Doctoral Dissertation

Following advancement to candidacy, doctoral students register for dissertation credits (SOW 7980) while working on their doctoral dissertation. A minimum of 24 dissertation credit hours are required, usually taken with the Chair of one's Dissertation Committee. The dissertation embodies the results of scholarly research giving evidence of originality and is a contribution to social work/social welfare knowledge.

Dissertation Committee

The Dissertation Committee is responsible for approving the dissertation proposal, for supervising the candidate's dissertation, and for approving (or not approving) the dissertation in a public, oral dissertation defense. It is composed of four individuals with doctorates: three must be from a school of social work (of whom at least two must be from FIU's School of Social Work). The fourth member must come from a discipline or program outside of social work. Exceptionally, a person without a doctorate may be invited to serve on this Committee with permission from the University Graduate School. All members of a Dissertation Committee must be members of the Graduate School Faculty or, if from other institutions, must hold equivalent appointments (When choosing dissertation committee members, please note that all members must be present during the oral defense held on campus following the dissertation's completion, and that FIU does not pay for travel or lodging expenses for any outside members to attend the defense.) A Dissertation Committee is formally constituted by filing Form D1- Appointment of Dissertation Committee (available at, and after a successful proposal defense, Form D-3 Doctoral Dissertation Proposal (available at which attests that a Dissertation Proposal has been approved. The Dissertation Committee typically grows out of the candidate's Doctoral Candidacy Examination Committee.

The Chair of a Dissertation Committee must be a member of the FIU School of Social Work and have achieved Dissertation Advisor Status prior to being appointed as a chair (see Changes in the Dissertation Committee membership appointments require filing a Form D-1r Appointment of a Revised Dissertation Committee (available at the student forms site noted above).

The Dissertation Committee assumes a great responsibility to help the candidate finish and successfully defend a quality dissertation. The candidate's open and frequent collaboration with all committee members is essential. The Chair provides direct oversight of the student's dissertation research, and serves as the coordinator and leader of all committee activities. Each committee member is expected to actively contribute to student's dissertation research, and may elect to provide direct supervision of specific components of the dissertation related to the committee members area(s) of expertise. The Chair and the committee members are expected to provide sufficient guidance and support to allow the student to develop the highest quality dissertation research project of which they are capable; the ultimate goal is a successful dissertation defense.

Dissertation Proposal

The Dissertation Proposal typically grows out of the research proposal paper submitted for the Doctoral Candidacy Examination. It follows the usual guidelines of a research proposal, including problem definition, preliminary review of the literature and conceptual framework, research questions or hypotheses, design, sampling plan, measures, data collection strategies, and data analysis methods, ethical issues, time frame (follow the Graduate School's Regulations for Thesis and Dissertation Preparation Manual, available at The Dissertation Committee has the opportunity to raise questions, give input, request revisions, and evaluate these revisions before approving the dissertation proposal. Approval of the dissertation proposal has a formal procedure. The Committee meets with the doctoral candidate for an oral presentation of the dissertation proposal, when successful the Committee indicates their approval by signing and completing Form D-3 Doctoral Dissertation Proposal (available at the student forms site noted above). Form D-3, the full proposal and a five-page summary, as well as an IRB/Human Subjects approval memorandum if necessary, are forwarded for final approval/signatures to the Doctoral Program Coordinator, the Director of the School, the Academic Dean, and the Dean of the University Graduate School.

Deadline for Submitting a Dissertation Proposal

Candidates are expected to have a Dissertation Proposal approved at the latest by the end of the semester following the semester in which they have advanced to candidacy. If a candidate fails to meet this deadline, his or her Dissertation Chair must write a letter to the Doctoral Coordinator explaining the delay, and the candidate may forfeit any financial aid he or she may be receiving. The candidate is then granted one additional semester to file his or her Dissertation Proposal. Candidates who fail to submit an approved Dissertation Proposal by this second deadline (that is, two semesters after their advancement to candidacy) are terminated from the Ph.D. Program.

