Thesis Research Preparation and Defense

Thesis Research Advisory Committee (TRAC)

After completion of the Qualifying Examination, the student will meet at least once per year with a monitoring committee, the Thesis Research Advisory Committee (TRAC for short), that will advise on the thesis work and monitor progress.  The Committee will include the mentor/advisor and two other members.  One member may be chosen from outside the Training Faculty, subject to prior approval by the Training Committee.  The composition of the Qualifying Committee and the TRAC need not be identical.

DNA fibers shown in bright colors on a black background
DNA fibers Image credit: PhD student Sarah Joseph

The annual TRAC meeting should be held between September 1st and November 30th.  For this meeting, the student will submit, at least 3 days in advance, a one-page summary of the previous year’s work and a one-page outline of proposed work for the following year.  Notebooks with supporting data can be brought to the meeting and other materials (papers, recent posters, etc.) may be presented, at the discretion of TRAC.  The student will usually present an oral progress report with slides (PowerPoint or similar). Additional meetings may be scheduled at the request of either the student or the TRAC, and should be scheduled more frequently (i.e. every 4-6 months) once the student enters his/her 6th year. 


Five to seven months prior to the anticipated thesis defense, there must be a meeting of the TRAC to approve the thesis outline.    One of the annual TRAC meetings may serve this purpose if the timing is appropriate.  Each member of the committee should be provided with an outline of chapters one week in advance.  Any disagreement between student and advisor on thesis content will be mediated by the TRAC.

Ph.D. Thesis Format

            Introductory chapter

            Chapters of original data, published articles, etc.

                        -  first author papers or manuscripts may be included as is;

                        -  other reprints or manuscripts may be included at the discretion of sponsor and

                           faculty members of the committee;

                        -  if anyone other than the student contributed to the experimental work reported

                           in the chapter or paper, this should be acknowledged in a preface and the

                           student’s contribution should be explained.

            Discussion chapter

Composition of the Thesis Defense Committee

The Thesis Defense Committee is composed of 5 members.  Three must be from the Training Faculty or TRAC.  These will usually include: the committee chair, the mentor/sponsor (who is the first reader), and a second reader, who reads the thesis prior to its distribution to the Thesis Defense Committee.  In addition, there should be two outside examiners from other GSAS departments and/or other universities.  It is usually advantageous to have TRAC members serve on the Thesis Defense Committee.

Dissertation Defense

Information about submitting and defending a dissertation can be found at the GSAS Dissertation Office by following 10 steps.  The Application of Dissertation Defense form should be submitted at least eight weeks in advance of the anticipated date of defense.  No defense will be scheduled until the dissertation sponsor and second reader have signified that the dissertation is acceptable enough to warrant a defense and final exam.  Copies of the dissertation should be distributed to the committee members at least four weeks before the anticipated defense date.  As a courtesy, these should be printed, bound copies (e.g. in a pressure binder).