Defense Dissertation Phd Program

The final defense is an oral examination open to the public, during which the author of a thesis or dissertation demonstrates to his or her committee satisfactory command of all aspects of the work presented and other related subjects, if applicable. The defense is required for the dissertation and Masters plan A students.

Scheduling & Announcement

Defense announcement in the University Events Calendar is required for the dissertation. The defense must be one hour or more in length. It may be scheduled between 8:00 am to 4:30 pm on any work day, during both instructional and non-instructional periods. Submit announcement to Office of Graduate Student Services no later than two weeks prior to defense. Announcement must specify title, date, time and place of the defense. It must be signed by the committee chair.

Pre-Defense Manuscript Distribution

The student must submit the completed manuscript to the committee by the deadline set by his or her graduate program, or no later than two weeks prior to the scheduled defense (four weeks is highly recommended in the case of the dissertation). In addition, the student needs to distribute a copy of the abstract to the faculty of his or her graduate program. The abstract may be distributed via email or other electronic means as appropriate.

Committee Participation

Effective 2015, the Graduate Council has approved allowing graduate programs more flexibility with regard to remote participation by the doctoral candidate and committee members for a doctoral defense. With this change, it is possible for the entire committee to attend a doctoral defense online with no members physically present on campus at UHM. However, since such defenses will continue to remain a public presentation, a physical location on the UHM campus with accessibility for viewers to an online or related type of defense (i.e., if defense is located at an off-campus location) must be made available. This information will also be required on the Dissertation Announcement that is submitted at least two weeks prior to a defense and when posted to the Academic Calendar.

For any graduate program that wishes to establish their own guidelines and procedures with regard to physical presence, virtual presence, or a mixture of both for the candidate and committee members for doctoral defenses, an official memo sent via your college/school Dean to Dean Aune will be required.

In the absence of such a memo, current Graduate Education procedures must be followed. The student, chair, university representative, and a majority of members (as approved on Student Progress Form II) must be physically present at the defense. In the event that a committee member is unable to participate physically in the final defense, the alternatives are, in order of preference:

1. Postpone the defense.

2. Use video- or teleconferencing — Under special circumstances, a committee member may participate via video- or teleconferencing, if certain conditions are met:

  • Advance written agreement of the student and all committee members has been obtained and submitted to the Office of Graduate Student Services (use Petition for Remote Committee Participation Form);
  • All materials, including any visual aids, have been distributed in advance to the remote member;
  • The remote member participates in the entire and complete course of the meeting;
  • The committee chair has accepted responsibility for the oversight of any logistical arrangements necessary; and
  • Any costs associated with video- or teleconferencing have been accounted for in advance. Such costs are not the responsibility of the Office of Graduate Education.
  • Submit a Doctoral Petition for Remote Committee Participation.
  • Resources on Campus
    • Teleconference facilities with various types of equipment (video, audio, etc.) are supported by these units: SOEST (Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute), John A. Burns School of Medicine, Language Learning Center, School of Architecture, Pacific Biomedical Research Institute, and School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene. Faculty in those units should contact their IT specialists if they wish to reserve a time slot for a dissertation defense. ITS also offers conferencing services for the UH community such as “Halawai”, adobe enterprise connect (; check the help site for information - and HITS, Hawaii Interactive Video Service; check the FAQ for information -

3. Restructure the committee.

4. Use proxy member(s) — As a general rule, the Office of Graduate Education discourages the use of proxy committee members for the final defense. However, the use of a proxy member may occasionally be the only feasible solution that does not unduly penalize the student. Only regular graduate faculty may serve as proxies. A proxy cannot be used for the committee chair or the university representative. To use a proxy member, submit a written request to the Office of Graduate Student Services prior to the day of the final defense. The request must indicate the reason for the proxy, and include the approval signature of the student’s graduate chair.

Upon request approval by the Office of Graduate Education, the proxy is expected to act in full capacity of the committee member he or she replaces. The proxy may ask any questions he or she deems appropriate. The proxy may require the student to revise, add or delete portions of the manuscript. Finally, the proxy must indicate approval or disapproval of the defense by signing Form III.

