Dissertation Advisory Committee and Thesis Defense

Keeping students on track towards excellence and completion of thesis research

After successful completion of the Qualifying Exam, each student and their research mentor put together a dissertation advisory committee (DAC) that contains a total of 5 members who will be at the dissertation defense, including 2 readers of the dissertation in addition to the advisor. At least two DAC members must be from the group of GPN training faculty (ideally one from each campus). At least one DAC member must come from outside of BU. A completed Request for Special Service Appointment Form must be submitted for each non-BU committee member; students should submit these forms to the GPN Assistant Director (sgrasso@bu.edu) for forwarding to GMS as soon as the committee is formed. The thesis mentor is the first reader on the dissertation. The outside member can be a second or third reader, although this is not required. At least one thesis reader must not be a collaborator on the thesis project, although she/he can be a collaborator with the laboratory. Members of a student’s Qualifying Exam Committee can also participate on their DAC; in fact, the three examining committee members may often end up being the three readers of the dissertation, but this is not mandatory. The Chair of the committee cannot be a reader of the dissertation. The Chair’s chief responsibility is to make sure that the student works with the office to schedule the necessary meetings and serves as an interface between the committee’s recommendations to the student and any other concerns that the student or mentor may have during the training process. The Chair also formally introduces the student at the open defense presentation.

Composition of the DAC must be approved by the GPN Program Director and Associate Director in consultation with the GEC. Students should contact the GPN Program Director (srussek@bu.edu and the Academic Director of the Computational Specialization (somers@bu.edu) to obtain approval for the proposed DAC committee. Students are expected to meet with their DAC once a semester to track progress, although not all members of the committee need to be present at each meeting (three members are sufficient for scheduling). During this meeting (limited to 1 hour) students make a short PowerPoint presentation to the group highlighting their research accomplishments over the past academic period (with review of research goals) and receive feedback from faculty regarding any issues in approach or interpretation. Scheduling of the DAC meetings is done by the student (with guidance from the GPN office if needed). At the conclusion of the DAC, the committee chair is responsible for completing the GPN Dissertation Advisory Committee Form and submitting it to the GPN office.


At least one year before their pre-defense, with the approval of their Advisory Committee (DAC), students make a formal oral presentation (50 min) to their committee and to the neuroscience community at large.  This presentation is followed by a formal meeting of their committee to discuss their progress and whether they are on target for the completion of their research and eventually the pre-defense (see below).  Students are encouraged to schedule the Progress Report (third or fourth year in the program) once they have enough preliminary data to indicate that their Aims are sound and there is sufficient progress in their research direction for presentation and discussion.  The outside member usually does not attend this exercise. The seminar should take place at least one year before the defense date.  It is expected that the student will provide a written progress report, not to exceed ten pages (double-spaced), that will be given to the members of the DAC one week before the seminar. The written report should include:

  1. Statement of the problem and its significance. The hypothesis or hypotheses being tested.
  2. Literature review and background.
  3. Methods in use.
  4. Studies completed by the student.
  5. Proposal for future work and discussion of expected outcomes (include potential problems and alternative plans).


Approximately 7-9 months prior to the defense date (see http://www.bumc.bu.edu/gms/files/2010/07/2013-Graduation-calendar-PhD1.pdf), the student must submit a dissertation outline (or prospectus), approved by the first and second reader (third reader is optional), to GMS using the GMS Dissertation Prospectus Outline Approval Page. All forms can be obtained from the GMS website.  A copy of this document should be sent to the GPN Assistant Director (sgrasso@bu.edu) for inclusion in the student’s files. This document will typically consist of an outline that provides proposed chapter and section headings for the dissertation document with headings that describe the key findings.  Example outlines are on file in the GPN office.


A GMS PhD Diploma Application must be submitted to GMS approximately  approximately 4 months prior to the defense date (http://www.bumc.bu.edu/gms/files/2010/07/2013-Graduation-calendar-PhD1.pdf).  Due date varies with graduation cycle.


A dissertation abstract conforming to GMS format requirements must be approved by the first reader, and GPN Program Director, and submitted to GMS (using the PhD Dissertation Defense Abstract Form) at least 3 weeks prior to the dissertation defense. The abstract must also be circulated to all DAC members prior to the Pre-Defense DAC Meeting.


A pre-defense meeting of the DAC occurs at least two weeks prior to the defense to make sure that the quality of the dissertation document is close to being acceptable for the degree and to review necessary paperwork.  At this time, the committee will review the abstract and title.  Members of the DAC must have two weeks to review the thesis before the pre-defense. There is no oral presentation associated with this meeting.  The outside member usually does not attend this exercise but does provide the student with feedback on the document, either by email or phone, before the meeting takes place.  In most cases, the Chair of the committee makes sure that the views of the outside member are represented in the discussions.


After submission of the abstract and at least two weeks prior to the Thesis Defense, students must submit the Oral Defense Scheduling Form (http://www.bumc.bu.edu/gms/files/2012/09/Schedule-of-Oral-Defense-updated-10-2013-TAD.pdf). At the time of their defense, students will give a 50-minute oral presentation, followed by 10 minutes of questions, that is open to all members of the University. This public forum will be followed by a closed session of the DAC where the student is asked to respond to questions put forth by the committee to test her/his ability to defend the work presented in the dissertation document. It is expected that all members of the DAC will attend the entire formal defense, which should last a maximum of two hours.


After the three dissertation readers have signed the dissertation signature sheets (TO BE PROVIDED BY THE STUDENT), the finalized dissertation is submitted to GMS to complete the PhD requirements. Note that GMS must approve the dissertation formatting before the final document can be submitted.


Deadlines for submission of forms: see http://www.bumc.bu.edu/gms/files/2010/07/2013-Graduation-calendar-PhD1.pdf

Specific forms can be obtained at http://www.bumc.bu.edu/gms/gateway/students/phd/student-forms-page/

All faculty on the DAC must have an appointment at BU.  It is important to request a Special Service Appointment (due at time of Abstract Approval) for all non-BU members.  Please notify the GPN office if you need any help in this matter.