Section XIII: Dissertation and Final Oral Exam


It is the goal of the Program that MCDB students publish their work in peer-reviewed journals and graduate within 5 years.  To this end, students must meet early and often with their Advisory Committee and each meeting should include a discussion of goals and timelines for publication and graduation.

When students are ready to graduate, they must prepare and submit a dissertation, known as the dissertation draft, and then defend it orally in the Final Oral Examination.  After the oral examination, the Dissertation Committee may request revisions to the dissertation document.  To graduate with a PhD, the final document must be approved by all members of the Dissertation Committee and all members of Dissertation Committee including the Graduate Faculty Representative must agree that the student passed the Final Oral Examination.

Application to Graduate

A student must complete and submit the Application to Graduate form on GRADFORMS by the Graduate School’s deadline. The application is valid for that autumn or spring semester or summer term only. Submitting this application indicates that the student expects to complete all degree requirements by the end of that semester or term. It must be submitted by the student and approved by the dissertation advisor and Program director or co-directors. Students must have completed all the required coursework and electives (see Section VIII) before they submit their application to graduate.

Expectations for publication

The Program expects that MCDB students will generate original findings of sufficient quality and rigor to be published in peer-reviewed journals and that this should include at least one paper on which the student is first author or co-first author, and preferably more.  Students and the Advisory Committee should set goals for publication prior to graduation.


When a student is ready to prepare their dissertation, they should consult with their Advisory Committee to establish their availability to read and approve the dissertation and then conduct the Final Oral Examination.  After submitting the dissertation draft, the student should allow their Advisory Committee at least two weeks to read it.   After reviewing the document, the committee may approve it or they may request revisions.  Once approved by all members of the committee, the student may submit the Application for Final Exam on GRADFORMS. If the student wishes to graduate that same semester, then the dissertation must be submitted to the Advisory Committee at least two weeks before the Graduate School’s deadline for submission of the Application for Final Exam. A committee member’s approval of the dissertation draft means that they judge it to be of sufficient merit to warrant holding the Final Oral Examination.

The final copy of the dissertation must be submitted to the Graduate School within five years following the successful completion of the Candidacy Examination.  If not, candidacy is cancelled and must be repeated.

Preparation of the dissertation

The dissertation is a scholarly contribution to knowledge in the doctoral candidate’s area of specialization. In researching and writing a dissertation, the doctoral candidate is expected to demonstrate a high level of knowledge and the capability to function as an independent scholar in their discipline.

A copy of the dissertation draft must be submitted electronically to the Graduate School for format review at the time the Application for Final Exam form is submitted. The dissertation must conform to Graduate School format requirements as described in the document preparation guidelines available on the Graduate School website.  Students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with these requirements and for ensuring that they are adhered to. 

The dissertation should be of a caliber similar to that expected of an article submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. Documents that are missing tables, graphs, citations, chapters or sections, etc., are considered incomplete and cannot be reviewed or defended. The student is responsible for ensuring that the information contained within the dissertation is original, complete, and does not include material that could be considered academic misconduct.

Published and/or collaborative work

The doctoral dissertation must reflect the independent scholarship and work of the student.  However, science is collaborative and our students are expected to publish so it is expected that the dissertation may include work that is published and/or to which others have contributed.  In such instances, the student must clearly identify their own contributions and identify and acknowledge the contributions of others.

Published papers on which the student is the first or co-first author may be included as a dissertation chapter essentially as published or as submitted for publication or they may be modified.  In such instances, the published papers should be incorporated in such a way as to make a unified, complete document and should comply with the following:

  1. Each published paper should represent a distinct Chapter.
  2. The text should be reformatted and the figures renumbered to be consistent with the formatting of the rest of the dissertation and to meet the Graduate School dissertation formatting guidelines.
  3. The first page of the Chapter should include a complete citation that lists all authors of the published paper and an author contribution statement that explains the specific contributions of each author to the experimental design, data generation, figure preparation and writing. 

Students are encouraged to add additional data or writing that might not have been included in the published paper due to space limitations or other constraints, where applicable.

Data from published papers on which the student is not a first or co-first author, or data that was obtained collaboratively, may be included in the dissertation.  In such instances, the Chapter should be written by the student and proper attribution to the published or collaborative data must be provided in the figure legend, including an explanation of the student’s contribution to the experimental design, data generation and figure preparation.  If the work is published, it should always be accompanied by a citation.

Introduction and Discussion

In addition to the data chapters, the dissertation must include an Introduction and Discussion, which should be separate chapters. These should be written solely by the student and should represent their independent scholarly analysis.

