The purpose of preparing a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation is to give graduate students experience in carrying out the kind of research they may expect to do within their professional careers. Through this process, students are expected to demonstrate an ability to work independently on a problem and to document familiarity with the literature in their field of study, command of the techniques and principles of research, and ability to form defensible conclusions from the data.
Document formatting requirements, FAQs and further information are available at: Graduate College–Electronic Guidelines.
Steps and Requirements:
Selecting a Topic
During a preliminary conference with the thesis or dissertation chair, graduate students should select a suitable area for research. Several factors help determine the appropriateness of a research topic, such as whether essential data can be readily obtained, whether critical library references and/or technical or specialized equipment are available, whether substantive results may be attained within a reasonable time, and whether faculty members with appropriate specialties are available to provide guidance.
Establishing a Committee
As early as is reasonable, students should select a thesis or dissertation committee in consultation with the thesis or dissertation chair. Students should work closely with the committee members in carrying out a program of research and writing the thesis or dissertation.
Thesis committees must include at least three members who have earned terminal degrees in the field and have relevant expertise. In rare circumstances and with departmental approval, a committee member without a terminal degree in the field but with relevant expertise unique to the project may be considered. The committee chair must be a full-time faculty member at NAU and affiliated with the student’s program. At least one other committee member must also be faculty affiliated with the student’s program.
A dissertation committee includes at least four faculty members who hold earned doctorates and have relevant expertise. In rare circumstances and with approval from the Graduate College, a committee member with a master’s degree and relevant expertise unique to the project may be considered. The committee chair must be a full-time faculty member at NAU. In addition to the chair, at least one other committee member must be from the student’s department or doctoral program. At least one of the remaining two members must be from outside the department in which the degree is earned.
Once committee members are identified for the dissertation committee, the committee chair makes a recommendation that must be approved by the department/school head and sent to the Graduate College.
A Committee Recommendation includes the proposed members, a 1 to 2-page summary of the proposed research, and the vitae of any members not employed by NAU. The summary will include, but is not limited to, descriptions of the scope, purpose, methodology, and impact of the proposed research. The summary will also include a list of the preliminary resources forming the foundation of the research.
Committee members and students must be alert to potential conflicts of interest. If an unavoidable conflict is identified, continued participation by the committee member requires approval of the committee chair and a written plan to manage the conflict must be submitted to the Graduate College.
Degree-granting programs may have additional requirements for committee membership/structure that must be followed.
Following the submission and review of the Committee Recommendation, the Graduate Dean officially appoints the members of dissertation committees. Students and committee members will be notified of this action in writing.
Registering for Thesis or Dissertation Credits
Students may register for 1 to 12 units of thesis (699) or dissertation (799) during any Fall or Spring semester or 1 to 6 units of credit during any Summer session. Each degree program may limit the number of units of thesis or dissertation credit that can apply toward the degree. See specific program requirements in the Academic Catalog.
When students begin working on a Thesis (699) or Dissertation (799), the university expects them to enroll in these courses each semester from the time they begin this work until the degree is completed. Please see NAU Policy 100326: Continuous Enrollment, Graduate, for specific requirements concerning continuous enrollment.
Submitting the Thesis or Dissertation for Format Check
At least 10 business days before the scheduled defense, a student must submit the thesis or dissertation document electronically to the Graduate College's Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) Coordinator. The Coordinator will check it against the Graduate College's requirements for document formatting, and provide the student a report of required revisions. To obtain details regarding document formatting, thesis and dissertation checklists, and deadlines, students may contact the Graduate College or visit the Graduate College website.
Scheduling the Final Defense/Oral Examination
When the thesis or dissertation is essentially in its final form and the committee agrees that the document is ready, the examination/defense should be scheduled.
Some departments have restrictions on when examinations/defenses can be held; students must consult with their committee chairs or department chairs for information about departmental restrictions.
Dissertation Defenses Only
Dissertation defenses must be scheduled using the Dissertation Defense Scheduling Form, which must be submitted to the Graduate College at least 10 business days before the anticipated defense date. Dissertation defenses are not permitted during the last two weeks of the term.
Generally, members of the dissertation committee, the doctoral student and the University Graduate Committee representative must be physically present at the dissertation defense. However, given the global initiatives and geographically distributed nature of some NAU programs, the Graduate Dean may approve participation from a distant location for one committee member should physical attendance result in extraordinary hardship. In unavoidable circumstances, two committee members may attend remotely. At a minimum, the committee chair, the student, and one other committee member must attend at the same location. All committee members must attend the entire defense.
Permission for a committee member to participate from a distant location and the justification for the request must be presented in writing to the Associate Dean of the Graduate College when the Defense Scheduling Form is submitted at least 10 business days prior to the scheduled defense date. Permission is granted only when there is no other option available (for detailed information, please refer to the Dissertation Defense Policy and Procedures.
Thesis Defenses Only
Scheduling of thesis examinations/defenses during the last two weeks of spring and fall terms may vary by academic unit. Generally, members of the thesis committee and the student must be present at the same location for a thesis defense. In rare circumstances, participation from a distant location may be approved for a committee member by the committee chair and the graduate coordinator. At a minimum, the committee chair, the student, and one other committee member must attend at the same location. All committee members must attend the entire defense.
Evaluation of the Final Defense or Oral Examination
A two-thirds majority of the appointed committee is required for the student to pass the oral examination/defense. The committee will note the result, and any required revisions to the thesis or dissertation on Oral Defense Form Part I (Part I). The committee may appoint the chair and/or other member(s) as designee(s) to review the final submission, if appropriate.
The committee chair or a department representative will submit Part I to the ETD Coordinator within 48hrs of the defense. In the case of a dissertation defense, the UGC Representative may deliver Part I. Under no circumstances will the Graduate College accept this form from a student.
Should a student fail to pass the oral examination, a student may repeat the oral examination/defense one time. Whether or not a formal vote is taken during the scheduled examination/defense, this will be considered a first examination/defense and the student will have one additional opportunity to pass the oral examination/defense.
Following the completion of any required revisions, final approval will be verified through the Oral Defense Form Part II (Part II) and signed by the designee(s) noted on Part I. A designee or department representative will then submit Part II to the ETD Coordinator. Under no circumstances will the Graduate College accept this form from a student.
If the final copy of a thesis or dissertation is not approved within six months of the date of the defense, the defense may be declared invalid and may have to be repeated.
Submitting Final Copies
Final copies of theses or dissertations are electronically submitted via the Graduate College electronic thesis/dissertation submission process as soon as the designee(s) sign(s) Oral Defense Form Part II and delivers it to the Graduate College ETD Coordinator.
Committee members and the department may require bound copies. Students should check with the thesis or dissertation chair and department for details.
Graduation and Additional Credit
In order to graduate during the term in which they defend, students must have the final document approved by their committee, and the Oral Defense Form Part II on file in the Graduate College by the Registrar’s designated end of session date. If students are unable to complete the thesis or dissertation, they must comply with the requirements of the Continuous Enrollment policy, which may include additional credit. Please see NAU Policy 100326: Continuous Enrollment, Graduate, for specific requirements concerning continuous enrollment.