Dissertation proposal and advancement to candidacy

After completing the two qualifying papers, the student prepares the dissertation proposal, presenting their project in the context of previous research. The dissertation proposal should be a minimum of 20-30 double-spaced pages (though exact length depends on the topic and should be discussed with the advisor) and describe a course of work in some detail, laying out issues, questions, and problems for investigation, relevant data, and methods for investigation, examining also how the proposed work will bear on larger theoretical issues in the field and demonstrating a mastery of the relevant literature on the topic.

In consultation with a faculty advisor (who will likely be their future dissertation chair), the student should assemble a tentative dissertation proposal committee, and notify the DGS of the topic of their dissertation as well as the composition of the tentative committee (including the chair) by the end of the first week of the spring quarter in the student’s fourth year in the program. Although the composition of the committee need not be decided until this time (and can in fact change after the initial decision is made), in practice, a student cannot work on a dissertation proposal unless it is under the supervision of their future dissertation chair. The composition of the committee is to be decided jointly by the student and the future dissertation chair. The committee should have at least three professors, at least two of whom should be from the Department of Linguistics. The chair must be a faculty member in the Department of Linguistics.

The final step before advancement to candidacy is the presentation and public defense of the dissertation proposal. Five members of the department faculty (including the members of the dissertation proposal committee) must be present at the defense. The defense will proceed as follows. After the student presents the proposal and answers questions from the audience, everyone except the faculty members present will be asked to leave the room. The faculty members present will then discuss the merits of the student’s work and decide whether to pass or fail the proposal defense. The student will then be asked to enter the room, at which point the faculty present will let them know of their decision, and will give them any feedback they deem appropriate. A student who fails the proposal has until the end of the summer after the proposal is first due to pass it, as explained in the year-end assessment section.

Upon successful completion of all of the above requirements, including passing the dissertation proposal defense, the student becomes a candidate for the Ph.D. degree, at which point the student starts working on their dissertation. Advancement to candidacy must occur by the end of the Spring quarter in the student’s fourth year in the program.


After writing the dissertation, which is to represent a significant contribution in some area of linguistic research, the final requirement for the PhD degree is the presentation and public defense of the dissertation. The dissertation committee typically has the same composition as the dissertation proposal committee, although the student and dissertation chair may jointly decide to change it at any point while working on the dissertation. It is subject to the same constraints as the dissertation proposal committee.

The defense is normally scheduled by the student in consultation with their dissertation chair, generally at a time when the entire dissertation committee feels that the dissertation is in completed or near-completed form. The student produces an abstract of approximately 200 words, which is submitted to the Department administrator before the defense.

After the defense, the student must also send a PDF copy of the dissertation to the Department administrator, so that it can be published on ProQuest. (If the student wishes to restrict access to a dissertation following submission, it is possible to place a temporary embargo on the document so that only the abstract is visible on ProQuest.)

For more information and general guidelines on dissertation format and submission, students may contact the Dissertation Office, located on the first floor of Regenstein Library. For guidelines specific to the Department of Linguistics, students may contact the Director of Graduate Studies, Karlos Arregi.