The Introduction should be a scholarly overview of the field.  It should demonstrate the student’s command and understanding of the literature and should be accompanied by a bibliography that reflects the breadth of the student’s reading and mastery of the field.  Examples of this include diagrams, schematics and/or tables that synthesize and summarize the current body of knowledge as it relates to the dissertation topic, and a discussion that places the dissertation research in an appropriate historical and intellectual context.

The Discussion should present the principal conclusions arising from the student’s work. It should include a critical discussion of the data presented in the context of the published literature.  Examples include a balanced consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of the data, a consideration of caveats or alternative interpretations, as well as unresolved questions and future directions.  It should not simply repeat the conclusions of earlier chapters but should tie together the various chapters and offer unique insight and interpretation beyond what was presented in those chapters.

Dissertation Committee

The Advisory Committee serves as the Dissertation Committee and is responsible for reviewing and approving the dissertation.  The Graduate Studies Committee wishes to emphasize the importance of continuity in the composition of the Advisory Committee.  Thus, it is expected that this committee should remain unchanged from the candidacy exam to the dissertation defense.  Changes should only be made if absolutely necessary, e.g. if a committee member leaves the Program or the University or becomes otherwise unable to serve.  If a change is to be made, the student and his/her advisor must notify the Program in writing as soon as possible, and absolutely no later than the point at which the student submits their application to graduate.

Final Oral Examination

The final oral examination tests the doctoral candidate’s originality, independence of thought, and ability to synthesize and interpret data, as well as the quality of the research presented.

Responsibility for conducting and evaluating the final oral examination rests with the Final Oral Examination Committee which is composed of members of the Advisory Committee plus a Graduate Faculty Representative, who is appointed by the Graduate School.  The advisor serves as chair of the Final Oral Examination Committee.

To schedule the final oral exam the doctoral candidate must submit an Application for Final Examination on GRADFORMS and have this approved by each Advisory Committee member at least two weeks before the proposed defense date. After the Final Oral Examination Committee has been approved by the Graduate School and the Graduate Faculty Representative has been assigned, links and instructions for how to complete the Report on Final Examination and Report on Final Document in GRADFORMS are shared with the examination committee by email.

The final oral examination should take place on the OSU campus during university business hours, Monday through Friday.  Prior to the oral examination, the doctoral candidate is required to present their dissertation research in a one-hour public seminar.  This seminar should be held immediately before the oral exam and should be scheduled at least two weeks in advance, with announcements circulated to students and faculty.

Immediately following the public seminar, the Final Oral Examination Committee meets with the candidate to conduct the oral examination.  The exam is closed to the public and only attended by the candidate and the committee.  The exam may last to up to two hours and not less than one hour. 

The exam is expected to focus on the dissertation but is not limited to this topic. For example, the examiners may address principles and historical perspectives or general knowledge in addition to the data presented. The candidate will be expected to demonstrate a command of the relevant published literature and an ability to critically evaluate their data in that context.  The candidate should be able defend the rationale and significance of their work and to justify their conclusions.  Lastly, the candidate should demonstrate an understanding of fundamental concepts related to their research or arising from their work.

All members of the Final Oral Examination Committee including the Graduate Faculty Representative must be present throughout the exam.  If one member has to leave temporarily, the examination must temporarily halt.  Procedures for video conferencing, postponement of halting an oral exam in progress are described in Section 7.9 of  the Graduate School Handbook.

Immediately after the examination has concluded the Final Oral Examination Committee meets in the absence of the candidate and decides the result examination result by means of a vote.  All committee members are expected to participate fully in questioning during the course of the examination and in the discussion of, and decision on, the result.  For a candidate to pass the exam, all committee members must be in agreement.  If one or more members of the committee judge the performance to be unsatisfactory, the committee may allow a second examination to be scheduled. Failure of a second examination will result in ineligibility for an MCDB graduate degree.

Graduate Faculty Representative

The Graduate Faculty Representative must be present for the entire duration of the oral examination and is a full voting member of the Final Oral Examination Committee.  The Graduate Faculty Representative should be invited to ask questions and has the right to ask at least one question. The purpose of the Graduate Faculty Representative on the Final Oral Examination Committee is:

  1. To assess the rigor of the examination process.
  2. To assess the fairness, professionalism and integrity of the examination process.
  3. To assess conformity to rules of the Graduate School (e.g., duration of the exam, adequate time for questions by the committee members).

The Graduate Faculty Representative renders an opinion based on their observation of the exam and reports a judgment to the Graduate School once the final oral examination is completed through an evaluation form on GRADFORMS.  The Graduate Faculty Representative may attend the public seminar but is not required to do so.


Rev: November, 2020