Research Review by Institutional Review Board

All research projects involving human subjects must be approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) (see To receive approval, candidates must submit an Application for Research with Human Subjects to the appropriate IRB subcommittee. Failure to apply for and receive IRB approval can have severe consequences. Instructions for completing the Application should be followed. Special attention should be given to the sections dealing with informed consent. These sections require the preparation of a statement concerning the protection of prospective research participants. The information required in an Informed Consent Form includes study dates, purpose, assurances that failure to participate will result in no penalties, right to withdraw, intended uses of the data, etc.

Evaluation of Doctoral Dissertations

The submitted dissertation must conform to the presentation rules described in the Regulations for Thesis/Dissertation Preparation Manual of the University Graduate School. The task of evaluating a doctoral dissertation falls upon the members of the candidate's Doctoral Dissertation Committee. The responsibilities of the Committee are as follows:

  • Committee members are expected to respond to written drafts within three weeks.
  • At the end of each year the Chairperson of the Dissertation Committee must file a formal evaluation of a candidate's progress on the Annual Student Evaluation and Mentoring Plan (available at

The following criteria should normally be used to evaluate the dissertation:

  1. Original and significant contribution to the advancement of knowledge
  2. Demonstration of the candidate's ability to conduct autonomous research
  3. Validity of design and methodology, quality of logic and reasoning, critical evaluation of sources used, quality of references
  4. Clarity of written expression
  5. Quality of abstract, pertinence and utility of title for indexing purposes

After the candidate has submitted a complete draft of the dissertation to the members of the Committee, each member evaluates the dissertation independently and determines whether in his or her opinion the candidate may proceed to the Dissertation Defense. This evaluation must be in writing and should normally cover the criteria listed above and/or other pertinent criteria. Copies of these evaluations are appended to Form D-5 Preliminary Approval of Dissertation and Request for Oral Defense (available at the student forms site noted above), which is signed by each member of the Dissertation Committee and then forwarded by the Chair to the Doctoral Program Coordinator, the School Director, the Dean of the College, and the Dean of the University Graduate School for final approval/signatures. Candidates and their Committee members are cautioned to follow the University Graduate School Deadlines for filing the various forms. Deadline dates change each year and are available at

It is expected that Form D-5 will be forwarded when all Committee members agree that the candidate is ready for the defense. Until such agreement is reached, it is the candidate's responsibility, with the help and direct oversight of his or her Dissertation Chair, to produce a final dissertation draft acceptable to the committee.

Dissertation Defense

Before the final acceptance of the dissertation, the Dissertation Committee schedules an oral examination at which time the candidate must satisfactorily defend the dissertation. The University Graduate School sets specific deadlines each semester for applying for graduation and for the holding of a defense. Candidates should verify these deadlines well in advance at

The Chair of the Dissertation Committee should ensure that committee members' comments and suggestions are incorporated into the defense copy of the dissertation (or should otherwise be verbally acknowledged at the Defense). The Committee may ask a candidate to make changes in the dissertation and schedule another Defense. In this situation, which should be rare, (a) the meeting will be adjourned, (b) the student in consultation with the Chair and committee members will substantially revise their disseration, and (c) with approval of the Chair and committee members another defense will be scheduled for revised dissertation.

Before any Defense, the candidate submits a review copy of the dissertation to the Chair of the Dissertation Committee and the other Committee members. Review copies of the dissertation should be complete and well-edited final products: consult the Regulations for Thesis/Dissertation Preparation Manual (noted above under dissertation proposal) of the University Graduate School for format requirements.

It is important to note that a proposed dissertation must be approved by the Doctoral Program Coordinator, the Director of the School and the Dean of the College prior to submission for approval of the Dean of the University Graduate School. In order for this requirement to be met, additional time is required. Candidates are urged to submit their complete application for a dissertation defense to the Program Coordinator six (6) weeks in advance of their anticipated oral defense date. Candidates should note that until the Dean of the University Graduate School has approved their application, the defense date is only proposed.

