After completing the Master’s Degree and having the Second Qualifying Paper approved, students write a dissertation proposal, and ultimately a dissertation. The dissertation must be an original and significant scholarly contribution to the sociological literature.  The following steps are required to complete the Ph.D. 

Please note: although work on the dissertation proposal may commonly occur before the QP2 sign-off, the dissertation sign-on meeting cannot take place until after the QP2 sign-off meeting has taken place.  


A. Dissertation Committee

a.  Department Committee Members - The dissertation committee includes the student’s dissertation advisor (who serves as the chair) plus two other members of the sociology graduate faculty. One (and only one) of the two committee members (but not the chair) may be a member of the Sociology affiliated graduate faculty, unless they have full membership status in the graduate program, in which case they count as a core faculty member. Contact the Graduate Program Director if clarification is needed.  It is not uncommon for students to invite a fourth member from the sociology graduate faculty.  The dissertation advisor is the main consultant for the student during all phases of the dissertation research and writing.  Substitutions in committee membership, once the committee has been formed, must be approved by the Graduate Program Director.  Substitutions normally occur only if a member is unable to serve or if a student’s topic or methodology changes dramatically.

b.   Committee Member from Outside the Department – The committee must also include an additional committee member who is not a regular or affiliated Rutgers sociology graduate faculty member. This outside member may be chosen from another department at Rutgers or from outside the University. The outside member should be a recognized authority on the subject of the dissertation.  The student is encouraged to talk with his/her dissertation chair and committee members about the selection of the outside member of the committee.  The student should also seek advice from the chair and committee members about how to request committee membership from individuals outside of the department.  The outside committee member can be selected at the time that the committee is formed or can be added later.  However, the outside committee member should be confirmed two months before the dissertation defense at the very latest.  It is important that the student discusses the role of the outside member with that person and with the dissertation chair because the extent of involvement can vary greatly—from providing early and regular feedback to reading and providing comments only on the final draft.  An outside member may not serve as the chair. 


B. Dissertation Proposal and Proposal Defense

A dissertation proposal should be developed in close consultation with the student’s dissertation advisor and committee members. Dissertation proposals vary widely with respect to their length and level of detail, although they typically range from 15 to 25 pages.  They should specify the research question(s), discuss the potential contribution of the work to sociology relative to past research and theory, describe the data to be collected or analyzed and the proposed method of analysis, and provide a timeline of the proposed work.  These elements should also be presented and discussed explicitly during the oral proposal defense meeting.  The student and the committee should also discuss whether the dissertation will be organized as a “three-paper” project or the more traditional “book-style” dissertation.  These different types or structures of dissertation are discussed in the following section.  Regardless of the type of dissertation structure chosen, if parts of one QP, or of both QPs, will be included as a portion of the proposed dissertation, the student must make clear the distinct contribution of the dissertation work beyond that made by the QP(s), as well as how each QP contributes to the overall argument of the dissertation.  The more detail provided in the proposal about all issues noted, the more help committee members can give.  Importantly, the dissertation proposal is not a formal contract, and both the student and committee members may adjust components of the project as the dissertation work progresses.

Please note: as mentioned above, the dissertation proposal defense must not take place before the QP2 sign-off meeting has taken place and QP2 has been approved.


C. Types of Dissertation

a. The Three-paper Dissertation

The three-paper model of a dissertation includes three interconnected but also stand-alone papers/chapters that are linked by an overarching theme, plus additional introductory and concluding chapters that establish and develop the theoretical and empirical connections among the papers/chapters.  Often the committee will expect that different methods or theoretical orientations or data will be showcased across the three papers.  In rare cases, it may be warranted to use parts of both or either QP1 and QP2 as part of a three-paper dissertation. But, the task of the dissertation may not be simply writing a third paper after QP1 and QP2.  Earlier work might well undergo further revision, and the general argument and/or conceptual framework linking the papers must also be developed. In addition, it is highly advisable for students on the job market to have more than one project and/or methodology in their arsenal.  Students should keep in mind this goal of diversification when working on their QPs, and when thinking about how the dissertation relates to their overall research profile. The three-paper style is more common for quantitatively oriented research, although it certainly may be adopted for qualitative projects if the student and committee feel it is appropriate in a given case.  For quantitative projects, each paper/chapter will commonly test different hypotheses, often with different datasets; for qualitative projects, where hypothesis testing is not the norm, the student should make clear what research questions are being explored overall and in specific chapters.

