense of how the different working parts relate to one another. Creating a roadmap for your dissertation early on can help you determine what the final document will include and how all the pieces are connected. This resource offers guidance on several approaches to creating a roadmap, including creating lists, maps, nut-shells, visuals, and different methods for outlining. It is important to remember that you can create more than one roadmap (or more than one type of roadmap) depending on how the different approaches discussed here meet your needs.

Social Sciences

This initial phase obviously revealed a stronger emphasis on familiarity among faculty. To further clarify this point, the faculty chosen were those that taught mainly the research methods courses during the first year. Relationships developed among the faculty as did preferences toward methodological choices for the dissertation. The area from these cohorts was the research background and publications of the faculty. Since this Instructional Management/Leadership Ph.D. program serves educators, administrators, health professionals, military, corporate trainers, etc., an administrator would select a faculty member with an administrative background, or a health professional would select a faculty member with a background in the health profession. The last category was a candidate talking to other prior cohort members relative to selecting an adviser. This represented a lesser number, but was also different from the other two categories since it relied primarily on the perception of other people in the selection process. There were a limited number of students in each cohort who chose their adviser after interacting at the evening buffet dinner with doctoral teaching faculty and students, as depicted in the category of Other . Mainly, the discussion at the dinner with doctoral faculty focused on the dissertation process and the work with the adviser. This individual meeting provided an opportunity for each cohort member to express his/her progress in the program. It was stated by the director of the program that in his experience, coursework is seldom the problem of students having trouble in the program. It is usually an issue with the capstone project, the dissertation, or the dissertation process. It is worth noting the connection the connection here to a finding by Knox, Burkard, Janecek, Pruitt, Fuller, and Hill (2011):

We cannot assert causality in either direction (effect of relationship on dissertation; effect of dissertation on relationship) but also cannot ignore the pattern: positive dissertation experiences were characterized by good relationships between adviser and student; problematic dissertations were often characterized by poor relationships. (p. 65)

By the conclusion of the second year of formal study, cohort members had two full semesters to work with their dissertation adviser. Hence, the researchers looked at the follow-up with these same cohorts but conducted, as previously noted, individual meetings with cohort members. The objective was to ascertain if the students were making progress in the dissertation process with their advisers. In this IML Ph.D. program, during the Fall of the 2 nd year, each semester correlates with the chapters of the dissertation which serves as a timeline. For instance, the Fall semester would correlate with Chapter 1 (Introduction) of the dissertation. Chapter 2 (Literature Review) would correlate with Spring, 2 nd year, then Summer of the 3 rd year would correlate with Chapter 3 (Methodology). Chapter 4 (Results) would be in the Fall of the 3 rd year while Chapter 5 (Findings and Conclusions) would be in the Spring of the 3 rd year in the program. It should be noted that this represents a completion schedule that is not representative of all candidates in the program.

In the discussions with Cohort 8A/8B, the group who graduated in May of 2015, there was a common thread among the group. Even though over 40% had earlier comments in year two and year three about their work and relationships with their advisers, any concerns or issues were resolved when these students completed the dissertation enabling them to graduate. Almost 100% of the students recognized their adviser in the Acknowledgement page of the dissertation. So, any ill will or criticism that may have existed earlier in the relationship, dissipated when the students graduated. All the graduates felt that this was a learning experience and that they understood more about themselves and the process in general from this experience. In short, the importance of completion and subsequent graduation would overshadow any negative feelings between the student and adviser. This is shown in Table 2 below:

Table 2: Cohort 8A/8B

In Cohort 9, the group had completed their second year with one year into the dissertation process. Students in this cohort were at various stages of their dissertation. Using the same meeting procedures as with Cohorts 8A and 8B, a researcher met with members of Cohort 9. The responses from this cohort were as follows in Table 3:

Table 3: Cohort 9

Once again, students voiced similar comments on the role of their advisers. Although less negative comments were made by this cohort, the nature of these comments would indicate much different sentiments from the beginning of year 2 until the end of the same year, at least by 30% of the cohort. As noted earlier, issues such as meeting time, expected quick responses on submitted papers, and perceived relationship problems between adviser and candidate were not considered by students in cohorts 8A/8B and cohort 9.

Finally, Cohort 10 selected advisers during the summer of 2015 for the IML Ph.D. program. As noted there are a total of 18 students in this cohort. The same process of providing biographical information on faculty followed by a meet and greet buffet dinner was standard introductory procedure. Given the time frame of less than two months, these students responded in a typical manner by choosing faculty they were familiar with from their coursework or faculty who most impressed them at the dinner buffet. After meeting with each candidate to give faculty adviser/committee assignments, this group, as others, was pleased to hear that they were able to secure the adviser of choice. They, like others, were delighted to begin the process of starting the dissertation.

Discussion, Findings, and Conclusions

From a review of the three cohorts, it was clear that all three groups similar to earlier cohorts in this program, based their choice of adviser primarily on familiarity and first meeting impressions from the buffet dinner event. Familiarity could be explained in terms of selecting a faculty member based on past coursework with that faculty member. In many cases, it was first year doctoral faculty or, in some cases, doctoral faculty who had previously had a student in an undergraduate or graduate course. In should be noted that a percentage of our students pursue the doctoral degree after completing the Instructional Management/Leadership master’s degree at our university. A few students based decisions on the background of the faculty member and that person’s research area while some talked with previous cohort members. Despite preliminary discussions with the cohort in term of the process and shared past commentary from other students in the program, these students were still not focused on what might be considered the most important attributes and qualities of an adviser in the dissertation relationship. In traditional programs, students many times have the opportunity to work more closely with faculty or, at least, have the opportunity to have completed coursework with the majority of doctoral faculty who would serve as advisers.

While the doctoral faculty have a wide range of backgrounds in leadership including military, government, education, and health care, there are limitations on the director that relate directly to the faculty contract. By our contract, each faculty member should be assigned at least one doctoral student and subsequently, would serve on two committees. There is flexibility relative to faculty having more than one student. In the past the mix of students noted earlier in the description of makeup and background of the program participants provided a level of variety for student choice. To illustrate, a public school principal would probably lean toward working with a faculty member who was a former superintendent of schools. We have others who been a part of the corporate, military, higher education, or health professions. However, in some cases, if there was imbalance or over representation in one area (professional background), this might also hamper the ability of students to choose an adviser in their specific field.

The major finding of this brief study was that there was a disconnect between the entry selection criteria, which was somewhat superficial, and the reality of what many of the students really needed in an adviser. Although personal characteristics may be initially important, the complexity of the dissertation adviser role cannot be minimized. During the writing of the dissertation, some students may need more prodding than others. Some may need more encouragement. This relationship should be shaped into a mentoring role as in cognitive apprenticeship where learning occurs through guided experience. Since all faculty advisers completed a dissertation, this can be both a discovery process and a teaching process as in the Actor-Network theory which adviser and advisee are networked to the degree that both adviser and advisee learn from one another. Advisers not only learn new material but also gain new ideas and insights into their own future research agenda. Other criteria described in the literature such as common research interests, time factors, dissertation experience, etc. all have relevance that certainly go beyond familiarity, preliminary first time meetings, and the experience of others. This study’s researchers suggest that the title of adviser-mentor be applied to faculty supporting the work of doctoral students in the program, so as to emphasize the role of faculty in the success of doctoral students.

Also, based on the responses from candidates and the related research, this study’s researchers propose the following specific recommendations as a way of addressing the adviser selection process. These recommendations are aligned with Ghefali’s (2003) expansion of Collins, Holum, and Brown’s (1991) Methods section of the cognitive apprenticeship model:

These recommendations are ways of defining a more substantive and research-supported approach of selecting an adviser. The alignment of this study’s recommendations to Ghefali’s (2003) expanded Methods section of the cognitive apprenticeship model provides adviser-mentors with a rationale for implementing those recommendations and perhaps a framework that can be generalized to similar programs.

The goal is to develop a strong, nurturing relationship between the adviser-mentor and the student. It goes beyond the simple - pick who you know or pick who impresses you approach that is too often chosen by students. It enables doctoral students to engage more frequently and in a more professional, academic relationship with a possible adviser-mentor. Better informing students early on in the process is obviously a preferred first step. These doctoral students will be able to make more informed decisions relative to choice. Faculty, on the other hand, will also have a better opportunity to connect with these doctoral students, especially those faculty who traditional taught courses in the second and third years of the program.

As Joyce (2016) creatively suggests to those wrestling with the improvement of doctoral programs and dissertation advising, “create a space where both parties can exist together as actors who jointly create knowledge for their profession” (p. 412). If we can follow that simple suggestion, along with the recommendations of this brief study, then the choice of door number one, two, or three may be much easier with greater residual benefit, especially for doctoral students participating in today’s fast-track doctoral programs.

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Hineman, J. M., & Semich, G. (2017). "Choosing a Dissertation Adviser: Challenges and Strategies for Doctoral Students." Inquiries Journal , 9 (03). Retrieved from

Hineman, John M., and George Semich. "Choosing a Dissertation Adviser: Challenges and Strategies for Doctoral Students." Inquiries Journal 9.03 (2017). < >

Hineman, John M., and George Semich. 2017. Choosing a Dissertation Adviser: Challenges and Strategies for Doctoral Students. Inquiries Journal 9 (03),

HINEMAN, J. M., & SEMICH, G. 2017. Choosing a Dissertation Adviser: Challenges and Strategies for Doctoral Students. Inquiries Journal [Online], 9. Available:

John M. Hineman graduated in 2011 with a PhD in Education from Robert Morris University .

George Semich , Ed.D., is the Director of the IML PhD Program at Robert Morris University .

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/images/cornell/logo35pt_cornell_white.svg" alt="dissertation adviser"> Cornell University --> Graduate School

Advising guide for research students.

Success as a graduate student is a shared responsibility between students and faculty. For research students, the relationship with your research advisor, also known as your special committee chair, is extremely important. 

Your responsibility to identify and choose an advisor is one of the most critical tasks you have early in your graduate school career. It’s an opportunity to meet and get to know faculty in your field, to assess your needs for support and supervision, and to collaboratively define your goals, values, and strategic plan for your academic and professional career.

Graduate School Requirement

At Cornell, the faculty advisor in research degree programs is referred to as the special committee chair.

Doctoral students have a special committee of at least three Cornell faculty, which includes the special committee chair and two minor committee members.

Master’s students have a special committee of at least two Cornell faculty, which includes the special committee chair and one minor member.

For both doctoral and master’s degree students, the special committee chair must be a graduate faculty member in the student’s own field.

Definition of an Advisor

Advising  and  mentoring  are often used interchangeably, but understanding the distinctions is important as you choose an advisor.

Advisor Responsibilities

  • Guides you in meeting the requirements and expectations for your degree
  • Required coursework
  • Exams required by the graduate field or the Graduate School
  • Research proposal/prospectus
  • Research project
  • Thesis or dissertation
  • Writes informed letters of recommendation for your job applications
  • May be a valued colleague or collaborator after you graduate

Mentor Responsibilities

  • Provides support and guidance that extends beyond scope of advising
  • Demystifies the structure, culture, and unstated expectations of graduate education
  • Expands your professional network by introducing you to others
  • Provides nominations for awards or other recognitions
  • Brings job opportunities to your attention and writes letters of recommendation as you apply for jobs
  • Advocates for you within the graduate program and discipline
  • May serve as a role model and source of inspiration
  • May become a colleague and peer in your discipline and may continue serving a mentoring role

Finding an Advisor

When do i select my first advisor.