The University Graduate School requires that candidates file an abstract of the dissertation which is publicized for the defense announcement. The Chair of the Dissertation Committee notifies the Doctoral Program Coordinator of the date, time, and place of the dissertation defense. The Coordinator informs faculty members of the dissertation defense and encourages their presence as representatives of the School of Social Work.

The oral Dissertation Defense represents the last public opportunity for the candidate to demonstrate the merit of his or her entire dissertation project. The spirit of the defense is expected to be one of debate and critical inquiry. The Chair of the Dissertation Committee serves as Chair of the Dissertation Defense.

Normally, the candidate first presents a brief PowerPoint-based overview of the major findings or implications, or of any point he or she wishes to emphasize or clarify, for a maximum of 20 minutes. The candidate is then questioned by each member of the Dissertation Committee, usually starting with the Chair and ending with the external member. The questions asked of the candidate are expected to elicit, literally, a defense of the dissertation by the candidate. Any aspect of the dissertation research (context, values, theory, method, analysis, conclusions, implications, applications, etc.) is open for question and debate among those present. Members of the audience are then invited to ask questions or offer any comments. After the question period is over, the Dissertation Committee retires to an adjoining room to reach its decision.

A candidate may have revisions to make to the dissertation that arise prior to the defense or as the result of the defense. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that these revisions are made prior to the submission of the publishable copy of the dissertation. The Chairperson (Major Professor) attests to the completeness of the dissertation by initiating the Final ETD Approval Form (available at

Review of the Steps in the Dissertation Process

  1. Complete Doctoral Candidacy Examination satisfactorily.
  2. Complete selection of Doctoral Dissertation Committee membership (usually composed of former Doctoral Candidacy Committee plus another member)
  3. Work with Chair and Committee members to revise and finalize the Dissertation Proposal (which usually grows out, with minor or necessary modifications, of the research proposal submitted for the candidacy examination).
  4. Submit necessary materials to Institutional Review Board.
  5. Submit signed Form D-3 with all attachments. A first meeting of your Dissertation Committee should have been held.
  6. Conduct the dissertation research.
  7. Continue to work with committee on dissertation drafts. Work closely with Chair and keep all Committee Members apprised of progress. Share drafts and solicit comments and suggestions. Use Committee Members as consultants and advisors. A second meeting of your Dissertation Committee should have been held.
  8. Write and rewrite chapters.
  9. Prepare for dissertation defense by keeping the Committee actively involved. File the Annual Student Evaluation and Mentoring Plan each year.
  10. Upon approval of the Chair and all Committee Members, schedule tentative date for a Dissertation Defense.
  11. Upon completion of a dissertation, submit Form D-5 signed by the committee Chairperson and other members of the committee. The application must be filed in sufficient time to allow the Dean of University Graduate School to publish the notice in a monthly calendar of dissertation and thesis defenses for the University community.
  12. Before Defense, distribute copies of dissertation to Chair and Committee Members. A third meeting of your Dissertation Committee should have been held.
  13. Defend dissertation. Dissertation Committee approves (or not) the defense.
  14. Revise dissertation on the basis of final comments from committee members received during defense.
  15. Chair does final reading and signs Final ETD form. Chair delivers it to Doctoral Program Coordinator for review before forwarding to the Dean's office for final approval.
  16. Submission of Dissertation to Library.
  17. Provide Doctoral Program Coordinator with a copy of dissertation for the School's files.

Publication of Dissertations

All FIU dissertations (and dissertation abstracts) are microfilmed by University Microfilm International (UMI): Dissertation Abstracts International. The style and format of the dissertation should conform to the FIU Regulations for Thesis and Dissertation Preparation Manual as noted above.