Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Dissertation Guidelines

Philosophy Department


A. The Proposal

1. You need to select both a topic and a mentor (director). As you seek to sharpen the topic to the place where it can become a written proposal, discuss your ideas with a variety of faculty members (by no means to the exclusion of fellow students). In this way you will get a breadth of input and also get a better sense of the faculty member with whom you would like to work. Discussing a possible topic with a faculty member does not commit either party to a mentoring relationship.

2. When you have decided with whom you want to work, you need to ask that person specifically whether he or she will be your mentor. Once an agreement is in place the student and mentor will work together to bring the topic to the form of a written proposal.

3. The student and the mentor, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, choose the other three faculty members of the committee that reads the written proposal, and the student is responsible for securing their agreement to serve. Two of these three should be designated as “readers,” signifying their agreement to read the completed dissertation and possibly to be involved in the process of its production (see B.6). The student is also responsible for negotiating a two-hour time slot agreeable to all five parties involved and for reserving a room. While the “defense” may not take a full two hours, it should not go longer than two hours.

4. The “proposal defense” comes near the beginning of the dissertation process and is not intended as a presentation and defense of the conclusions the dissertation will reach. Its focus is perhaps more on the questions being asked in the dissertation than on the answers being given, though this is not incompatible with having one or more working hypotheses or tentative theses. The purpose is to determine whether the topic is “big” enough to be of significant philosophical import and “small” enough to be manageable in the time and space available. The discussion is not so much an exam as an attempt to formalize the earlier discussions, giving faculty persons with some interest and expertise related to the topic the opportunity to make suggestions for approaches to the topic, bibliography to be explored, pitfalls to be avoided, and so forth. This meeting is not open to the public.

5. The body of the written, double-spaced proposal should be at least 3,000 but no more than 6,000 words, and it should include:

(a) a working title;

(b) an account of the topic and of its philosophical importance;

(c) a strategic overview or plan of attack, normally including a tentative sequence of chapters or sections;

(d) a statement of the relation of the project to previous, especially current, discussions; and

(e) a word count at the end of the body of the proposal.

In addition, the proposal should include a bibliography of appropriate primary and secondary sources (this need not be formal, and can include simply authors and titles).

6. The written proposal should be in the hands of each member of the committee at least two weeks prior to the scheduled “defense.” They should also be given some advance notice of when they will be receiving the proposal.

7. Proposals should be presented during the fall and spring terms and not requested during vacation periods. 

8. The dissertation proposal will normally by defended by the end of the eighth semester (sixth semester for students who enter with an M.A. in philosophy).  A date for the dissertation proposal defense must be set by October 15 for a defense in the fall semester and by March 15 for a defense in the spring semester.  This will qualify a student to complete the requirement in that semester even if scheduling conflicts dictate that the defense by moved into the early part of the following semester. It is strongly recommended that students work to set a date with their committee as early as possible in the semester (for the fall, in September, and for the spring, in January) so that the date can be set before faculty calendars are filled.

B. The Dissertation

1. In all technical respects the dissertation must meet the requirements of the Graduate School.  These standards can be found in the “Academic Policies and Procedures Guidebook” of the GSAS.

2. While the department does not have a policy about inclusive language, some associations and journals within the profession do. The APA guidelines on this topic are available from the department secretary, and students are encouraged to be familiar with them.

3. The dissertation itself should be an original work of philosophical interpretation and/or argument, written in clear prose, as jargon free as the topic permits.

4. It should demonstrate a high level of philosophical comprehension and an extensive mastery of the appropriate primary and secondary sources. The relevant “literature” is often far too large to be exhaustively mastered, but the dissertation should demonstrate the student’s ability to locate a significant body of texts appropriate to the topic and to employ themeffectively (but not excessively) in developing the topic.

5. It should demonstrate language skills appropriate to its subject matter.

6. During the writing of the dissertation the student should be in regular conversation with his or her mentor, submitting written drafts of chapters or sections from time to time for feedback and refinement. At or near the time of the proposal defense, the mentor, student, and two readers should come to an agreement on how the two readers will be involved. It is given that they will read the final draft of the completed dissertation and be questioners at the oral defense; but the nature and extent of their involvement during its writing are negotiable.

7. The dissertation should not exceed 350 pages, including notes and bibliography, in standard 10 or 12-pitch typeface. The purpose of this limitation is to compel the author to exercise judgment about what is really essential to the project and to spare the faculty from excessive reading. Longer is often easier, but not necessarily better.

C. The Dissertation Defense 

1. A committee of five is needed: the mentor, two readers, and two examiners. The mentor and the two readers will read the entire dissertation. The examiners will read a summary of about 20-25 pages. This can be taken directly from the Introduction and Conclusion of the dissertation or can be a separate essay.

2. The mentor and the student, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, agree together on whom to invite to fill the other four slots. Normally, but not necessarily, those who served on the proposal committee will end up on the defense committee as well. Once again it is the student’s task to secure the agreement of any new members of the committee and to arrange for the time and place of the defense.

3. A defense occurs only when the mentor and the readers agree that the completed version that they have read is ready to be defended.

4. The defense is scheduled for two hours, during which all five members of the committee will question the author in turn. It is not necessary that the author secure the agreement and consent of the committee members (even the mentor) to his or her main conclusions; but it is expected that these will be defended cogently and knowledgeably. Since the author is on the verge of passing from student to professional colleague of the examiners, she or he can expect to be pressed hard on central points in the manner that the examiners would press each other when presenting papers.

5. The defense is open to the public, and students are invited to attend the defenses of other students prior to their own so as to get a sense of what it is like. At the conclusion of the defense the committee members will ask everyone else, including the author, to leave the room while they make their official decision whether or not the defense has been satisfactory.

6. The complete dissertation should be in the hands of the mentor and two readers at least four weeks prior to the defense. The summary should be in the hands of the examiners at least two weeks prior to the defense. Again, all members of the committee should also be given some advance notice of when they will be receiving the dissertation or summary essay.

7. A date for the dissertation defense must be set by October 15 for a defense to occur in the fall semester and by March 15 for a defense to occur in the spring semester.  Students should remember that the GSAS will not guarantee May graduation for students defending their dissertations after April 15.  After the defense and after all corrections are made, the dissertation must be submitted to the GSAS in electronic format; any student wishing a hard copy stored in the departmental library must arrange for the submission of an appropriately bound and formatted hard copy.

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