At Cornell, the process for obtaining your first advisor varies by field.

Your faculty advisor may be assigned prior to your arrival or you may begin your program with a faculty member you met during the application process.

In some graduate fields, the faculty director of graduate studies (DGS) advises all incoming students. This provides you with time to get to know faculty in your field. By the end of the first semester or year (varying by field), it’s expected that you will have identified your own, long-term advisor. 

In fields where students apply to study with a specific faculty member (rather than do rotations and choose a lab or research group and advisor), you will have chosen an advisor prior to arriving on campus.

You can begin initial conversations about expectations and the advising relationship with your new advisor prior to the start of your program via email.

Start your graduate study and research with clear expectations and thoughtful communication about your plans for an effective advising relationship and success in graduate school.

How do I find an advisor? 

Meet and get to know faculty in your courses and in graduate field seminars and other events.

Talk to advanced students about their experiences and perceptions of the faculty in your programs and ask questions about possible advisors:

  • How would you describe their approach to advising?
  • What can you tell me about their work style?
  • What can you tell me about their research interests?
  • How good are their communication skills?
  • How clear are their expectations for their graduate students?
  • Do they use timeliness in reviewing their students’ writing and their approach to giving feedback?
  • How available are they to meet with their graduate students?

After you have gathered information, make an appointment to meet with a potential advisor.

Possible Questions

  • Is there a typical timeline you encourage your students to follow in completing their degree programs?
  • How often do you meet with your students at different stages of their graduate program? (For example, during coursework, research, and writing stages)
  • What are your expectations for students to make conference presentations and submit publications?
  • What are your authorship policies? (This is especially relevant in fields where there is collaborative research and publishing involving the student and advisor or a group of students, postdocs, and faculty.)
  • How soon should I identify my research project?
  • How do you describe the degree of guidance and supervision you provide with regards to your students becoming more independent in their research and scholarship?
  • If you are joining a lab or research group: What are the sources of funding for this research? Are there any new or pending research grants?
  • How many of your students seek, and secure, external funding? What are your expectations for students to apply for external fellowships?
  • Do you have a statement of advising you can share that lists our respective responsibilities and clarifies mutual expectations?
  • What’s your advice on how students can manage what they find to be the biggest challenges in their graduate program?

Add other questions to your list based on your own needs and specifics of your program, such as questions about specialized equipment, lab safety, travel to field sites, support and accommodations for special health needs, communication during a faculty member’s sabbatical, funding in fields where there are fewer fellowships and research grants, etc.

Getting Other Mentoring Needs Met

How do i find other mentor(s) .

You may find one faculty member who can serve as both advisor and mentor, but that’s not always the case.

Consider identifying and cultivating additional mentors if that is the case. 

Suggestions on where to look for a mentor:

  • The minor members of your special committee
  • A faculty member who is not on your committee, and perhaps not even in your graduate field
  • Peers and postdoctoral fellows who have knowledge and experience in pertinent issues

No one mentor can meet all your needs.

Good mentors have many protégés and many other demands on their time, such as teaching, research, and university or professional service. They also may not have all the expertise you need, for example, if you decide to search for jobs in multiple employment sectors.

Develop a broad network of mentors whose expertise varies and who provide different functions based on your changing needs as you progress from new student to independent scholar and researcher.

NCFDD offers a webinar, “ Cultivating Your Network of Mentors, Sponsors, and Collaborators “, which students can view after activating a free NCFDD membership through Cornell.

Maximizing the Advising Relationship

A successful relationship with your advisor depends on several different factors and varies with needs and working styles of the individuals. Some of these factors are under your control. But some are not. 

Suggestions for Building a Successful Advising Relationship

  • Identify what you need from an advisor.
  • Communicate clearly and frequently with your advisor to convey your questions, expectations, goals, challenges, and degree progress. Follow up verbal communication and meetings with an email detailing your understanding of what you both agreed to and next steps.
  • Update your written academic plan each semester or whenever major changes or adjustments are needed.
  • Consider including your plans to write competitive fellowship applications and co-authored grant proposals.
  • Consider including  plans for professional development  that support your skill-building objectives and career goals.
  • Recognize that you and your advisor have distinct perspectives, backgrounds, and interests. Share yours. Listen to your advisor’s. There is mutual benefit to sharing and learning from this diversity.
  • Work with your advisor to define a regular meeting schedule. Prepare and send written materials in advance of each meeting. These could include: your questions, academic and research plan and timeline, and drafts of current writing projects, such as fellowship applications, manuscripts, or thesis/dissertation chapters.
  • Be prepared to negotiate, show flexibility, and compromise, as is important for any successful relationship.
  • Be as candid as you are comfortable with about your challenges and concerns. Seek guidance about campus and other resources that can help you manage and address any obstacles.
  • Reach out to others for advice. Anticipate challenges and obstacles in your graduate degree program and their impact on the advising relationship.

Be proactive in finding resources and gathering information that can help you and your advisor arrive at solutions to any problems and optimize your time together.

Making Use of Meetings

First meetings.

Your first meeting sets the tone for a productive, satisfying, and enduring relationship with your advisor. Your first meeting is an opportunity to discuss expectations and to review a working draft of your academic plan.

Questions to ask about expectations

  • What do your most successful students do to complete their degree on time?
  • How often do you want us to meet?
  • May I send you questions via email, or do you prefer I just come to your office?
  • Would you like weekly (biweekly? monthly?) updates on my research progress?
  • Do you prefer reviewing the complete draft of a manuscript or may I send you sections for feedback?
  • After each meeting, I’ll make a list of what we each agreed to do before our next meeting, to help me keep moving forward with my research. Would you like a copy of that list, too, via email?

Draft Academic Plan

Prepare and bring a draft plan that outlines your “big picture” plans for your coursework, research, and writing, as well as an anticipated graduation date. (Or, email in advance with a message, such as, “I’m looking forward to meeting with you on [date] at [time], [location]. In advance, I’m sending a copy of my academic plan and proposed schedule for our discussion.”)

Contents of the plan

  • Include the requirements and deadlines of your degree program. (This is information you should be able to find online or in your program’s graduate student handbook.)
  • Include a general timeline indicating when you plan to meet requirements for courses or seminars, any required papers (such as a second-year paper), exams required by the graduate field (such as the Q exam) or by the Graduate School (the A exam and the B exam for research degree students).
  • If your graduate field has a specific set of required courses, indicate the semester you may complete each of them, and be open to suggestions from your advisor.
  • If your field does not have required courses, have some idea about the courses you are interested in taking and solicit input and suggestions from your faculty advisor.

Subsequent Meetings

Use each subsequent meeting as an opportunity to update your written academic plan and stay on track to complete your required papers and exams, your research proposal or prospectus, and the chapters or articles that comprise your thesis or dissertation.

In later meetings, you can elaborate on your general initial plan:

  • Adding specific coursework or seminars
  • Add professional development opportunities that interest you (workshops, dissertation writing boot camp, Summer Success Symposium, Colman Leadership Program, etc.)
  • Include intentions to participate in external conferences and travel to research sites
  • Identify a semester or summer when you would like to complete an internship.

Your written plan is also important to document what your advisor has agreed to, especially when the deadline to submit a manuscript or your thesis is looming and you are awaiting feedback or approval from your advisor. Use a combination of oral and written communications to stay in touch with your advisor, establish common expectations, and mark your progress toward degree completion.

Meeting Frequency

The frequency of meetings between advisors and advisees varies by field and individual. Assess your own needs and understand your advisor’s expectations for frequency of communication (in person and via email).

  • Does your advisor like to provide guidance each step of the way so that he or she is aware of the details of everything you are doing?
  • Does your advisor want you to launch your work more independently and report back at pre-determined or regular intervals?
  • What do you need to be productive? Are you ready to work more independently?

Be proactive in seeking information. Explicitly ask how often your advisor usually meets with new students and how the advisor prefers to be updated on your progress in between meetings. Ask your peers how frequently they meet with their advisor and whether this has changed over time.

There will be disciplinary differences in meeting frequency.

  • In humanities and in some social sciences, where library, archive, and field research take students away from campus, maintaining regular communication is essential, including through scheduled meetings, whether in-person or virtual.
  • In life sciences and physical sciences and engineering, students often see their advisors daily in the lab or meet as a research group about externally funded projects; these regular check-ins and conversations may replace formal meetings. Make sure that you are also scheduling one-on-one times to talk about your broader goals and academic and career planning progress, however.

Some of your decisions about meeting frequency will be informed by talking to others, but much of it you learn through experience working together with your advisor. Even this will  change over time  as you become a more independent researcher and scholar. Communicate with your advisor regularly about your changing needs and expectations at each stage of your graduate career.

Resolving Conflict

In any relationship, there can be conflict. And, in the advisor-advisee relationship, the power dynamic created by the supervision, evaluation and, in some cases, funding role of your advisor can make conflicts with your advisor seem especially high.

You have options, however, including:

  • Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty
  • Campus Code of Conduct
  • Policy on Academic Misconduct
  • Research Misconduct
  • Graduate School Grievance Policy
  • Intellectual Property policies
  • Graduate Student Assistantships (Policy 1.3)
  • Talking with your advisor to clarify any miscommunication. Cornell University’s Office of the Ombudsman , one of the offices on campus that offers confidentiality, can also assist you by talking through the issue and helping you gather information you need before you speak directly with your advisor.
  • Speaking with someone in the Graduate School, either the Associate Dean for Academics ( [email protected] ) for academic issues, or the Senior Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life ( [email protected] ) for other issues. These deans will listen, offer advice and support, and coach you through any conversation you might want to have with your advisor. Together, you can brainstorm possible solutions and evaluate alternative plans for resolution.
  • Touching base with your director of graduate studies (DGS) – if this person is not also your advisor – to talk to about policies and possible solutions to the conflict.
  • Soliciting peer advice. Discuss strategies for managing and resolving conflict with your advisor. “Do you have any suggestions for me?” “Have you ever had an issue like this…?” can be effective questions.
  • Identifying a new advisor if the conflict can not be resolved. Your DGS can help with this, and the Graduate School (as above) can help as well.

The National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity offers a webinar, “ How to Engage in Healthy Conflict “, which students can view after activating a free NCFDD membership through Cornell.

Changing Advisors

On occasion, students find that they need or want to change their advisor. An advisor can resign as the student’s special committee chair/faculty advisor. The  Code  of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty describes the rights and responsibilities of students and faculty in each of these situations.

Typical reasons to seek a new advisor include:

  • Research interests that veer from the faculty’s expertise or ability to fund a certain project
  • Your advisor retires or resigns from the university or takes an extended leave of absence for personal or professional reasons
  • Differences in goals, values, or an approach to work or communication style that can’t be resolved
  • Serious issues, involving suspected inappropriate behavior, questionable research conduct, or alleged bias, discrimination, or harassment

If you are considering changing advisors:

  • Talk to a member of your committee, your director of graduate studies (DGS), or someone in the Graduate School about the proposed change. Some issues, such as funding, require timely attention.
  • Identify other faculty members who could serve as your advisor, then meet with one or more of them. The goal is to decide together if you are a good fit with their program. Tips: Discuss or rehearse this conversation with a trusted person, especially if there were issues with your last advisor. Be transparent about these issues and address them going forward with a new advisor. Often prospective advisors are more willing to take on a new graduate student who conveys genuine enthusiasm for their area of study rather than a student who seems to be looking for a way out of a current advising relationship that has gone sour.
  • Consider how and when to inform your advisor if you plan to change advisors. Be professional and respectful. Thank your advisor for past support and guidance. Don’t damage, or further damage, the relationship.
  • Your DGS, if appropriate
  • Office of the University Ombudsman
  • Graduate School’s Senior Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life ( [email protected] )
  • Graduate School’s Associate Dean for Academics ( [email protected] )


  • Use Student Center if you are changing your advisor before your A exam (for Ph.D. students).
  • Use the Post A Committee Change Petition form for changes after the A exam. More information is available on the Graduate School’s Policy pages .

