Doctoral Dissertation

Doctoral Dissertation

Candidates for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) must complete an acceptable dissertation. A successful dissertation satisfies the following criteria:

  1. Demonstrates the candidate’s intellectual competence;
  2. Makes an original and valid contribution to nursing science; and
  3. Is an individual achievement and product of independent research?

The first step is to assign the dissertation committee (Appendix B). The dissertation research is conducted under the supervision of a dissertation committee, a group of at least three faculty members from the University of Massachusetts Amherst who have graduate faculty appointments with dissertation advising privileges. Two of the dissertation committee members must be chosen from the College of Nursing with one member serving as chairperson. The third graduate faculty member must be chosen from a department outside of nursing but within the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This person must also be a member of the graduate faculty.

The second step is to approval of the dissertation proposal. The student, under the guidance of the Dissertation Chair and the other committee members will develop a research proposal. It is the responsibility of the student to organize a meeting of the Dissertation Committee including the Chair of the Dissertation Committee, the other members and the student, to discuss the research problem before approving the dissertation proposal. At this meeting, the student will present the proposal and with the committee will discuss the research plan. At the conclusion of the discussion, the Committee will determine the following: 1) Pass. The proposal is acceptable as is; the student can proceed to the next step of the research process, which is usually submitting the proposal to the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects (IRB). 2) Pass with minor revisions. There is additional work on the proposal before proceeding to the IRB. 3) Pass with major revisions. There is substantial work that must be completed before the student can proceed. The committee will reconvene when the student has completed the additional work. 4) No pass. The proposal is not acceptable for a dissertation. All members of the dissertation committee and the Graduate Program Director must approve and sign the dissertation proposal and forward it to the Dean of the Graduate School (Appendix B). The approved dissertation proposal must be submitted to the Graduate School at least seven months prior to the dissertation defense.

The actual structure of the dissertation manuscript will be decided on by the PhD Candidate and the Committee (all formats must be consistent with the requirements of the library as noted below). Dissertation may be written in the chapter format (1) Introduction, 2) Background/ROL/Theoretical framework, 3) Methods, 4) Findings, 5) Discussion/Conclusions) or be constructed in the manuscript format. Other formats may be acceptable, but these two are the most common in nursing at present. Typically, the dissertation proposal is comprised of the first three chapters (1) Introduction, 2) Background/ROL/theoretical framework, 3) Methods.

The following outline illustrates the typical format of a “traditional” (book-style) and manuscript-based dissertation: Anatomy of a Dissertation Proposal.docx

'Traditional’ or Book-style Format:

Dissertation may be written in the chapter format (1) Introduction, 2) Background/ROL/Theoretical framework, 3) Methods, 4) Findings, 5) Discussion/Conclusions) or be constructed in the manuscript format. Other formats may be acceptable, but these two are the most common in nursing at present. Typically, the dissertation proposal is comprised of the first three chapters (1) Introduction, 2) Background/ROL/theoretical framework, 3) Methods.

Manuscript format:

The manuscript style dissertation typically is written in five chapters with the same first (Introduction) and last (Discussion/Application/Conclusions) chapters as the 5-chapter format. The other chapters consist of manuscripts that will be (or have been) submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Students are highly encouraged to consult with their advisors and Dissertation Committee members prior to submitting any manuscripts for peer review. At least one of the manuscripts will contain data-based results and interpretation of the dissertation study. The student and committee will determine the contents of the manuscripts. Manuscripts often include a synthesis of the literature, a methods paper, a paper on clinical, theoretical or policy implications, and others. Authorships should be determined in advance according to the suggested guidelines. It is expected that the student will serve as lead author on all manuscripts generated as part of the manuscript-style dissertation.

Other dissertation formats may be possible. The dissertation format should be discussed and approved by the Dissertation Committee and meet all Graduate School requirements. 

Steps for Scheduling the Oral Prospectus & Final Defense

EMCON PhD Program Progression Milestones (required for graduation):

    • Passage of a qualifying exam (also known as “Comps” or the “written comprehensive exam”) offered after 1st year coursework
    • Completion of required coursework & electives/cognates (3 required)
    • Completion of the 120-hour mentored research residency & submission of signed residency contract to PhD Program Director
    • Formation of a Dissertation Committee
    • Oral Prospectus (also known as the “Proposal Defense”) wherein the PhD candidate proposes an original research study to their dissertation committee
    • Enrollment in Dissertation Seminar & Dissertation Credits (18 credits required)
    • Final Oral Defense presenting outcomes of the dissertation project (also known as the “Dissertation Defense” or “Final defense”)
    • Submission of all required paperwork & documentation of degree eligibility to EMCON
    • Uploading & archiving of approved Dissertation to ScholarWorks

