Thesis Proposal


In the thesis proposal, the doctoral student lays out an intended course of research for the dissertation.  By accepting the thesis proposal, the student’s dissertation proposal committee agrees that the proposal is practicable and acceptable, that its plan and prospectus are satisfactory, and that the candidate is competent in the knowledge and techniques required, and formally recommends that the candidate proceed according to the prospectus and under the supervision of the dissertation committee. It is part of the training of the student’s research apprenticeship that the form of this proposal must be as concise as those proposals required by major funding agencies.


The student proposes to a committee consisting of the student’s advisor and two other researchers who meet requirements for dissertation committee membership.  The advisor should solicit the prospective committee members, not the student. In cases where the research and departmental advisors are different, both must serve on the committee.


The student prepares a proposal document that consists of a core, plus any optional appendices. The core is limited to 30 pages (e.g., 12 point font, single spacing, 1 inch margins all around), and should contain sections describing 1) the problem and its background, 2) the innovative claims of the proposed work and its relation to existing work, 3) a description of at least one initial result that is mature enough to be able to be written up for submission to a conference, and 4) a plan for completion of the research. The committee commits to read and respond to the core, but reserves the right to refuse a document whose core exceeds the page limit. The student cannot assume that the committee will read or respond to any additional appendices

A latex thesis proposal template is available here.


The student presents the proposal in a prepared 45 minute talk, and then responds to any questions and feedback from the committee.  There is no fixed time limit on the question/feedback period.  Two to three hours is normally scheduled for the presentation.


The student’s advisor, upon approval of the full faculty, establishes the target semester by which the thesis proposal must be successfully completed. The target semester must be no later than the eighth semester, and the student must be informed of the target semester no later than the sixth semester. The proposal may be done earlier: the student must pass the candidacy exam before presenting the thesis proposal, but there are no other restrictions and no other doctoral program requirements need to be completed prior to the thesis proposal.

The complete doctoral thesis proposal document must be disseminated to the entire proposal committee no later than two weeks (14 days) prior to the proposal presentation.  The entire doctoral thesis proposal committee must agree to the scheduling of the proposal presentation no later than two weeks (14 days) prior to the presentation. The Doctoral Program Administrator must then be informed of the scheduling of the oral exam, also no later than two weeks (14 days) prior to the exam, use the PhD Program Milestones Registration Form. Emergency exceptions to either of these deadlines can be granted by the Director of Graduate Studies or the Department Chair on appeal by the advisor and agreement of the committee.


Passing or failing is determined by consensus of the committee, who then sign the dissertation proposal form.  Failure to pass the thesis proposal by the end of the target semester or the eighth semester, whichever comes first, is deemed unsatisfactory progress: the student is normally placed on probation and can be immediately dismissed from the program. However, on appeal of the student’s advisor, one semester’s grace can be granted by the full faculty.

Last updated on May 5, 2021.