Challenges and Potential Solutions

All good relationships take work. To navigate an advising relationship successfully over time, you should familiarize yourself with some common challenges and possible actions to take.

Challenge: Mismatch in communication needs or style

One example of a communication challenge in an advising relationship is when you want input along the way during a writing project, but you have an advisor who prefers to wait to comment on a complete written draft.

Some possible steps to address this might be to talk to peers about they have handled this in their relationship with their advisor or to explain to your advisor how his or her input at this earlier stage will help speed you along toward having a complete draft for review. It’s important in communicating with your advisor to show that you understand what alternative they are proposing and why (e.g., “I understand that …”).

Challenge: Advisor unavailable or away

Your advisor might be away from campus for a semester or more to conduct research or take a sabbatical leave. Or when a grant proposal deadline or report is looming, your advisor might be less available. Maybe you’ve emailed your advisor several times with no response.

Planning and stating in advance what you need, such as feedback on a manuscript draft or signatures on a fellowship application, can help your advisor anticipate when you will have time-sensitive requests. Making plans in advance to communicate by email or video conference when either of you will be away from campus for a longer period of time is another useful strategy. Your director of graduate studies (DGS) and other faculty who serve as special committee members can also provide advice when your advisor is unavailable.

Challenge: Misaligned expectations

You are ready to submit a manuscript for publication. Your advisor says it needs much more work. Or you begin your job search, applying to liberal arts colleges with very high reputations, or schools in your preferred geographic location, but your advisor insists that you should apply for positions at top research universities.

Discussing your needs and expectations early, and often, in the advising relationship is essential. Get comfortable, and skilled, advocating for yourself with your advisor. Use the annual  Student Progress Review  as an opportunity to communicate your professional interests and goals with your advisor. Use multiple mentors beyond your advisor to get advice and expertise on topics where you need a different perspective or support.

Sometimes challenges can become opportunities for you to develop and refine new skills in communication, negotiation, self-advocacy, and management of conflict, time, and resources. For example, although you might feel abandoned if your advisor is unavailable for a time, even this potentially negative experience could become an opportunity to learn how to advocate for yourself and communicate about your needs and perceived difficulties in the relationship.

Advising Resources

Graduate School deans and directors  are available to answer academic and non-academic questions and provide referrals to useful resources.

Counseling and Psychological Services  (CAPS) staff offer confidential, professional support for students seeking help with stress, anxiety, depression, grief, adjustment challenges, relationship difficulties, questions about identity, and managing existing mental health conditions.

Let’s Talk Drop-in Consultations  are informal, confidential walk-in consultations at various locations around campus.

External Resources

University of Michigan Rackham, How to Get the Mentoring You Want  

Laura Gail Lunsford & Vicki L. Baker, 2016, Great Mentoring in Graduate School: A Quick Start Guide for Protégés

Michigan State University, Guidelines for Graduate Student Advising and Mentoring Relationships  

Michigan State University, Graduate Student Career and Professional Development  

Template for Meeting Notes

Adapted and expanded from Maria Gardiner, Flinders University © Flinders University 2007; used with permission and published in  The Productive Graduate Student Writer  (Allen, 2019). Used here with permission of the author and publisher.  

Use this template for making notes to help you plan for a productive meeting with your advisor, keep track of plans made, and clearly identify next steps that you’ll need to take to follow up on what you discussed.

Mentoring Resources

Graduate school programs focused on mentoring, building mentoring skills for an academic career.

Develop and enhance effective communication and mentorship skills that are broadly transferrable to all careers. Offered by Future Faculty and Academic Careers.

Graduate and Professional Students International (GPSI) Peer Mentoring Program

Share lessons learned as a new international student at Cornell as a peer mentor with new international student peer mentees. Offered by the GPSI in collaboration with the Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement.

Graduate Students Mentoring Undergraduates (GSMU)

Share knowledge with and provide support to undergraduate students interested in pursuing further education. Offered in collaboration with the Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI).

Multicultural Academic Council (MAC) Peer Mentoring Program

Develop strategies to excel academically and personally at Cornell and beyond as a peer mentee or share strategies as a peer mentor. Offered by MAC in collaboration with the Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement.

NextGen Professors Program

Learn from faculty in Power Mentoring Sessions and prepare for careers across institutional types. Offered by the Graduate School Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement and Future Faculty and Academic Careers.

Graduate School Programs with a Mentoring Component

Graduate school primer: navigating academia workshop series.

Program for new students on navigating graduate school with sessions on mentoring.

Perspectives: The Complete Graduate Student

Program for continuing students on common issues with some sessions on mentoring.

GPWomeN-PCCW Speaker Series

Series for all students featuring talks by Cornell alumnae with an occasional mentoring focus.

Future Professors Institute

One-day event featuring workshops and guest speakers with occasional mentoring focus.

Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP)

Peer-led courses blending theory and experiential learning to facilitate meaningful communication with occasional mentoring focus.

Building Allyship Series

Series for the campus community featuring panels designed for productive dialogue with occasional mentoring focus.

Institutional Memberships

Center for the integration of research, teaching, and learning (cirtl) network.

Access to resources on teaching and research mentoring.

Access to career development and mentoring resources.

New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS)

Access to resources, including webinars and articles on mentoring.

Mentoring Programs Across Campus

Give and receive advice as part of a peer mentoring program for all College of Engineering students. Offered by Diversity Programs in Engineering.

Mi Comunidad/My Community

Peer mentoring program run by graduate and professional students affiliated with the Latin@ Graduate Student Coalition (LGSC) and supported by the Latina/o Studies Program (LSP) and Latina/o/x Student Success Office (LSSO) at Cornell University.

Additional Resources:

  • Mentoring and Leadership Tips from Graduate School Programs
  • Cornell University Office of Faculty Development and Diversity – Resources for Mentors and Mentees
  • Careers Beyond Academia LibGuide
  • National Research Mentoring Network

Graduate School Articles on Mentoring:

  • Alumna Addresses Importance of Mentoring
  • Becoming Better Mentors Through Workshop Series
  • August Offers Mentoring Advice
  • ‘A Better Chance of Providing Access’: Future Professors Institute Fosters Inclusivity

Virtual Training and External Resources

  • How to Get the Mentoring You Want: A Guide for Graduate Students – University of Michigan, Rackham Graduate School
  • The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM – National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine
  • Mentor Training: Online Learning Modules – University of Minnesota Clinical and Translational Science Institute
  • Mentor Curricula and Training: Entering Mentoring – Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research

For other resources, view the Advising Guide for Research Students.

If there is anything not included on this list that we should consider, please send the information and a link to [email protected] .

My Dissertation Editor

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Choosing a Thesis Advisor: A Complete Guide

One of the most important choices that you will make about your dissertation or thesis happens before you write a single word. Choosing a thesis advisor or dissertation advisor (often referred to as a dissertation chair) will have a significant impact on your entire dissertation writing experience, and for many years to come. For many doctoral students, their thesis advisor is their single greatest influence in graduate school. 

Selecting a thesis advisor is a big decision with far-reaching implications. The stakes are very high, and it is imperative to choose your thesis advisor wisely. There are many factors to consider when choosing a thesis advisor, from expertise to personality, and it pays to think carefully and weigh your options before approaching a faculty member to chair your dissertation committee . While there are subtle differences between a dissertation chair and a thesis advisor, we’ll focus on the commonalities in this article.

These are commonly asked questions about selecting a thesis advisor: 

  • What does a thesis advisor do? 
  • How should I choose my thesis advisor?
  • What makes a faculty member a good thesis advisor? 
  • What if it doesn’t work out with my thesis advisor? 

college professor explaining stuff to his student on a laptop

Thesis Advisor Responsibilities

While writing a dissertation is a largely solitary pursuit, a good thesis advisor will be with you every step of the way. While you are very much in the driver’s seat, it is your thesis advisor’s job to keep you off the guardrails. And deploy the airbag, if necessary. There are a few purposes that your thesis advisor will serve during your time together. 

Guidance . While the dissertation process is new to you, your thesis advisor will know it very well. She will help you navigate the obstacles and pitfalls that have derailed many projects–department politics, university regulations, funding, research opportunities, etc. Your thesis advisor will also serve as a sounding board as you distill the nebulous concept of your research project into a fully-formed idea that you can move forward with. 

Organization . A good thesis advisor will run a tight ship and keep your dissertation project moving like clockwork. As a researcher, it’s very easy to get lost in the minutiae of the literature, and it’s not difficult to find yourself trapped down a rabbit hole of scholarship. Regular milestones set by your thesis advisor are a great way to stay on track and maintain forward momentum. 

Mentorship. While an effective thesis advisor will ensure that you see your project to fruition, a great one will be with you for decades. Though I graduated with my Ph.D. in 2012 and I’m now an associate professor myself, my thesis advisor remains a guiding light in my career. Your thesis advisor can be a cornerstone of your professional network. 

red haired student explaining stuff in a classroom with her professor looking at her

Choosing a Thesis Advisor

So, how do you select a faculty member to chair your dissertation committee? With extreme care. Once you have set your sights on a dissertation chair or thesis advisor, the next step is the Big Ask. I remember being very nervous to approach the faculty member who became my chair– it seemed like such an imposition, but, as a grad student in her department, I was already on her radar. Keep in mind, your faculty members are expecting to be asked to chair dissertation committees, and they may even be a little flattered that you chose them. 

While chairing and serving on dissertation committees is a requirement for the tenured and senior faculty members in your department, it’s a lot of work. Make no mistake: accepting the role of your dissertation chair makes them nervous, too. As a faculty member, I can say with absolute certainty that a good dissertation chair will be almost as invested in your dissertation as you are. 

What Makes a Strong Thesis Advisor?

There exists a gulf between what many students desire in a dissertation chair or thesis advisor and what they actually need. While there may be a temptation to approach one of your department’s superstar faculty members to chair your committee, this may not serve you in the long term. Faculty members who have made a name for themselves through an abundance of publications, grants, awards, and conference appearances typically have jam-packed schedules, and it may be difficult for them to make you and your dissertation a priority. 

Dissertation Committee Member Mentoring Student

A safer bet that is likely to have a more rewarding outcome is to work with a faculty member who has already shown enthusiasm for your work. Select a thesis advisor who makes time for you, and one who always responds to your emails. This is the person you want in your corner during the sometimes stressful journey of researching and writing a dissertation. Also, it never hurts to spend some time talking to potential dissertation chairs or dissertation advisors. Get all of your questions answered, and then make a decision. 

What If It Doesn’t Work Out?

The possibility that your thesis advisor is a bad fit for your project or is incompatible for some other reason is a worst-case scenario that lurks in the furthest reaches of every graduate student’s mind. There’s no way to sugarcoat it: this is not a good situation to be in, and it can derail dissertations. The soundest strategy for dealing with an internecine conflict with your thesis advisor is prevention. 

This is why it is vital to do your homework and put a lot of thought into choosing your thesis advisor. Find someone you are compatible with and make sure you’re on the same page. Check in with them regularly, and keep them updated. Clear communication is a great way to ensure a solid partnership with your dissertation chair. Don’t forget, your dissertation chair should also be making your success a priority. You should be comfortable enough to ask questions and let them know what’s on your mind. 