To File an Oral Proposal (Prospectus)

We advise filing your oral proposal at least one month ahead of time, to allow sufficient time for assessment of candidate eligibility and graduate faculty status

  1. Dissertation Committee:
    1. Work with your faculty advisor to:
      1. Confirm readiness to propose (this includes completion of all related requirements including any required core coursework, qualifying exam, and mentored research residency hours)
      2. Identify members of the dissertation committee (1 EMCON faculty advisor, 1 EMCON faculty, and 1 faculty from another UMass Amherst department)
  2. Graduate Faculty Status:
    1. Confirm all 3 committee members already have “Graduate Faculty Status”. If they do not, they will have to apply for it.  
    2. PLEASE NOTE: Approval of Graduate Faculty Status for first-time applicants now requires completion of an 8-hour in-person graduate mentoring workshop through the Graduate School. Allow sufficient time for any faculty members who must apply for Graduate Faculty Status to achieve this requirement.
  3. Schedule a date for the oral proposal:
    1. Create a signature page, formatted according to requirements for Dissertations, and inclusive of the following information:
      1. Title of proposal
      2. Name of candidate
      3. Names of committee members
    2. Identify a date & time that works for all committee members for the proposal defense
      1. Allow at least 90 minutes for the defense
      2. Usually candidates present their proposal for ~30 minutes followed by Q&A from the committee and private deliberation
    3. Determine whether the defense will take place via ZOOM or in-person or hybrid
    4. Submit the following information to the r [dot] walker [at] umass [dot] edu (PhD Program Director) with a CC to the Graduate Program and Credentialing Assistant, Dorian Pariseau (dpariseau [at] umass [dot] edu (dpariseau[at]umass[dot]edu)).
      1. A properly formatted electronic copy of the signature page for PhD Program Specialist to upload to DocuSign for committee to sign post-defense (the candidate should prepare this page)
      2. Date & time of the proposal defense
      3. Chair (faculty advisor) & committee members
    5. Once the Oral Proposal is completed and the proposal (including any required revisions) is approved, the Chair/faculty advisor should immediately notify the dpariseau [at] umass [dot] edu (PhD Program Specialist) who will circulate the signature page for electronic signatures from the Committee and GPD.

To File the Final Defense:

Important Provisos:

  • We strongly advise filing for your defense at least six weeks ahead of time to allow sufficient time for planning and processing.
  • ALL final defenses are required to be announced at least four weeks prior to the date of the defense (this policy is set by the Graduate School).
  • To be eligible for May graduation, defenses must be completed & all documentation filed by the date(s) set by the Graduate School.
    • These dates vary year to year and are usually about 2 months before the date of graduation.
    • Since all defenses must be announced at least one month prior to the defense, this means plans for a defense often must be filed at least 3 months ahead of the planned graduation date.
  • Please check the Graduate School website for exact dates & deadlines.

Steps for Filing for Final Defense:

    1. Meet with your Faculty Advisor and review the following Graduate School policies:
      1. Checklist of Requirements to Graduate
      2. Checklist for Final Doctoral Oral Examination
      3. Doctoral Degree Eligibility Form
    1. The PhD Program Assistant needs at least 5 weeks’ notice of the final dissertation defense (dissertation title, day, date, time, room) and the Graduate School’s requirement of defense announcement is 1 month prior.
      1. If there is any doubt about which staff person to contact to do this, contact the r [dot] walker [at] umass [dot] edu (PhD Program Director) for clarification.
      2. The designated staff member is Dorian Pariseau.
        1. DO NOT email Cynthia Mendoza, who is no longer at UMass – these emails will not be received.
        2. DO NOT email Karen Ayotte, who is supporting other programs.
    1. Submit the following information via email to dpariseau [at] umass [dot] edu (Dorian Pariseau), Graduate Program and Credentialing Assistant, with a CC to the PhD program director (r [dot] walker [at] umass [dot] edu):
        1. Doctoral Degree Eligibility Form with top part completed & signed by the candidate
        2. Digital copy of a Flyer to Announce the Defense:
          1. This should be constructed by the PhD candidate
          2. Template available here:

            It should include:

            1. Candidate name & department
            2. Title of dissertation
            3. Date & time of public defense
            4. Information about room(s) or ZOOM link
            5. Optional: Name of Chair, Committee members
            6. The PhD Program specialist will circulate this flyer to the Graduate School & EMCON with an email announcement of the defense
            7. Signed copy of Mentored Research Residency contract, documenting successful completion of residency with faculty signature


              1. Candidate name, title & department
              2. Title of dissertation
              3. Date & time of public defense
              4. Any room request(s) & AV requirements (PhD Program Specialist can assist with reserving rooms for public & private portion of defense)
              5. Name & title of Chair
              6. Names of Committee members with contact info & their titles/departmental affiliations
            8. The PhD Program Specialist will use this information to construct signature pages for uploading & approval by the Committee and Dean in DocuSign following the defense.