Committee Approval

A majority of the committee, including the chair and university representative, must approve of the defense in order for the student to pass. A student failing the final defense for the first time may repeat it only with approval from both the graduate program and the Office of Graduate Education. A student failing for the second time is dismissed from both the graduate program and the Office of Graduate Education. Committee members are required to indicate their approval of the manuscript and the defense using the forms listed below:

PurposeTo indicate approval or disapproval of the content of the manuscript and the student’s ability to defend it.To indicate approval of both the content and the form of the finalized manuscript.
Required SignaturesTo be signed by the chair, university representative, and committee members who participate in the final defense, including any proxy members.To be signed by the chair, university representative, and a majority of the committee, including any committee member(s) who may have been physically absent at the defense. All those who sign must have read and must approve the manuscript in its entirety.
Submission DeadlineSubmit after the defenseSubmit along with manuscript by the thesis/dissertation due date (See Calendar).

Committee Decision Review

Should a member of the committee voting in the minority wish to have the majority decision reviewed, he or she may do so by submitting a written request to the Office of Graduate Education. The request must state specific reasons. Upon approval of the request, the review will be undertaken by the Graduate Council.

Defense Committee

A defense committee must be approved by the BPH program, with membership listed on the Dissertation Defense Committee Form. All members must hold academic positions of Assistant Professor or higher. There are 4 members of the committee, which should meet the following criteria:

  • Defense committee chair: One member of student’s DAC, often the DAC chair, will chair the oral defense. Their primary role is to assess committee satisfaction with the written dissertation, administer the exam, arbitrate any problems that may arise, and make final recommendations for completion of necessary corrections and additions to the dissertation. No other DAC members can serve on the defense committee
  • At least one member should be a BPH faculty member, often from the same academic department
  • One member should be outside of the BPH program, and if possible, outside of Harvard University
  • The fourth member should be from BPH or another Harvard-affiliated program

Defense Timing and Format

  • The title, time, date and place of the exam will be announced by email to members of the BPH community and publicized throughout HSPH. Therefore, students should notify the BPH Program as far in advance with the details of the exam.
  • The student is required to notify the BPH office no later than 3 weeks in advance of the defense with the final dissertation title.
  • At least two weeks before the date of exam, defense members should be sent copies of the dissertation for review. A copy of the dissertation should also be sent to the BPH program.
  • If defense committee members foresee problems with the exam, they should contact the chair of the defense committee in advance of the meeting.

As part of the exam, the PhD candidate will present a public seminar followed by a private oral examination. Each member of the defense committee will direct questions to the candidate based on their review of the dissertation and presentation of the seminar. Dissertation advisors may be present, but they must not participate in the exam (e.g., answer questions posed by the committee).

Preparing for the Defense
Students preparing to defend their dissertation must review University requirements as outlined in “Form of the Doctoral Dissertation” with guidelines published at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.  The 2017 Form of the Dissertation document can be found here.

Students are also welcome to visit the BPH Student Lounge (Building 2, Room 113) to look at copies of previous BPH bound dissertations.

Writing the Dissertation
The dissertation must show original treatment of a fitting subject, contain a scholarly review of the pertinent literature, give evidence of independent research, and be clearly, logically, and carefully written. There are a variety of ways a dissertation can be composed, but the core elements described below must be included.

The Ph.D. dissertation is expected to describe a substantial amount of independent and original research of publishable quality. In addition to research chapters describing original data, each dissertation must contain Introduction and Conclusion chapters that present the background and significance of the dissertation research and discuss the broader impact of the findings. In some cases, the student has done all of the work in the dissertation; more often portions of the dissertation result from collaborative research. In all dissertations containing collaborative results, the dissertation should indicate concisely who contributed to the work and how.

For example, a chapter containing multi-authored, published work must include a complete reference of the publication and a brief description of the candidate’s and the colleagues’ contributions. For work that is not published but which resulted from multiple researchers, the contributors must be named and respective attributions made clearly. This policy allows stylistic flexibility; depending on the amount of collaborative work in the dissertation and the status of publication(s), the attributions can be, preferably, on or accompanying the cover page for each chapter or within an extended acknowledgements section at the end of each chapter. It is recommended that if figures or figure panels are included that are the work of others that the figure panels be clearly identified and the work properly attributed. It is permissible for more than one student to include work from the same collaboration or publication as long as the required attributions are clear, justified, and complete.