The good news is that a bad fit isn’t likely to happen. Most grad students have a completely workable relationship with their dissertation chairs, and for many it turns into a long friendship built on mutual respect and admiration. Personally, every time I serve on a doctoral student’s dissertation committee, I feel a tremendous amount of pride and satisfaction when they take their place in the academic world. It’s truly an honor to help them achieve such a major milestone in their academic career, and I’m delighted to be part of it. 

Related posts:

close up of taking notes in front of laptop

Courtney Watson, Ph.D.

Courtney Watson, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English at Radford University Carilion, in Roanoke, Virginia. Her areas of expertise include undergraduate and graduate curriculum development for writing courses in the health sciences and American literature with a focus on literary travel, tourism, and heritage economies. Her writing and academic scholarship has been widely published in places that include  Studies in American Culture ,  Dialogue , and  The Virginia Quarterly Review . Her research on the integration of humanities into STEM education will be published by Routledge in an upcoming collection. Dr. Watson has also been nominated by the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia’s Outstanding Faculty Rising Star Award, and she is a past winner of the National Society of Arts & Letters Regional Short Story Prize, as well as institutional awards for scholarly research and excellence in teaching. Throughout her career in higher education, Dr. Watson has served in faculty governance and administration as a frequent committee chair and program chair. As a higher education consultant, she has served as a subject matter expert, an evaluator, and a contributor to white papers exploring program development, enrollment research, and educational mergers and acquisitions.

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How to Finish Your Dissertation in Half the Time

Learn how to avoid the pitfalls preventing you from finishing your dissertation faster.

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“How to Finish Your Dissertation in Half the Time”

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Dissertation Strategies

What this handout is about.

This handout suggests strategies for developing healthy writing habits during your dissertation journey. These habits can help you maintain your writing momentum, overcome anxiety and procrastination, and foster wellbeing during one of the most challenging times in graduate school.

Tackling a giant project

Because dissertations are, of course, big projects, it’s no surprise that planning, writing, and revising one can pose some challenges! It can help to think of your dissertation as an expanded version of a long essay: at the end of the day, it is simply another piece of writing. You’ve written your way this far into your degree, so you’ve got the skills! You’ll develop a great deal of expertise on your topic, but you may still be a novice with this genre and writing at this length. Remember to give yourself some grace throughout the project. As you begin, it’s helpful to consider two overarching strategies throughout the process.

First, take stock of how you learn and your own writing processes. What strategies have worked and have not worked for you? Why? What kind of learner and writer are you? Capitalize on what’s working and experiment with new strategies when something’s not working. Keep in mind that trying out new strategies can take some trial-and-error, and it’s okay if a new strategy that you try doesn’t work for you. Consider why it may not have been the best for you, and use that reflection to consider other strategies that might be helpful to you.

Second, break the project into manageable chunks. At every stage of the process, try to identify specific tasks, set small, feasible goals, and have clear, concrete strategies for achieving each goal. Small victories can help you establish and maintain the momentum you need to keep yourself going.

Below, we discuss some possible strategies to keep you moving forward in the dissertation process.

Pre-dissertation planning strategies

Get familiar with the Graduate School’s Thesis and Dissertation Resources .

Learn how to use a citation-manager and a synthesis matrix to keep track of all of your source information.

Skim other dissertations from your department, program, and advisor. Enlist the help of a librarian or ask your advisor for a list of recent graduates whose work you can look up. Seeing what other people have done to earn their PhD can make the project much less abstract and daunting. A concrete sense of expectations will help you envision and plan. When you know what you’ll be doing, try to find a dissertation from your department that is similar enough that you can use it as a reference model when you run into concerns about formatting, structure, level of detail, etc.

Think carefully about your committee . Ideally, you’ll be able to select a group of people who work well with you and with each other. Consult with your advisor about who might be good collaborators for your project and who might not be the best fit. Consider what classes you’ve taken and how you “vibe” with those professors or those you’ve met outside of class. Try to learn what you can about how they’ve worked with other students. Ask about feedback style, turnaround time, level of involvement, etc., and imagine how that would work for you.

Sketch out a sensible drafting order for your project. Be open to writing chapters in “the wrong order” if it makes sense to start somewhere other than the beginning. You could begin with the section that seems easiest for you to write to gain momentum.

Design a productivity alliance with your advisor . Talk with them about potential projects and a reasonable timeline. Discuss how you’ll work together to keep your work moving forward. You might discuss having a standing meeting to discuss ideas or drafts or issues (bi-weekly? monthly?), your advisor’s preferences for drafts (rough? polished?), your preferences for what you’d like feedback on (early or late drafts?), reasonable turnaround time for feedback (a week? two?), and anything else you can think of to enter the collaboration mindfully.

Design a productivity alliance with your colleagues . Dissertation writing can be lonely, but writing with friends, meeting for updates over your beverage of choice, and scheduling non-working social times can help you maintain healthy energy. See our tips on accountability strategies for ideas to support each other.

Productivity strategies

Write when you’re most productive. When do you have the most energy? Focus? Creativity? When are you most able to concentrate, either because of your body rhythms or because there are fewer demands on your time? Once you determine the hours that are most productive for you (you may need to experiment at first), try to schedule those hours for dissertation work. See the collection of time management tools and planning calendars on the Learning Center’s Tips & Tools page to help you think through the possibilities. If at all possible, plan your work schedule, errands and chores so that you reserve your productive hours for the dissertation.

Put your writing time firmly on your calendar . Guard your writing time diligently. You’ll probably be invited to do other things during your productive writing times, but do your absolute best to say no and to offer alternatives. No one would hold it against you if you said no because you’re teaching a class at that time—and you wouldn’t feel guilty about saying no. Cultivating the same hard, guilt-free boundaries around your writing time will allow you preserve the time you need to get this thing done!

Develop habits that foster balance . You’ll have to work very hard to get this dissertation finished, but you can do that without sacrificing your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Think about how you can structure your work hours most efficiently so that you have time for a healthy non-work life. It can be something as small as limiting the time you spend chatting with fellow students to a few minutes instead of treating the office or lab as a space for extensive socializing. Also see above for protecting your time.

Write in spaces where you can be productive. Figure out where you work well and plan to be there during your dissertation work hours. Do you get more done on campus or at home? Do you prefer quiet and solitude, like in a library carrel? Do you prefer the buzz of background noise, like in a coffee shop? Are you aware of the UNC Libraries’ list of places to study ? If you get “stuck,” don’t be afraid to try a change of scenery. The variety may be just enough to get your brain going again.

Work where you feel comfortable . Wherever you work, make sure you have whatever lighting, furniture, and accessories you need to keep your posture and health in good order. The University Health and Safety office offers guidelines for healthy computer work . You’re more likely to spend time working in a space that doesn’t physically hurt you. Also consider how you could make your work space as inviting as possible. Some people find that it helps to have pictures of family and friends on their desk—sort of a silent “cheering section.” Some people work well with neutral colors around them, and others prefer bright colors that perk up the space. Some people like to put inspirational quotations in their workspace or encouraging notes from friends and family. You might try reconfiguring your work space to find a décor that helps you be productive.

Elicit helpful feedback from various people at various stages . You might be tempted to keep your writing to yourself until you think it’s brilliant, but you can lower the stakes tremendously if you make eliciting feedback a regular part of your writing process. Your friends can feel like a safer audience for ideas or drafts in their early stages. Someone outside your department may provide interesting perspectives from their discipline that spark your own thinking. See this handout on getting feedback for productive moments for feedback, the value of different kinds of feedback providers, and strategies for eliciting what’s most helpful to you. Make this a recurring part of your writing process. Schedule it to help you hit deadlines.

Change the writing task . When you don’t feel like writing, you can do something different or you can do something differently. Make a list of all the little things you need to do for a given section of the dissertation, no matter how small. Choose a task based on your energy level. Work on Grad School requirements: reformat margins, work on bibliography, and all that. Work on your acknowledgements. Remember all the people who have helped you and the great ideas they’ve helped you develop. You may feel more like working afterward. Write a part of your dissertation as a letter or email to a good friend who would care. Sometimes setting aside the academic prose and just writing it to a buddy can be liberating and help you get the ideas out there. You can make it sound smart later. Free-write about why you’re stuck, and perhaps even about how sick and tired you are of your dissertation/advisor/committee/etc. Venting can sometimes get you past the emotions of writer’s block and move you toward creative solutions. Open a separate document and write your thoughts on various things you’ve read. These may or may note be coherent, connected ideas, and they may or may not make it into your dissertation. They’re just notes that allow you to think things through and/or note what you want to revisit later, so it’s perfectly fine to have mistakes, weird organization, etc. Just let your mind wander on paper.

Develop habits that foster productivity and may help you develop a productive writing model for post-dissertation writing . Since dissertations are very long projects, cultivating habits that will help support your work is important. You might check out Helen Sword’s work on behavioral, artisanal, social, and emotional habits to help you get a sense of where you are in your current habits. You might try developing “rituals” of work that could help you get more done. Lighting incense, brewing a pot of a particular kind of tea, pulling out a favorite pen, and other ritualistic behaviors can signal your brain that “it is time to get down to business.” You can critically think about your work methods—not only about what you like to do, but also what actually helps you be productive. You may LOVE to listen to your favorite band while you write, for example, but if you wind up playing air guitar half the time instead of writing, it isn’t a habit worth keeping.

The point is, figure out what works for you and try to do it consistently. Your productive habits will reinforce themselves over time. If you find yourself in a situation, however, that doesn’t match your preferences, don’t let it stop you from working on your dissertation. Try to be flexible and open to experimenting. You might find some new favorites!

Motivational strategies

Schedule a regular activity with other people that involves your dissertation. Set up a coworking date with your accountability buddies so you can sit and write together. Organize a chapter swap. Make regular appointments with your advisor. Whatever you do, make sure it’s something that you’ll feel good about showing up for–and will make you feel good about showing up for others.

Try writing in sprints . Many writers have discovered that the “Pomodoro technique” (writing for 25 minutes and taking a 5 minute break) boosts their productivity by helping them set small writing goals, focus intently for short periods, and give their brains frequent rests. See how one dissertation writer describes it in this blog post on the Pomodoro technique .

Quit while you’re ahead . Sometimes it helps to stop for the day when you’re on a roll. If you’ve got a great idea that you’re developing and you know where you want to go next, write “Next, I want to introduce x, y, and z and explain how they’re related—they all have the same characteristics of 1 and 2, and that clinches my theory of Q.” Then save the file and turn off the computer, or put down the notepad. When you come back tomorrow, you will already know what to say next–and all that will be left is to say it. Hopefully, the momentum will carry you forward.

Write your dissertation in single-space . When you need a boost, double space it and be impressed with how many pages you’ve written.

Set feasible goals–and celebrate the achievements! Setting and achieving smaller, more reasonable goals ( SMART goals ) gives you success, and that success can motivate you to focus on the next small step…and the next one.

Give yourself rewards along the way . When you meet a writing goal, reward yourself with something you normally wouldn’t have or do–this can be anything that will make you feel good about your accomplishment.

Make the act of writing be its own reward . For example, if you love a particular coffee drink from your favorite shop, save it as a special drink to enjoy during your writing time.

Try giving yourself “pre-wards” —positive experiences that help you feel refreshed and recharged for the next time you write. You don’t have to “earn” these with prior work, but you do have to commit to doing the work afterward.

