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Dissertation - Research Doctorate



To establish the requirements for the dissertation.


Academic Goal

To demonstrate the student’s ability to do independent research on a topic related to their major subject and present it in a scholarly manner.



All students enrolled in programs of study leading to the Ph.D.

Having completed original research, the student must prepare a written, scholarly exposition of their accomplishments in the form of a dissertation. The dissertation is the primary vehicle for expressing the results of the student’s independent research. It should represent a significant contribution to disciplinary knowledge, be presented in a scholarly manner, reveal an ability on the part of the candidate to do independent research of high quality, and indicate considerable experience in using appropriate research techniques. The dissertation is thus the culminating product of the research doctorate. The document is archived and available for public review. As such it is critical that dissertations are of the highest possible quality.

It is to be noted that passage of the final oral examination is necessary but not sufficient for award of the degree; the dissertation must be accepted as the final step in fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D.

The dissertation refers to the final written product of the research doctorate. Future manifestations of the dissertation may take a different form, but will still be the final product of the doctoral research effort.
Special Signatory
A Special Signatory is a person who is not a member of the Dissertation Committee but is otherwise qualified, has particular expertise in the student’s research area, and is engaged only to evaluate the student’s dissertation. Special Signatories do not have to be affiliated with Penn State.

Policy Statement

  1. Each Ph.D. candidate is required to write a dissertation that is the culminating product of their independent research.
    1. Ph.D. candidates enrolled in a dual-title degree program must write a dissertation that reflects their original research, integrating concepts from both graduate programs.
  2. Taking both the dissertation and the final oral examination into consideration, the Ph.D. Committee shall evaluate the accomplishments of the student relative to the program’s defined Learning Objectives, particularly with respect to the student’s mastery of the major, and if appropriate, dual-title and minor fields of study.
  3. For the dissertation to be accepted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree, it must be approved by the following:
    1. at least two-thirds of the Ph.D. committee;
    2. the head of the student’s graduate program; and,
    3. the Graduate School.
      1. Specifically, the dissertation must meet editorial standards specified by the Graduate School so that it constitutes an official University record for inclusion in the University Libraries.
      2. Exceptions to the accepted format must be requested in writing to the Graduate School and approved by the Dean of the Graduate School or their designee.
  4. The dissertation must be made available to the public through inclusion in the University Libraries.
  5. When appropriate, programs may ask qualified individuals to read and approve a student’s dissertation in addition to the Ph.D. committee members. Those individuals are designated Special Signatories.
    1. Special Signatories do not have to be affiliated with Penn State.


Refer to GCAC-602 Ph.D. Committee Formation, Composition, and Review - Research Doctorate for the definitions of the committee member roles described in this section.

  1. After notifying the dissertation adviser, the student is responsible for providing a copy of the dissertation to each member of the Ph.D. committee at least two weeks prior to the scheduled date of the final oral examination.
  2. The dissertation should be complete, with correct and polished content and style, appropriate notes, bibliography, tables, etc., at the time it is distributed to the committee members.
  3. If any committee member finds that the draft submitted to them is not correct and polished with respect to content and style, it is their responsibility to notify the chair at least one week in advance of the final oral examination date. The committee member should indicate their concerns regarding the draft and recommend consideration of postponement of the examination to the chair.
    1. The chair, in consultation with committee members, is responsible for notifying the student and assessing whether the student can make the necessary revisions to the draft before the examination date.
    2. If it is determined that revisions cannot be made in time, the examination must be postponed.
    3. If differences of opinion on this matter exist among committee members, and these cannot be resolved within the committee itself, the head of the graduate program must be consulted to hear the expressed concerns and determine whether the examination should be postponed.
  4. The Ph.D. committee may require revisions to the dissertation after the Final Oral Examination. If they approve the dissertation, Ph.D. committee members indicate that approval only after all final revisions have been made.


P1 - Dissertation - Research Doctorate

Revision History

  • Approved by Graduate Council, May 6, 2020. Effective date: Fall 2020 (08/17/2020).
    • Policy revised extensively.
  • Adapted from Graduate Bulletin: June 2018.
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