Dissertation Defense

A final University-mandated thesis defense is held at the end of PhD training when the student’s primary research advisor deems the student to be ready. The remainder of the student’s internal dissertation committee will have been involved with the research and must also concur with the decision to defend.

It is a Graduate School of Arts and Sciences requirement that you must apply for your defense, and it must be approved at least 4 weeks in advance by the GSAS Office of Dissertations. Students intending to defend may contact the Graduate Program Manager the semester prior to set up an appointment to discuss the approval process and final steps leading to graduation.  The form to apply for the defense is on the GSAS Office of Dissertations website found here.  

For both the sake of convenience and the potential for increased attendance by members of the department, the exam is scheduled by the student in either the PH-20 Conference Room or the Irving 8th Floor Conference Room. In order to ensure that sufficient notice is given for the public part of the defense, the student e-mails an abstract to Nancy Guzman a minimum of three weeks in advance of the examination date.

The first hour is public; the second hour is a closed session with the full dissertation committee. The full dissertation committee consists of exactly five faculty. A minimum of three and a maximum of four are internal members of our Department who have an academic appointment in DBMI. One or two members of the five members are external faculty who hold a doctorate but do not have an academic appointment in DBMI. Should external dissertation committee faculty not already be approved GSAS dissertation sponsors, the Department will need to submit the external faculty member’s CV to the Office of Dissertations with the dissertation defense application for approval.

Because the faculty request sufficient time to review dissertations and evaluate student work, DBMI deadlines exceed GSAS minimums. A minimum of six weeks prior to the dissertation defense, students submit a completed Application for Dissertation Defense to the graduate program manager. Students distribute the dissertation to the Dissertation Committee a minimum of four weeks in advance of the scheduled dissertation defense and will enter that date onto the dissertation defense application form. Both the chair and the sponsor must be physically present for the exam to take place. Should a member of the Committee who is neither the chair nor the sponsor be unable to attend the dissertation defense in person, advance approval to hold the exam must be secured by the Chair of the Department from the GSAS Office of Dissertations when the dissertation defense application is submitted. Any edits to the dissertation suggested by the defense committee prior to deposit are the purview of the sponsor, as is the end date of the student’s appointment once s/he defends. Termination of student appointments post-defense generally occurs within 1 to 4 weeks at the discretion of the sponsor and administration.

If the GSAS Office of Dissertations approves your defense in advance, they will send appropriate paperwork (the instructions for the chair of the dissertation committee, the voting sheet, instructions on dissertation deposit and approval card) to the department prior to the defense.  Your defense cannot take place without their prior approval and receipt of this paperwork in advance of the defense.  The committee chair will be given the voting sheet prior to the exam.  The approval card and deposit instructions will be given to the student.  Under no circumstances may the student have the voting sheet in their possession at any time. It is the responsibility of the dissertation committee chair to provide the voting sheet to the graduate program manager following the exam.  Students will need to submit an approval card provided by the Office of Dissertations with their dissertation deposit. The card must be signed by the student’s research advisor as well as the DBMI Department Chair (in that order).

PhD theses are expected to provide significant innovative insights and new results that add to the knowledge of biomedical informatics. There is a major emphasis on including some type of evaluation of the work, keyed to the initial hypothesis. Dissertations must be written according to the Columbia University guidelines and will generally follow the same chapter outline as described for the dissertation proposal. Templates in both Microsoft Word and LaTeX is available from the GSAS Office of Dissertations website.

After the closed session, committee members discuss the student’s performance and indicate their agreement with the final vote by signing the voting sheet provided by the Office of Dissertations. The dissertation committee chair is responsible for returning the voting sheet to the Graduate Program Manager for submittal to the GSAS Office of Dissertations.