Commit to doing something you don’t want to do if you don’t achieve your goal. Some people find themselves motivated to work harder when there’s a negative incentive. What would you most like to avoid? Watching a movie you hate? Donating to a cause you don’t support? Whatever it is, how can you ensure enforcement? Who can help you stay accountable?

Affective strategies

Build your confidence . It is not uncommon to feel “imposter phenomenon” during the course of writing your dissertation. If you start to feel this way, it can help to take a few minutes to remember every success you’ve had along the way. You’ve earned your place, and people have confidence in you for good reasons. It’s also helpful to remember that every one of the brilliant people around you is experiencing the same lack of confidence because you’re all in a new context with new tasks and new expectations. You’re not supposed to have it all figured out. You’re supposed to have uncertainties and questions and things to learn. Remember that they wouldn’t have accepted you to the program if they weren’t confident that you’d succeed. See our self-scripting handout for strategies to turn these affirmations into a self-script that you repeat whenever you’re experiencing doubts or other negative thoughts. You can do it!

Appreciate your successes . Not meeting a goal isn’t a failure–and it certainly doesn’t make you a failure. It’s an opportunity to figure out why you didn’t meet the goal. It might simply be that the goal wasn’t achievable in the first place. See the SMART goal handout and think through what you can adjust. Even if you meant to write 1500 words, focus on the success of writing 250 or 500 words that you didn’t have before.

Remember your “why.” There are a whole host of reasons why someone might decide to pursue a PhD, both personally and professionally. Reflecting on what is motivating to you can rekindle your sense of purpose and direction.

Get outside support . Sometimes it can be really helpful to get an outside perspective on your work and anxieties as a way of grounding yourself. Participating in groups like the Dissertation Support group through CAPS and the Dissertation Boot Camp can help you see that you’re not alone in the challenges. You might also choose to form your own writing support group with colleagues inside or outside your department.

Understand and manage your procrastination . When you’re writing a long dissertation, it can be easy to procrastinate! For instance, you might put off writing because the house “isn’t clean enough” or because you’re not in the right “space” (mentally or physically) to write, so you put off writing until the house is cleaned and everything is in its right place. You may have other ways of procrastinating. It can be helpful to be self-aware of when you’re procrastinating and to consider why you are procrastinating. It may be that you’re anxious about writing the perfect draft, for example, in which case you might consider: how can I focus on writing something that just makes progress as opposed to being “perfect”? There are lots of different ways of managing procrastination; one way is to make a schedule of all the things you already have to do (when you absolutely can’t write) to help you visualize those chunks of time when you can. See this handout on procrastination for more strategies and tools for managing procrastination.

Your topic, your advisor, and your committee: Making them work for you

By the time you’ve reached this stage, you have probably already defended a dissertation proposal, chosen an advisor, and begun working with a committee. Sometimes, however, those three elements can prove to be major external sources of frustration. So how can you manage them to help yourself be as productive as possible?

Managing your topic

Remember that your topic is not carved in stone . The research and writing plan suggested in your dissertation proposal was your best vision of the project at that time, but topics evolve as the research and writing progress. You might need to tweak your research question a bit to reduce or adjust the scope, you might pare down certain parts of the project or add others. You can discuss your thoughts on these adjustments with your advisor at your check ins.

Think about variables that could be cut down and how changes would affect the length, depth, breadth, and scholarly value of your study. Could you cut one or two experiments, case studies, regions, years, theorists, or chapters and still make a valuable contribution or, even more simply, just finish?

Talk to your advisor about any changes you might make . They may be quite sympathetic to your desire to shorten an unwieldy project and may offer suggestions.

Look at other dissertations from your department to get a sense of what the chapters should look like. Reverse-outline a few chapters so you can see if there’s a pattern of typical components and how information is sequenced. These can serve as models for your own dissertation. See this video on reverse outlining to see the technique.

Managing your advisor

Embrace your evolving status . At this stage in your graduate career, you should expect to assume some independence. By the time you finish your project, you will know more about your subject than your committee does. The student/teacher relationship you have with your advisor will necessarily change as you take this big step toward becoming their colleague.

Revisit the alliance . If the interaction with your advisor isn’t matching the original agreement or the original plan isn’t working as well as it could, schedule a conversation to revisit and redesign your working relationship in a way that could work for both of you.

Be specific in your feedback requests . Tell your advisor what kind of feedback would be most helpful to you. Sometimes an advisor can be giving unhelpful or discouraging feedback without realizing it. They might make extensive sentence-level edits when you really need conceptual feedback, or vice-versa, if you only ask generally for feedback. Letting your advisor know, very specifically, what kinds of responses will be helpful to you at different stages of the writing process can help your advisor know how to help you.

Don’t hide . Advisors can be most helpful if they know what you are working on, what problems you are experiencing, and what progress you have made. If you haven’t made the progress you were hoping for, it only makes it worse if you avoid talking to them. You rob yourself of their expertise and support, and you might start a spiral of guilt, shame, and avoidance. Even if it’s difficult, it may be better to be candid about your struggles.

Talk to other students who have the same advisor . You may find that they have developed strategies for working with your advisor that could help you communicate more effectively with them.

If you have recurring problems communicating with your advisor , you can make a change. You could change advisors completely, but a less dramatic option might be to find another committee member who might be willing to serve as a “secondary advisor” and give you the kinds of feedback and support that you may need.

Managing your committee

Design the alliance . Talk with your committee members about how much they’d like to be involved in your writing process, whether they’d like to see chapter drafts or the complete draft, how frequently they’d like to meet (or not), etc. Your advisor can guide you on how committees usually work, but think carefully about how you’d like the relationship to function too.

Keep in regular contact with your committee , even if they don’t want to see your work until it has been approved by your advisor. Let them know about fellowships you receive, fruitful research excursions, the directions your thinking is taking, and the plans you have for completion. In short, keep them aware that you are working hard and making progress. Also, look for other ways to get facetime with your committee even if it’s not a one-on-one meeting. Things like speaking with them at department events, going to colloquiums or other events they organize and/or attend regularly can help you develop a relationship that could lead to other introductions and collaborations as your career progresses.

Share your struggles . Too often, we only talk to our professors when we’re making progress and hide from them the rest of the time. If you share your frustrations or setbacks with a knowledgeable committee member, they might offer some very helpful suggestions for overcoming the obstacles you face—after all, your committee members have all written major research projects before, and they have probably solved similar problems in their own work.

Stay true to yourself . Sometimes, you just don’t entirely gel with your committee, but that’s okay. It’s important not to get too hung up on how your committee does (or doesn’t) relate to you. Keep your eye on the finish line and keep moving forward.

Helpful websites:

Graduate School Diversity Initiatives : Groups and events to support the success of students identifying with an affinity group.

Graduate School Career Well : Extensive professional development resources related to writing, research, networking, job search, etc.

CAPS Therapy Groups : CAPS offers a variety of support groups, including a dissertation support group.

Advice on Research and Writing : Lots of links on writing, public speaking, dissertation management, burnout, and more.

How to be a Good Graduate Student: Marie DesJardins’ essay talks about several phases of the graduate experience, including the dissertation. She discusses some helpful hints for staying motivated and doing consistent work.

Preparing Future Faculty : This page, a joint project of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the Council of Graduate Schools, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, explains the Preparing Future Faculty Programs and includes links and suggestions that may help graduate students and their advisors think constructively about the process of graduate education as a step toward faculty responsibilities.

Dissertation Tips : Kjell Erik Rudestam, Ph.D. and Rae Newton, Ph.D., authors of Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process.

The ABD Survival Guide Newsletter : Information about the ABD Survival Guide newsletter (which is free) and other services from E-Coach (many of which are not free).

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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How to Write a Dissertation | A Guide to Structure & Content

A dissertation or thesis is a long piece of academic writing based on original research, submitted as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.

The structure of a dissertation depends on your field, but it is usually divided into at least four or five chapters (including an introduction and conclusion chapter).

The most common dissertation structure in the sciences and social sciences includes:

  • An introduction to your topic
  • A literature review that surveys relevant sources
  • An explanation of your methodology
  • An overview of the results of your research
  • A discussion of the results and their implications
  • A conclusion that shows what your research has contributed

Dissertations in the humanities are often structured more like a long essay , building an argument by analysing primary and secondary sources . Instead of the standard structure outlined here, you might organise your chapters around different themes or case studies.

Other important elements of the dissertation include the title page , abstract , and reference list . If in doubt about how your dissertation should be structured, always check your department’s guidelines and consult with your supervisor.

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Table of contents

Acknowledgements, table of contents, list of figures and tables, list of abbreviations, introduction, literature review / theoretical framework, methodology, reference list.

The very first page of your document contains your dissertation’s title, your name, department, institution, degree program, and submission date. Sometimes it also includes your student number, your supervisor’s name, and the university’s logo. Many programs have strict requirements for formatting the dissertation title page .

The title page is often used as cover when printing and binding your dissertation .

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The acknowledgements section is usually optional, and gives space for you to thank everyone who helped you in writing your dissertation. This might include your supervisors, participants in your research, and friends or family who supported you.

The abstract is a short summary of your dissertation, usually about 150-300 words long. You should write it at the very end, when you’ve completed the rest of the dissertation. In the abstract, make sure to:

  • State the main topic and aims of your research
  • Describe the methods you used
  • Summarise the main results
  • State your conclusions

Although the abstract is very short, it’s the first part (and sometimes the only part) of your dissertation that people will read, so it’s important that you get it right. If you’re struggling to write a strong abstract, read our guide on how to write an abstract .

In the table of contents, list all of your chapters and subheadings and their page numbers. The dissertation contents page gives the reader an overview of your structure and helps easily navigate the document.

All parts of your dissertation should be included in the table of contents, including the appendices. You can generate a table of contents automatically in Word.

If you have used a lot of tables and figures in your dissertation, you should itemise them in a numbered list . You can automatically generate this list using the Insert Caption feature in Word.

If you have used a lot of abbreviations in your dissertation, you can include them in an alphabetised list of abbreviations so that the reader can easily look up their meanings.

If you have used a lot of highly specialised terms that will not be familiar to your reader, it might be a good idea to include a glossary . List the terms alphabetically and explain each term with a brief description or definition.

In the introduction, you set up your dissertation’s topic, purpose, and relevance, and tell the reader what to expect in the rest of the dissertation. The introduction should:

  • Establish your research topic , giving necessary background information to contextualise your work
  • Narrow down the focus and define the scope of the research
  • Discuss the state of existing research on the topic, showing your work’s relevance to a broader problem or debate
  • Clearly state your objectives and research questions , and indicate how you will answer them
  • Give an overview of your dissertation’s structure

Everything in the introduction should be clear, engaging, and relevant to your research. By the end, the reader should understand the what , why and how of your research. Not sure how? Read our guide on how to write a dissertation introduction .

Before you start on your research, you should have conducted a literature review to gain a thorough understanding of the academic work that already exists on your topic. This means:

  • Collecting sources (e.g. books and journal articles) and selecting the most relevant ones
  • Critically evaluating and analysing each source
  • Drawing connections between them (e.g. themes, patterns, conflicts, gaps) to make an overall point

In the dissertation literature review chapter or section, you shouldn’t just summarise existing studies, but develop a coherent structure and argument that leads to a clear basis or justification for your own research. For example, it might aim to show how your research:

  • Addresses a gap in the literature
  • Takes a new theoretical or methodological approach to the topic
  • Proposes a solution to an unresolved problem
  • Advances a theoretical debate
  • Builds on and strengthens existing knowledge with new data

The literature review often becomes the basis for a theoretical framework , in which you define and analyse the key theories, concepts and models that frame your research. In this section you can answer descriptive research questions about the relationship between concepts or variables.

