All About the Dissertation and the Defense

See the official LPL documents: PHD Requirements and PHD Procedures, the latest versions of which are posted on the Documents for Current & Prospective Students page.

UA forms are available on the Graduate Student Academic Services page.

The Dissertation

You're finishing up your time here at LPL, and now it's time to write everything up. Maybe you're doing the "staple 3 papers together" route. Or perhaps you're writing one cohesive document. Either way, work with your dissertation advisor to figure out the best way to present what you have worked on as a graduate student to your committee and the public.

Before starting to write, you should consider whether or not you want to use Microsoft Word or LaTeX. Either system has its advantages and disadvantages, and there are templates in both formats, so in the end, you should use whatever software you have the most experience with and feel the most comfortable using. You should also be mindful of the formatting requirements for your dissertation that are published by the Graduate College.

If you want to use LaTeX, be aware that previous graduate students have maintained a LaTeX template that automatically does a lot of the work regarding these formatting requirements for you. That way, you can mostly just concentrate on writing. A copy of the running template from before Summer 2022 is available in the UA Thesis 2022 (ZIP) for archiving and for those who are still using this format. Sam Myers also reworked the entire template to follow the modern university guidelines including a new approval page and land acknowledgments. The newer UA Thesis (ZIP, updated Jan. 2024) is fully commented and uses simpler LaTeX commands for ease of use. (If you have trouble, please ask the current *TeX grad rep for help!) A Microsoft Word template and example pages are available from UA on the Sample Pages page and Sam has also made a Word Thesis Template (ZIP) that mirrors the LaTeX template.

The LPL library has copies of dissertations from past students, and often times these are valuable resources in following some sort of precedent in how dissertations are organized, layout of chapters, figures, etc.

Dissertations & Theses: Grad college samples, manual, etc

Sample Pages: Sample pages and templates

Stupid little things they won't tell you until later and you'll wish you knew earlier (updated 5/12/2022):

  • Roman numerals are not allowed as page numbers.
  • Your name should match what is in GradPath
  • The Author Statement page is no longer required
    • The Author Statement is removed in the latest LaTeX template version
  • LaTeX Template Tip: add the \usepackage{pdfpages} to include the scanned signature approval page (with the "A" watermark). Comment out the \approval page in the template, and then add the scanned page with the command \includepdf[pages={1}]{signed_approval_page.pdf}
    • The above is included in the latest LaTeX template version, just update the name of the pdf
  • LaTeX template tip: pdfpages is great for importing co-author papers into appendices
  • Check on copyright issues if you do add journal reprints.

The Timeline

  • D-1 year: Do you have a job/postdoc yet? You should be thinking about this a ~year before you defend! See Advice and Tips for Getting a Job/Postdoc and Non-Academic Career Information.
  • D-1 year (or maybe already ongoing): Make a schedule for your path to defending. Here's a general example, modify it for your specific situation: Dissertation Schedule (PDF)
  • D-6 months: As soon as you think you're ready to defend your dissertation within the next ~6 months, e-mail your committee and start figuring out a defense date. Really, there's no reason to procrastinate doing this because scheduling will only get tougher as your committee's calendars start to fill up.
    • Talk to Amy, let her know your timeline, and make sure you've completed all the requirements before proceeding. Keep in touch with her about what bureaucratic steps are next, deadlines, forms, etc.
    • Reserve room 309 on LARS for the date your committee agreed to.
  • D-6 months: Committee Appointment Form should be filled out on UAccess.
  • Write the dissertation. Send out chapter drafts to your committee members. Keep them in the loop. Maybe they'll read it, maybe they'll skim it, maybe they can't get to it. Either way, it will only make your revisions easier.
  • D-4 weeks: 4 weeks before your defense date, the final draft of your complete dissertation (w/all references, figures, tables, etc) is due to your committee.
    • You may want to ask each committee member to acknowledge receipt of your dissertation. There's a good chance you won't hear back from them otherwise to confirm that you fulfilled this requirement.
    • Send lots of reminders to your committee for the date, time, and place of your defense.
  • D-7 business days: The "real deadline": 7 business days before your defense date, the form entitled "Announcement of Final Oral Examination" is due to the Graduate College. You fill this out on GradPath and submit it online. Try to get this form submitted at least 2 weeks before your defense date.
  • Write your defense talk
    • This is normally 30–45 min. long, plus time for questions. Check with your advisor in advance about the length, though — you don't want a last-minute misunderstanding about how long it's supposed to be (this actually happened...).
  • Important Degree Dates and Deadlines from grad college.

The Defense

Grad college instructions: Final Defense Instructions (PDF)

There are two parts to your defense:

  • A public section which is open and advertised to the University community. This is a 30–45 minute presentation in which you outline the key aspects of your work.
  • A closed section in which your dissertation committee grills you yet again. You will be expected to defend your research and to consider the impact of your work on other areas of planetary sciences.
  • Make sure you bring the Doctoral Approval form (page 2 of your dissertation) (template posted on the Sample Pages page) for the committee to sign.
    • You need two copies and get everyone's original signatures on both at the end.

After the Defense

After your defense, relax and celebrate a job well done. Then get back to work:

  • See the Grad college form Doctoral Post-Defense Instructions (PDF) on the Graduate Student Academic Services page.
  • Revisions: Make sure you implement whatever revisions your committee requests by the deadline imposed by the Graduate College in order to graduate that same semester.
  • Once your revisions are complete:
    • Turn in your dissertation electronically to the Graduate College.
    • Print 2 paper copies to the LPL library for archiving.
    • Make sure your advisor fills out the Results of Final Oral Defense Form.
    • Email Amy to tell her the above has been done.