Dissertation Defense

All Dissertation Defenses will be announced in the UMass Amherst electronic journal to invite interested Graduate Faculty and others to attend. The Office of Degree Requirements must receive written notification of the scheduling of a Final Oral Examination at least four weeks prior to the date of the defense. A defense cannot be held unless it has been publicly announced in the UMass Amherst electronic journal.

The student must come to the UMass Amherst campus for the defense (unless pandemic physical distancing requirements are in effect, in which case the Graduate School will provide advisement regarding acceptable formats for a defense).

Members of a student’s dissertation committee must be present in person or via video-teleconference for the final oral defense. (Note: All Graduate Faculty are invited to attend and cannot be excluded from the Dissertation Defense. Departments differ in allowing others to attend. Courtesy suggests that the Chair of the Committee, whose name is published in the UMass Amherst electronic journal, be consulted by others attending the Defense, with the stipulation above).

The Program strongly encourages that public defenses include both a public portion for the candidate’s presentation and general questions from the public/attendees, followed by a closed portion in which only members of the Dissertation Committee are present and can ask more technical questions of the candidate.

While other faculty may attend the defense, only the three official members of the Dissertation Committee may cast a vote.

There are three possible outcomes for a dissertation defense:

  • First is “Pass,” no further action is required except submission to the Graduate School.
  • The second possible outcome is “Pass with revisions.” In this case the dissertation is substantially completed and sound but requires further refinement before the committee approves the dissertation.
  • The third outcome is “fail”.

A unanimous vote of Pass is required for the student to pass the Dissertation Defense. The dissertation must be approved and signed by all members of the Dissertation Committee and the Dean. See the Graduate School Handbook for specific instructions.

Successful completion of the dissertation defense is reported to the Graduate School in the form of a memorandum (Appendix B). A copy of this memorandum and the signatory page will be placed in the student’s file.

Steps for dissertation defense:

PhD Program Assistant needs at least 5 weeks’ notice of the final dissertation defense (dissertation title, day, date, time, room) and the Graduate School’s requirement of defense announcement is 1 month prior.

  1. Student or Committee Chair reserves Skinner room for defense.
  2. PhD Program Assistant will remind the student to send her the signed doctoral degree eligibility form (required from the PhD student).
  3. PhD Program Assistant will construct the signature pages and send the signature page to the PhD Student.
  4. Student is to bring at least 4 copies of the original signature pages to the day of the final oral defense.
  5. Student must be present on the day of their dissertation defense.
  6. ALL committee members must be present on the day of the oral defense.
  7. Chair to set up zoom link for dissertation defense and sent to Graduate Faculty and PhD students.
  8. Once the signature pages are signed, bring 2 original pages to PhD Program Assistant office room 032
  9. Electronic Dissertation submission process:

Manuscript Instructions:

The dissertation must be typed in a proscribed style. (Refer to the Guidelines for Master's Theses and Doctoral Dissertations, available in the Office of Degree Requirements or online . The Graduate School is the final and only arbitrator of what is an acceptable dissertation. The dissertation shall be submitted to the Graduate School in electronic format, by the deadline for the appropriate degree-granting period, following the instructions of the Graduate School.

Two original signature pages for the dissertation must also be submitted by the deadline to the Graduate School, along with the Eligibility for Degree Form. A microfilm fee is required to cover the submission of the electronic dissertation and the microfilm publication.

Copyrighting the dissertation is required, however registering the copyright is optional. The dissertation will be cataloged in the Library of Congress and in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library. Microfilm copies may be purchased from University Microfilms Library Services, 300 N. Zeeb Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48103-1500 or online. Publication by microfilm does not preclude the printing of the dissertation in whole or in part in a journal or as a monograph.

Consult the Office of Degree Requirements for degree requirement deadlines. It is strongly recommended that a technical review of the dissertation take place prior to the deadline. Materials returned after the deadline or not in accordance with technical requirements will be processed for the next degree-granting period.

All students must enroll for 18 dissertation credits. No student is exempt from this requirement. Normal tuition rates will apply. In addition, all students who matriculate in Fall of 2014 and beyond are required to enroll in a dissertation seminar N893A each semester while they are working on their dissertation. Continuous enrollment is required until completion of the dissertation.

Helpful information:

Bill Leahy