The methodology chapter or section describes how you conducted your research, allowing your reader to assess its validity. You should generally include:

  • The overall approach and type of research (e.g. qualitative, quantitative, experimental, ethnographic)
  • Your methods of collecting data (e.g. interviews, surveys, archives)
  • Details of where, when, and with whom the research took place
  • Your methods of analysing data (e.g. statistical analysis, discourse analysis)
  • Tools and materials you used (e.g. computer programs, lab equipment)
  • A discussion of any obstacles you faced in conducting the research and how you overcame them
  • An evaluation or justification of your methods

Your aim in the methodology is to accurately report what you did, as well as convincing the reader that this was the best approach to answering your research questions or objectives.

Next, you report the results of your research . You can structure this section around sub-questions, hypotheses, or topics. Only report results that are relevant to your objectives and research questions. In some disciplines, the results section is strictly separated from the discussion, while in others the two are combined.

For example, for qualitative methods like in-depth interviews, the presentation of the data will often be woven together with discussion and analysis, while in quantitative and experimental research, the results should be presented separately before you discuss their meaning. If you’re unsure, consult with your supervisor and look at sample dissertations to find out the best structure for your research.

In the results section it can often be helpful to include tables, graphs and charts. Think carefully about how best to present your data, and don’t include tables or figures that just repeat what you have written  –  they should provide extra information or usefully visualise the results in a way that adds value to your text.

Full versions of your data (such as interview transcripts) can be included as an appendix .

The discussion  is where you explore the meaning and implications of your results in relation to your research questions. Here you should interpret the results in detail, discussing whether they met your expectations and how well they fit with the framework that you built in earlier chapters. If any of the results were unexpected, offer explanations for why this might be. It’s a good idea to consider alternative interpretations of your data and discuss any limitations that might have influenced the results.

The discussion should reference other scholarly work to show how your results fit with existing knowledge. You can also make recommendations for future research or practical action.

The dissertation conclusion should concisely answer the main research question, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of your central argument. Wrap up your dissertation with a final reflection on what you did and how you did it. The conclusion often also includes recommendations for research or practice.

In this section, it’s important to show how your findings contribute to knowledge in the field and why your research matters. What have you added to what was already known?

You must include full details of all sources that you have cited in a reference list (sometimes also called a works cited list or bibliography). It’s important to follow a consistent reference style . Each style has strict and specific requirements for how to format your sources in the reference list.

The most common styles used in UK universities are Harvard referencing and Vancouver referencing . Your department will often specify which referencing style you should use – for example, psychology students tend to use APA style , humanities students often use MHRA , and law students always use OSCOLA . M ake sure to check the requirements, and ask your supervisor if you’re unsure.

To save time creating the reference list and make sure your citations are correctly and consistently formatted, you can use our free APA Citation Generator .

Your dissertation itself should contain only essential information that directly contributes to answering your research question. Documents you have used that do not fit into the main body of your dissertation (such as interview transcripts, survey questions or tables with full figures) can be added as appendices .

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The Graduate College » Faculty/Staff » Graduate Handbook » Doctoral Degree Policies and Procedures » Dissertation


Each PhD and EdD student must produce and defend a dissertation showing high scholarly achievement based on their original research. The student is required to submit an electronic document as evidence of this research. Students in all other doctoral programs should consult their academic programs regarding requirements and procedures for the capstone experience required in their programs.

Dissertation Adviser and Committee

When the student has been admitted into doctoral candidacy and has selected a dissertation subject and dissertation advisor, a dissertation committee should be appointed as soon as possible. The dissertation advisor must be qualified to serve as the chair of the dissertation committee, meaning this faculty member must be a member of the university graduate faculty and all members of the committee will be appointed by the Graduate College upon recommendation of the program director or director of graduate studies (in consultation with the committee chair and student). Students have the right to request a change in the committee but must do so in consultation with the graduate program director and their program must make the change in GradTracker. Preferably, the dissertation committee will include at least one person from outside the program, who might be faculty from the University of Cincinnati or another institution.

A dissertation committee must be composed of a minimum of three UC faculty members. Members of the university graduate faculty are eligible to serve on all thesis and dissertation committees. In addition, all tenured and tenure-track faculty members may serve on all thesis and dissertation committees (even if they are not members of the university graduate faculty, meaning they may not serve in the chair role and cannot act as primary advisors). Other types of UC faculty members may serve on committees if the appointing unit demonstrates that their expertise is beneficial for the dissertation project. Programs should make such requests to the Graduate College in advance, to be ascertained on a case-by-case basis.

Neither an emerit faculty member nor a faculty member from another institution may serve as the chair of the committee. Emerit faculty may remain on the committee if they were members when the proposal was accepted. A faculty member originally on a student’s committee who leaves UC to take an academic position elsewhere may also continue to serve on the student’s committee if both the faculty member and the student agree to continue the relationship. If a non-UC faculty member or appropriate professional practitioner has special expertise in a dissertation topic, such a person may be added to the dissertation committee if they are nominated by the candidate and approved by both the chairperson of the dissertation committee, the director of graduate studies for the academic unit involved and the Graduate College. All such individuals serve as a full voting member of the dissertation committee without compensation from either the university or the candidate and would serve in addition to the minimum number of three qualified full-time UC faculty.

A copy of the completed dissertation must be submitted to each committee member for critical evaluation, with sufficient time for review as determined by the dissertation committee. If it is considered satisfactory with respect to form and content by the committee, a final defense of the dissertation can be scheduled.

Final Defense of Dissertation

Students should check with their program office for the final deadline for their dissertation defense. The student’s final defense of the dissertation will be open to the public and all members of the academic community. Students are required to enter details of their dissertation defense, such as time, date, and location, online at the Graduate College website through the Graduation checklist steps. Begin at the Graduation webpage . One can also browse scheduled dissertation defenses by visiting the Upcoming Dissertation Defenses page .

The candidate answers questions posed by members of the committee and other members of the audience following an oral presentation of their dissertation. At the conclusion of the defense, the committee will withdraw, make a decision with regard to the acceptability of the dissertation and its defense, and report its decision to the candidate. At least ¾ of the voting members of the dissertation committee (including at least one representative of each major area involved, in the case of interdisciplinary programs) must approve the dissertation.

When the student’s dissertation committee chair has approved a defense, the student should assure that they have met all requirements for graduation including those in the graduation information obtained online.

Use of a Moderator

Although an outside moderator is not required, a moderator may be assigned by the Graduate College dean upon the request of the candidate, the chairperson of the dissertation committee, or the person empowered to approve the composition of a dissertation committee (the director of graduate studies for the academic unit involved). Moderators should be members of the university graduate faculty from outside the academic unit involved. The duties of the moderator are limited to observing the oral defense of the dissertation and reporting in writing to the Graduate College dean on the academic propriety of the proceedings.

Submission of Dissertation

After a dissertation has been approved, the candidate for the doctoral degree must submit their electronic dissertation by following the current instructions found at the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Information webpage . Students in all other doctoral programs should consult their academic programs for the capstone experience required in their programs. Deadlines are posted at the Graduation Deadlines page .

  • All thesis/dissertations must be electronically submitted by the student and approved by the advisor. Students log in via the link available on the Graduation webpage . 
  • Advisors are sent an email when the student submits for their approval, and the advisor then logs in to review/approve.
  • Once approved by the chair, the student is notified by email.
  • A Graduate College approval email is sent to the student once reviewed.
  • The program is copied on all email correspondence during the Electronic Thesis/Dissertation (ETD) approval process.
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  • Advising Senior Theses

Every thesis writer and thesis project is unique, and arguably the single most important thing that you can do as a thesis adviser is to get to know your student well and to be supportive and attentive as they work towards their spring deadline. The amount of structure that different concentrations offer their students can also have a significant impact on how you think about your role as an adviser. In some cases you may feel like an extension of the department’s undergraduate office, encouraging your student to follow its well-articulated pathway towards completion and nudging your student to heed (albeit perhaps with some discretion) its recommended proposal or draft deadlines. In other cases you may be the one responsible for translating the concentration’s somewhat vague guidelines into an actionable roadmap of recommended thresholds and dates. It’s well worth establishing a healthy line of communication with the concentration’s undergraduate office (and with anyone else involved in advising your student’s academic work) from the start of your advising relationship.

Regardless of the precise structure and obligations surrounding your position as an adviser, there are a number of things which you can do to help just about any student have a meaningful, and successful, experience with the senior thesis. Here are five key contributions which you can make:

Manage expectations

In an ideal world, every student would enter the thesis process fully prepared for every aspect of scholarly work. They all would know how to ask an analytical question suitable for a 60- or 100-page paper, how to find relevant data, how to draw lucid figures, how to format every footnote or methods section, … . Likewise, we might wish that every thesis topic lent itself equally well to the particular constraints of Harvard’s resources and academic calendar. If only that essential cache of Russian manuscripts existed in a published English translation in Widener! If only this experimental protocol took two weeks rather than four months! In reality, however, every thesis involves some compromise—perhaps significant compromise. One of your most important jobs as a thesis adviser is to roleplay your student’s future audience, and to help your student understand that the most successful theses ask questions that are not only meaningful, but that can be answered at least somewhat plausibly by the set of skills, resources, and time that is available to a Harvard undergraduate. Insofar as a student is determined to tackle a dissertation-sized question, the adviser can at least remind the student that it will be important to frame the results as a “partial” answer or a “contribution towards” an answer in the introduction.

Encourage self-knowledge

As with the previous point about managing expectations, it is important that an adviser be able to remind their student that the senior thesis is not, and will not be, the moment when students magically become “better” people than they already are. Students who have been night owls during their first three years of college are unlikely to transform miraculously into the type of scholars who rise at 6am and write 1000 words before breakfast—no matter how much they yearn to emulate some academic role model. Students who have participated actively in a sport or other extracurricular are unlikely to be able to simply recoup those hours for thesis work—cutting back three hours/week at The Crimson is at least as likely to translate into three more hours spent bantering in the dining hall as it is into three hours spent poring over the administrative structure of the Byzantine Empire. The point is that students can benefit from being reminded that they already know how to do the kind of work expected of them on the thesis, and that it may be counterproductive—if not downright unhealthy—to hold themselves to new or arbitrary standards.

Motivate to start writing early

With relatively few exceptions, most of the writing projects assigned in college are sufficiently modest that students can wait to start writing until they have figured out the full arc of what they want to say and how they want to say it. It’s possible, in other words, to plan and hold the entirety of a five-page essay in one’s head. This is simply not true of a senior thesis. Theses require the author to take a leap of faith—to start writing before the research is done and long before they know exactly what they want to say. Students may be reluctant to do this, fearing that they might “waste” precious time drafting a section of a chapter that ultimately doesn’t fit in the final thesis. You can do your student a world of good by reminding them that there is no such thing as wasted writing. In a project as large as a thesis, writing is not merely about reporting one’s conclusions—it is the process through which students come to figure out what their conclusions might be, and which lines of research they will need to pursue to get there.

Model strategies

While academic research and writing can and should be a creative endeavor, it is also undeniably true that even professional scholars draw upon a relatively constrained set of well-known strategies when framing their work. How many different ways, after all, are there to say that the conventional wisdom on a topic has ignored a certain genre of evidence? Or that two competing schools of thought actually agree more than they disagree? Or that fiddling with one variable has the power to reframe an entire discussion? Students may struggle to see how to plug their research into the existing scholarly conversation around their topic. Showing them models or templates that demystify the ways in which scholars frame their interventions can be enormously powerful.