Individual chapters can be that of published articles as long as there are also comprehensive Introduction and Conclusion chapters written by the student. While the text can be the same, use of journal reprints as a chapter is not permissible. A word document of the published article must be used, and the pages in the dissertation must be consecutively numbered. Furthermore, the figures and accompanying figure legends must be integrated into the main body of each chapter, preferably following the first mention of the given figure, not clustered at the end of the chapter. Any dissertation that varies significantly from the Graduate School or FAS guidelines or is not neat and readable is subject to required stylistic revision before acceptance by the University. (See the Form of the PhD Dissertation here).

Defense Forms and Paperwork

Before the examination, the BPH Program Office will provide the Chairperson of the Exam Committee with three copies of the official Dissertation Acceptance Certificate. All copies must be signed by all readers of the dissertation at the end of the examination and returned to the BPH Program Office.

Two signed copies constitute the official record of the examination for the BPH Program and should be returned to the BPH Program Office. One will be scanned and sent to the student so it can be inserted as page one of the dissertation prior to online submission. The Student must submit a second copy to the GSAS Registrar’s Office in Cambridge by the appropriate deadline.

If extensive corrections are to be made, the BPH Program Office will hold the certificate until the Chair of the Examination Committee notifies them that corrections have been made and approved.

Once the student has made final corrections to the dissertation, the BPH Director and the Dissertation Advisor will sign the BPH Department Approval Form. This form – along with the signed Dissertation Acceptance Certificate – certifies that the candidate is entitled to file an application for the Ph.D. degree.

Two signed copies should be returned to the BPH Program Office. The student must submit a third copy to the GSAS Registrar’s Office in Cambridge by the appropriate deadline.

Sample Dissertation Title Page
Please click here to see a sample BPH Dissertation Title Page.  Again, please refer to the Form of the Dissertation for guidelines about how to format your dissertation.

Binding and Delivery of the Dissertation Following the Examination
Following the examination, the student, with the help of the Dissertation Advisor, should make any necessary corrections to the thesis. It is then the student’s responsibility to submit the following copies of the dissertation:

GSAS requires submission of one electronic copy of the dissertation, submitted electronically through the ETDs @ Harvard online submission tool to the FAS Registrar’s Office for approval for the degree.

GSAS also requires submission to Harvard University Archives of a print, bound copy of the dissertation. Students do not need to take action to secure and submit this copy. Order and submission of the print, bound copy is managed automatically via the ETDs @ Harvard tool and the Office of Scholarly Communication. Upon submission of the application for degree, a one-time $37 charge will appear on students’ termbill for the required copy. BPH requires a departmental bound copy and an advisor bound copy, so BPH students will see a total order of 3 printed dissertations and a charge of $111 on their term bill for which the student will be reimbursed by providing a receipt of this charge.  The departmental and advisor copies will be delivered directly to the department by the book binders. [Students who apply for the degree and do not then meet all requirements for the degree period will not be charged when submitting future applications for the degree.]

NOTE:Students must secure personal copies outside of the arrangement we have for institutional copies (for Harvard Archives, academic departments, and labs).  They can choose to go with Acme or they can choose to go with any other bindery they like. The information about student copies can be found in the Form of the Dissertation in an effort to guide students.

Bookbinders who have worked with Harvard University
(Prices and time required vary; some binderies charge a premium for rush jobs.)

Acme Bookbinding, 100 Cambridge Street, Charlestown, MA; (617) 242-1100.

For names and addresses of other binderies, consult the Library Binding Institute website:

Both electronic and paper copies must meet the specifications described in Preparation of the Dissertation, a section of the Form of the PhD Dissertation. A dissertation that does not conform to the minimum standards set by GSAS may have to be reformatted and resubmitted. In that event, the degree cannot be awarded until a dissertation in satisfactory form is completed and deposited with the Registrar.


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