b. The “Book-style” Dissertation

The “book-style” or monograph-style dissertation will follow the thread of a particular argument, from theory, to lit review, to data and analysis.  It is more common to adopt this format for qualitative and/or mixed methods research, and for case studies or extended comparative case study research.  Students intent on writing a book should probably follow this model (but also think consciously about writing the dissertation as a book, meaning thinking about one’s eventual audience and establishing the correct tone accordingly).  Some students choose the Analytical Review option for QP2 because it can become the literature review chapter of their book-style dissertation fairly readily.  It is by no means impossible to extract a component of a monographstyle dissertation for publication as a stand-alone article, and in fact it is commonly encouraged; but it will probably require more effort at synthesis, abridgment, and reorganization than is true for three-paper dissertations.  Faculty guidance here is likely to be especially important.

c. Choosing a Format and Proceeding

Please note that both styles are completely valid models for a dissertation.  The decision about which style to use varies across substantive areas and by the way in which the project develops.  In the proposal defense, the student and committee should agree about which structure is to be adopted.  They additionally agree upon a projected timeline of progress towards the completion of the dissertation and develop a plan for communication of the student with committee members.  Upon approval of the proposal, the committee members and the Graduate Program Director sign the Dissertation Proposal Approval Form. This form is filed with the Graduate Program Coordinator. The Ph.D. Candidacy form should be signed by the Graduate Director and submitted to the Graduate School. At this point, the student is designated as ABD (“All But Dissertation”). 


D. Writing the Dissertation    

The dissertation writing process typically takes one to three years. That time period is spent conducting original research, writing an initial draft, and revising the chapters at least once in response to committee members’ feedback.  The committee (especially the dissertation chair) must be kept informed of the student’s progress at frequent intervals and should monitor the candidate’s work and assist in its development. In so far as possible, the committee should attempt to give the student ample and early warning of any reservations concerning the student’s progress and, if necessary, specify the changes required for dissertation acceptance.

A first draft of the dissertation should be submitted to the dissertation advisor and/or to any or all members of the dissertation committee according to terms agreed upon by the student and by committee members.   After receiving suggestions from committee members, the student revises the dissertation draft. The process of receiving feedback and revising accordingly may happen more than once, with students sometimes drafting several versions of a particular chapter. The dissertation is revised until the advisor and committee members believe that it is ready for defense.


E. Dissertation Defense

When the student, dissertation chair, and other committee members agree that the dissertation is complete and ready for public defense, the student contacts all committee members to schedule a dissertation defense at a mutually agreeable date and time.  The defense date, time, and location should be scheduled at least three weeks in advance.  Arrangements for the location of the defense are made with the sociology Graduate Program Coordinator.  The dissertation defense must be publicly announced, and all faculty and graduate students in the sociology department must be invited to attend.  Normally a Zoom link is also created for the defense, for those who cannot be present in person.  The student should contact the sociology Graduate Program Coordinator to arrange for this announcement and invitation.  The student should also contact the dissertation chair to discuss the structure of the defense.  The student and all departmental members of the committee are strongly encouraged to be physically present at the defense to mark this significant student accomplishment.  The outside member may be absent if necessary, provided that he or she sends the committee chair written comments. 

The dissertation defense typically entails a lively discussion of the student’s work, with committee members and guests asking questions about the dissertation research.  Toward the end of the defense, the committee convenes privately to decide on whether the candidates has ‘passed.’ Immediately following the formal defense, the committee members meet with the candidate to provide a list of changes (if any) that are required before the dissertation is approved.  Typically, these required revisions are reviewed by the dissertation advisor although committee members may request to review and approve revisions. Students should be advised that this stage of final revisions, after a successful defense, is not trivial or anticlimactic but is an important part of the dissertation process.  Making final revisions can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Students are strongly encouraged to create a list of the required revisions and then indicate in writing how the committee’s concerns have been addressed in the final version of the dissertation.  During the immediate post-defense meeting, the committee may also provide advice about future revisions (i.e., those recommended but not required for approval of the thesis per se) as the student prepares the dissertation for publication as a book or refereed journal articles. The committee and Graduate Director must sign the Ph.D. Candidacy form, or Final Defense Candidacy Form, that the student submits to the Graduate School. 


F. Formatting the Official Dissertation

The final draft of the dissertation should be prepared in strict accordance with the instructions provided in the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Style Guide available on the School of Graduate Studies webpage.  It is prudent for the student to prepare the document properly as it is being written, rather than having to do a lot of re-formatting at the end.

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