Keep contact and avoid the "shame spiral"

As noted above, the senior thesis is a long process, and while it’s rarely a good idea for students to change their work habits in an effort to complete it, it is important that they be working early and often. Occasionally students do become overwhelmed by the scope of the project, and begin to feel defeated by the incremental nature of progress they are making. Even a good week of work may yield only a couple of pages of passable writing. Ideally a student feeling overwhelmed would come to their adviser for some help putting things into perspective. But for a student used to having a fair amount of success, the struggles involved in a senior thesis may be disorienting, and they may worry that they are “disappointing” you. For some, this will manifest as a retreat from your deadlines and oversight—even as they outwardly project confidence. They may begin bargaining with themselves in ways that only serve to sink them deeper into a sense of panic or shame. (“I’m long past the deadline for my first ten pages—but if I give my adviser a really brilliant fifteen-page section, he won’t mind! Surely I can turn these four pages into fifteen if I stay up all night!”) One of the best things that you can do as an adviser is keep contact with your student and make sure to remind them that your dynamic is not one of “approval” or “disapproval.” It is important that they maintain a healthy and realistic approach to the incremental process of completing the thesis over several months.

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The Art of Thesis Writing: A handout for students

Harvard's Academic Resource Center on Senior Theses

Senior Thesis Tutors at the Harvard College Writing Center

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The Best Dissertation Services In The UK

We have expert PhD writers from prestigious UK universities who are dedicated to assist students studying in the United Kingdom and all over the world. Take help from Britain’s best dissertation company and get your dream grades. From selecting a topic to writing the perfect literature review, we have got you covered.

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Why Take Help From Dissertation Services?

Dissertation writing is a challenging and time-consuming task that requires extensive research, critical thinking, and writing skills. Students pursuing advanced degrees such as a PhD or master’s degree often find it overwhelming to manage their coursework, research work, and dissertation writing simultaneously. This is where dissertation services UK come into play. These services provide professional assistance to students in completing their dissertations.

A dissertation company offer a wide range of services, including research, writing, editing, proofreading, and formatting. They employ highly qualified and experienced writers specialising in various subjects, ensuring students receive quality work. Additionally, they offer 24/7 support to students, which is beneficial in emergencies or last-minute revisions.

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Here is what our dissertation services include; although it will be up to you to decide whether you need to order the entire dissertation paper or the individual chapters:

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Since dissertations can be long and require a lot of research, we request you to allow our writers at least one week to complete the paper to the desired quality standard.

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A qualified writer who can complete the project within the deadline is our team’s first preference. We only assign the work if we are 100% sure that the writer will complete it to the desired quality standard in time. If, however, we cannot assign the task to any writer after you have made the payment, we will refund you the full amount. However, such an incident rarely occurs.

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Payments for all services, including dissertations, essays, assignments, posters, etc., can be accepted in two instalments if the total order price is above £200. Our online order form will let you pay the full amount or only the 50% advance payment to confirm your order. If you decide to pay the 50% advance payment when placing your order, please note that the outstanding balance must be cleared before the final delivery.

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How to Write an Email to Your Dissertation Advisor

Communicating effectively with your dissertation advisor is a crucial part of successfully completing your graduate program. In this article, we provide a comprehensive guide on what to do before writing the email, what to include, along with a customizable template to assist you in drafting a professional and respectful email to your dissertation advisor.

To effectively write an email to your dissertation advisor, identify your requirements, prepare a specific query, gather all necessary information, and construct an email with a respectful salutation, a clear introduction, detailed body, specific request, and a polite conclusion.

Table of Contents

What To Do Before Writing the Email

The quality of your communication largely depends on the preparation you do beforehand. Here are some steps you should take before writing your email:

  • Identify Your Needs : Understand what you need from your advisor. Are you seeking guidance on a specific chapter? Do you need feedback on your methodology or results? Or perhaps you need clarification on some comments they made. Identifying your needs will help you articulate your request more effectively.
  • Prepare Your Query : Once you’ve identified your needs, prepare a specific question or issue to address in your email. The more specific you are, the easier it will be for your advisor to provide helpful feedback.
  • Gather Information : Make sure you have all the necessary information at hand when writing your email. This includes any documents, drafts, or data related to your query. If you’re referring to these in your email, consider attaching them for easy reference.

What to Include in the Email

Your email should be well-structured and contain the following elements:

  • Salutation : Begin with a respectful greeting. Address your advisor by their professional title and surname unless they’ve indicated otherwise.
  • Introduction : Start by briefly introducing the purpose of your email. This helps set the context and prepares the advisor for your request.
  • Body : This is where you present your query or issue in detail. Make sure to provide enough context so that your advisor understands your situation. Also, keep your language clear and concise to ensure your message is understood.
  • Request : Clearly state what you want from your advisor. Whether it’s feedback on a specific section, answers to questions, or general advice, make sure this is communicated clearly.
  • Conclusion : Wrap up by summarizing your points and expressing gratitude for their time. Indicate that you are looking forward to their response.

Email Template

Here’s a customizable email template for you:

Writing an effective email to your dissertation advisor doesn’t have to be a daunting task. By identifying your needs, preparing your query, gathering relevant information, and structuring your email appropriately, you can ensure effective and respectful communication. Remember, your advisor is there to assist you, and clear communication is key to benefitting from their expertise.

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Ten things I wish I'd known before starting my dissertation

The sun is shining but many students won't see the daylight. Because it's that time of year again – dissertation time.

Luckily for me, my D-Day (dissertation hand-in day) has already been and gone. But I remember it well.

The 10,000-word spiral-bound paper squatted on my desk in various forms of completion was my Allied forces; the history department in-tray was my Normandy. And when Eisenhower talked about a "great crusade toward which we have striven these many months", he was bang on.

I remember first encountering the Undergraduate Dissertation Handbook, feeling my heart sink at how long the massive file took to download, and began to think about possible (but in hindsight, wildly over-ambitious) topics. Here's what I've learned since, and wish I'd known back then…

1 ) If your dissertation supervisor isn't right, change. Mine was brilliant. If you don't feel like they're giving you the right advice, request to swap to someone else – providing it's early on and your reason is valid, your department shouldn't have a problem with it. In my experience, it doesn't matter too much whether they're an expert on your topic. What counts is whether they're approachable, reliable, reassuring, give detailed feedback and don't mind the odd panicked email. They are your lifeline and your best chance of success.

2 ) If you mention working on your dissertation to family, friends or near-strangers, they will ask you what it's about, and they will be expecting a more impressive answer than you can give. So prepare for looks of confusion and disappointment. People anticipate grandeur in history dissertation topics – war, genocide, the formation of modern society. They don't think much of researching an obscure piece of 1970s disability legislation. But they're not the ones marking it.

3 ) If they ask follow-up questions, they're probably just being polite.

4 ) Do not ask friends how much work they've done. You'll end up paranoid – or they will. Either way, you don't have time for it.

5 ) There will be one day during the process when you will freak out, doubt your entire thesis and decide to start again from scratch. You might even come up with a new question and start working on it, depending on how long the breakdown lasts. You will at some point run out of steam and collapse in an exhausted, tear-stained heap. But unless there are serious flaws in your work (unlikely) and your supervisor recommends starting again (highly unlikely), don't do it. It's just panic, it'll pass.

6 ) A lot of the work you do will not make it into your dissertation. The first few days in archives, I felt like everything I was unearthing was a gem, and when I sat down to write, it seemed as if it was all gold. But a brutal editing down to the word count has left much of that early material at the wayside.

7 ) You will print like you have never printed before. If you're using a university or library printer, it will start to affect your weekly budget in a big way. If you're printing from your room, "paper jam" will come to be the most dreaded two words in the English language.

8 ) Your dissertation will interfere with whatever else you have going on – a social life, sporting commitments, societies, other essay demands. Don't even try and give up biscuits for Lent, they'll basically become their own food group when you're too busy to cook and desperate for sugar.

9 ) Your time is not your own. Even if you're super-organised, plan your time down to the last hour and don't have a single moment of deadline panic, you'll still find that thoughts of your dissertation will creep up on you when you least expect it. You'll fall asleep thinking about it, dream about it and wake up thinking about. You'll feel guilty when you're not working on it, and mired in self-doubt when you are.

10 ) Finishing it will be one of the best things you've ever done. It's worth the hard work to know you've completed what's likely to be your biggest, most important, single piece of work. Be proud of it.

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In this Section, “dissertation” is used to cover both the Ph.D. dissertation and the M.S. thesis.

10.1. University and Department Regulations

  • The Graduate Bulletin specifies those regulations pertaining to dissertations which have been set forth by the Graduate School. The dissertation must be prepared in accordance with the guidelines presented in the most recent version of the document entitled, Guide to the Preparation of Theses and Dissertations , available from the Graduate School. The style of referencing should adhere to the specifications in either the American Chemical Society Style Guide or the American Institute of Physics Style Manual , or another style guide if agreed upon by the student’s ACC.
  • Time Limit. It is Graduate School policy that a candidate must satisfy all requirements for the Ph.D. degree within seven years after completing 24 credits in the Chemistry Graduate Program. In rare instances, the Dean of the Graduate School will entertain a petition to extend this time limit, provided it bears the endorsement of the GPD.

10.2. Reprints in Lieu of Manuscript

In lieu of a manuscript, the candidate may submit one or more reprints of published papers in journals which are acceptable to the dissertation committee provided that such papers are written exclusively by the candidate or the candidate’s contributions are clearly described for each manuscript. The candidate must obtain written permission from the publisher and from all co-authors to include the work in the dissertation. The format and instructions relating to published materials given in the Guide to the Preparation of Theses and Dissertations must be followed. Additional documentation for each manuscript should set forth:

  • The candidate’s contributions to the published work;
  • Purpose of the research, if not included in the original document;
  • Historical setting, if not included in the original document;
  • Additional details of archival interest (tables of data, etc.).

10.3. Oral Defense

As part of the procedure by which a dissertation is approved, the Chemistry Department requires a departmental colloquium followed by a formal oral defense before the candidate's examination committee.

  • Composition of the examination committee: Three members (typically a student's ACC), with at least two members internal to the Chemistry program ( Faculty  or Affiliated Faculty ), with an additional member from outside the Department (the "Outside Member") are required for the Ph.D. Dissertation Defense. The student and research advisor will identify a qualified candidate to serve as the outside member of the committee, and establish that person’s availability. The external member of the committee should be an independent voice, and therefore should not be a collaborator on the research described in the dissertation. The names of committee members should be submitted to the GPC and the GPD and the Graduate School must approve the final composition of the examination committee. Faculty affiliates of the Chemistry Department and Graduate Program may not serve as outside members of doctoral defense committees in Chemistry. The University regulations governing the structure of the committee are described in the Graduate Bulletin .
  • The student, in consultation with the examination committee, arranges the time and place for the defense and notifies the Department through the GPC. For a Ph.D. defense, the student must notify the GPD and GPC at least 4 weeks in advance of the scheduled date by submitting an electronic dissertation announcement form using the most recent template provided on the Graduate School website . The GPD then submits this form to the Graduate School for approval. Approval must be requested from the Graduate School at least 3 weeks before the intended defense date. Dissertation examination announcements must be posted in the Department. A copy of the notice is put into the student's file.
  • Copies of the dissertation must be delivered to the examination committee at least two weeks in advance of the planned examination. Failure to meet this deadline may result in postponement of the defense.

