Graduate students

Requirements for Theses and Dissertations

Policy Number: 100806

Current Policy

Category: Academic » University Requirements

 

Policy

Purpose:

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 can expect to do throughout 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.

FAQs and further information are available at: Graduate College–Electronic Guidelines. 

General Procedure

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 who has 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. One member must be from outside the department in which the degree is earned.
  • Once committee members are indentified 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. The Graduate College officially appoints the members of dissertation committees. Students and committee members will be notified of this action in writing.
  • 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.

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. However, each degree program limits 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 Master's final project (689), thesis (699), or dissertation (799), students are expected to enroll each semester from the time the work is begun until completion of degree, including submission of final copies. If students are in residence and are using lab and other research facilities and are interacting with faculty chairs on a regular basis, they must enroll for at least three units. Programs may require students to enroll for additional units. If students are not on campus, but are corresponding with the chair regarding the thesis or dissertation, students may, at the department's prerogative, enroll for one unit. Students must register for a minimum of one unit each Fall and Spring semester. See Continuous Enrollment, Graduate

Submitting the Thesis or Dissertation for Format Check

Early in the semester in which students expect to graduate, they must electronically submit the thesis or dissertation document 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. 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 in essentially 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 two weeks 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 present at the same location for a dissertation defense. However, given the global initiatives and geographically distributed nature of some NAU doctoral programs, a requirement that all participants in a defense be physically present at the same location presents a hardship for some faculty and students. Therefore, participation from a distant location may be approved for a committee member, or, in unavoidable circumstances, two committee members. 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 two weeks 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.
    • If students are unable to complete the thesis or dissertation during the semester in which they defend, students must register for 1 unit of thesis or dissertation credit each semester after the defense—until the final copy is approved by the committee and submitted to the Graduate College. If the final copy is not submitted within six months of the date of the defense, the defense may be declared invalid and may have to be repeated.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • If students are unable to complete the thesis or dissertation during the semester in which they defend, students must register for 1 unit of thesis or dissertation credit each semester after the defense—until the final copy is approved by the committee and submitted to the Graduate College. If the final copy is not submitted 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 following requirements are completed:
      • The final oral examination/defense is passed;
      • The committee chair signs the final approval form; and
      • Format corrections noted by the Graduate College ETD Coordinator have been made—and no later than the last day of the term in which the student plans to graduate.

Committee members and the department may require bound copies. Students should check with the thesis or dissertation chair or department for details. 

Students can petition for exception

Students may petition for an exception to any academic, non-grade-related, graduate regulation, in writing, to the associate dean of the Graduate College. The student’s letter of petition should be endorsed by his/her advisor and department chair.


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