10.4. Actions of the Examination Committee

The Dissertation Examination Committee can return the following judgments on the dissertation as a result of the Oral Defense:

  • Acceptance.
  • Acceptance with minor changes: This category requires the candidate and the Research Advisor to incorporate the minor changes, and explicitly calls for the signature (appendix) of all committee members at the conclusion of the defense.
  • Acceptance with major changes: This category requires a reexamination of the corrected dissertation by the committee, but no repetition of the oral examination.
  • Rejection: This category requires the student to prepare a new dissertation, and will generally involve further scientific work.

10.5. Deadlines

The initiative for the appointment of the Dissertation Examination Committee rests with the student in consultation with their Research Advisor. The Graduate School establishes a deadline each term (see the "Important Deadlines" section on the Graduation Information webpage ) for submission of the Examination Committee form, and it is the student’s responsibility to make sure this deadline is met.

The student who desires to receive a degree at a particular commencement must take the responsibility for learning about the deadlines for the various stages in the completion of the work and for informing the Research Advisor and the Chair of the Dissertation Committee of these matters.

Further restraints may be imposed by absences of members of the Dissertation Examination Committee. This should be taken into account in the process of nominating and screening potential members for the committee.

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Gardner Fellowship on Higher Education

The gardner fellows represent a diverse community of early career researchers in higher education within the university of california system. .

dissertation adviser

CSHE sponsors this one-year fellowship, named after UC President Emeritus David P. Gardner, for doctoral students who represent multiple academic disciplines and write dissertations on one or more issues in higher education. This broad range of seminar participants creates a unique community of early career higher education researchers within the University of California system.

This is a $3,000 fellowship for doctoral students. 

Once selected, Gardner Fellows will be affiliated with CSHE for an academic year, during which they are expected to attend Gardner Seminars remotely every other week for two hours. There will be at least 14 Seminars during the academic year. For each session, Fellows engage with prominent educational scholars and administrative leaders from the University of California system, the nation and the world. Gardner Fellows are also expected to present their own dissertation research and to provide constructive feedback to their colleagues. Upon completion of the seminar, they will receive a $3,000 stipend.

This fellowship also provides an in-person professional development workshop at Berkeley campus during the academic year.

The Gardner Fellows have the opportunity to: ● Learn from scholars about their current research; ● Gain exposure to a range of disciplines that are related to higher education; ● Broaden their understanding of different research tools and methodologies; ● Present and develop their own dissertation work; ● Explore potential career paths; and ● Create a community of early career higher education researchers

Applications for 2024-2025 will be accepted between May 1 - June 15, 2024.

UC registered doctoral students from all disciplines are eligible to apply. Applicants should emphasize how their research focuses on one or more issues in higher education. Successful applications usually have a clear description of research questions, theoretical frameworks, and methodologies.

Priority will be given to PhD candidates who are at the advanced stage in their graduate programs. 

Doctoral students from underrepresented backgrounds and campuses are especially encouraged to apply. International students are also encouraged to apply. 

Application materials should include:

  • Cover letter
  • Application Form
  • Dissertation Summary (1,200 words max)
  • Letter of endorsement from dissertation advisor 

Please note that the enrollment is kept to 11 graduate students.

Questions? Please fill out this form to attend an info session with previous Gardner Fellows. 

Please email  [email protected] (link sends e-mail)  for more information.


"being a gardner fellow was a wonderful experience for so many reasons. i learned so much from the other fellows, and i enjoyed hearing about the plethora of research being done within higher education. i'm so grateful for the gardner seminar and have nothing but positive things to say" --elizabeth anne martin (ucla, 2022-23 gardner fellow), "the gardner seminar was an instrumental part of my ph.d. development because it allowed me to present my work to a wide-range audience and receive feedback from numerous uc students and faculty. it was wonderful to connect with people outside of my field and see my research through their perspectives. the feedback i received helped strengthen my skills as a scholar." --valeria dominguez (uc riverside, 2022-23 gardner fellow), "as an early career scholar, i had the opportunity to engage with prominent higher education leaders and learn from some of the brightest early career scholars in the uc system. presenting my on-going work to these folks allowed me to grow as a researcher and scholar." --ivan valdovinos (ucsd, 2023-24 gardner fellow).

  • Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering >
  • PhD Program >

PhD in Industrial Engineering

The ISE PhD degree program prepares students to be scholars and leaders in academic, research or industry settings. Our students work with internationally recognized faculty in areas of operations research, human factors/ergonomics, production systems and manufacturing, and machine learning and artificial intelligence. The program combines rigorous coursework with supervised research experiences culminating in a significant, independent research project (the PhD dissertation). By the end of the degree program, students have become independent scholars, presenting and publishing their work in peer-reviewed conferences and journals.

Concentrations Offered

Students pursuing a PhD in Industrial Engineering can choose to concentrate their studies in one of following the areas: 

  • 4/26/24 Operations Research
  • 4/26/24 Human Factors/Ergonomics
  • 4/26/24 Production Systems

General PhD Degree Requirements

Significant PhD milestones include completion of a qualifying ("B") exam, formation of an advisory committee, completion of an advanced research ("A") exam, completion and defense of a dissertation proposal, and final dissertation defense.

Department degree requirements (which are in addition to the degree requirements specified by the  UB Graduate School  and the  School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Graduate Student Policies ) are as follows:

Course and Credit Hour Requirements

The PhD program requires a minimum of 72 credit hours. 

Generally, coursework is completed in 2 to 3 years. Courses should be selected by the student with the approval of their advisor (or the graduate director for first year students) and vary based on the primary research interests of the student (operations research, human factors, or production systems/manufacturing), and student research interests. Students should insure they take an appropriate set of courses to prepare for the B-exam in one of three areas. 

A minimum of 12 and a maximum of 24 credit hours of dissertation research are required. The variable credit dissertation exists to allow students flexibility to take additional content courses. It does not impact the expectations for the scope and effort of the dissertation.

A maximum of 36 credit hours from a Master's degree(s) may be applied toward the 72 credit hour requirement for the PhD degree. Of these, no more than six credit hours may be derived from a master’s thesis. 

This examination tests the candidate’s ability in the core courses and selected elective courses. It is required for formal acceptance into PhD candidacy, and is taken at the end of the first year of study (in May).

The B-exam consists of 5 questions focused on operations research, production systems/manufacturing, or human factors. 

The examination is closed-book. Each questions is allotted 45 minutes. Exam questions are set and graded by the faculty member who most recently offered the course. The department faculty determine a pass/fail/undecided grade for each student. Students in the undecided category are offered an oral exam (either overall, or focusing on specific courses) and a subsequent pass/fail decision is made based on their performance. Students who fail the exam have one opportunity to retake the exam, in August. 

Advisor and PhD Committee

After passing the B-exam, students should select an advisor based on their research interests. The student-advisor match is one of mutual choice: both the student, and the faculty member, must agree. Students work with their advisor to choose at least two additional faculty members to be a part of the student’s committee. The core committee members must be part of the UB Graduate Faculty. Additional committee members beyond three are possible and can be from outside of the University. It is possible to change committee members and advisors during the program. 

Advanced Examination (A-Exam)

The A-exam is scheduled sometime after the majority of course work is completed and the student has selected a dissertation topic (generally before the end of the 3 rd year). Content is based on the student’s dissertation topic to gauge the student’s capability for research in the chosen area. There is a written examination followed by an oral examination. The questions, timing, and format of the exam are determined by the advisor and committee but typically students have 2 to 3 weeks to complete the written portion of the exam. Students can pass, provisionally pass (with requirements for revisions, completion of additional coursework, or other measures set by the committee) or be asked to retake the exam at a later date (only one retake is allowed). 

Application to Candidacy

Students should to complete their Application to Candidacy as soon as possible after forming a committee and completing a plan for finishing coursework and their dissertation. Students should seek assistance from the UB ISE Graduate Studies Coordinator with this form and additional paperwork required.

Dissertation Proposal and Proposal Defense

Students should work closely with their advisor and committee to write a formal dissertation proposal prior to beginning research which the student intends to serve as the dissertation work. The proposal is presented to the committee and defended in through oral examination to determine preparedness and significance of the proposed topic and to insure agreement among the student and committee members regarding the plan of the ultimate dissertation research.

Defense of Dissertation

PhD students are required to defend their dissertation in a seminar attended by the PhD committee and which is open to department faculty, students and the public. Students must notify the academic coordinator a minimum of two weeks prior to schedule the defense and provide an abstract and title.

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12 CICS PhD Students Selected to Receive Spring 2024 Dissertation Writing Fellowships

12 doctoral students have been selected to receive Spring 2024 Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences Dissertation Writing Fellowships. Each fellowship provides a $16,500 stipend, granted to students who are nearing the end of their dissertation writing and are planning to defend their dissertations and graduate. Students are nominated by their faculty advisors, based on the strength of their dissertations and its significance to computing theory and practice.   

DEEP CHAKRABORTY Advisors:  Erik Learned-Miller  “Information-Theoretic Methods for Self-Supervised Learning”  

Edmund Cunningham

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2024 CSULB Grad Slam Winners

Non-stem winners:, 1 st place: javier fernandez.

Presentation Title: Religion in Virtual Worlds

Faculty advisor: dr. kathryn chew, 2 nd place: ellen tatevosyan.

Presentation Title: Factors of Postpartum Depression Among a Sample of Low-Income Ethnic Minority Mothers

Faculty advisor: dr. guido urizar, 3 rd place: lauren munoz.

Presentation Title: Addressing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in early childhood education: Examining the relationship between teacher and child ACEs

Faculty advisor: dr. alejandra priede, stem winners:, 1 st place: zach merson.

Presentation Title: Top-Down Effects of Juvenile White Shark Aggregations on Nearshore Prey Communities

Faculty advisor: dr. chris lowe, 2 nd place: jaclyn caballero, presentation title: post-pandemic ed-tech preparedness: a comparative analysis of public school districts’ education technology plans, faculty advisor: dr. devery rodgers, 3 rd place: neha sandhu.

Presentation Title: Mindshare: Connecting Worlds through Body Swapping and Brain Control

Faculty advisor: dr. joe kalman.

California State University, Long Beach

School of Electrical and Computer Engineering

College of engineering, ph.d. dissertation defense - yash-yee logan.

Title:   Data-Centric Approaches for Exploiting Meta-Information and Mitigating Model Regression to Aid Neural Networks Committee: Dr. Aaron Lanterman, ECE, Chair, Advisor Dr. Vince Calhoun, ECE Dr. May Wang, BME Dr. David Anderson, ECE Dr. Pamela Bhatti, ECE  


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    Rose McDermott is the David and Mariana Fisher University Professor of International Relations at Brown University and a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is the author of five books, a coeditor of two additional volumes, and author of over two hundred academic articles across a wide variety of disciplines encompassing topics such as American foreign and defense policy ...

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  21. Gardner Fellowship on Higher Education

    Dissertation Summary (1,200 words max) Letter of endorsement from dissertation advisor Please note that the enrollment is kept to 11 graduate students. Questions? Please fill out this form to attend an info session with previous Gardner Fellows. Please email [email protected] (link sends e-mail) for more information.

  22. PhD Degree Requirements

    The PhD program requires a minimum of 72 credit hours. Generally, coursework is completed in 2 to 3 years. Courses should be selected by the student with the approval of their advisor (or the graduate director for first year students) and vary based on the primary research interests of the student (operations research, human factors, or production systems/manufacturing), and student research ...

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