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Thesis Defense and Dissertation

Permission to Write Meeting: 

A penultimate Thesis Committee meeting should be scheduled approximately 3 months prior to the intended thesis defense date, in which the committee grants “permission to write” and discusses an appropriate timeline for thesis completion. Alternatively, students may obtain formal permission to write from each of their Thesis Committee members following one-on-one meetings in which the timeline to completion is discussed. Documentation of Permission to Write either by indicating such in a Thesis Committee Meeting Report, or by email from each committee member must be sent to the NUIN program.

Dissertation and Thesis Defense:

The dissertation and thesis defense is the culmination of a student’s work at Northwestern University.


Students are required to write a dissertation, which should conform to the University Guidelines on content and formatting and also include:

  • A scholarly Introduction to the field and the background/rationale for the specific questions addressed by the thesis research
  • A series of data chapters describing research conducted by the student
  • A final Discussion chapter

NUIN allows text and figures from published papers to be included (original or modified) as part of a data chapter under the following conditions:

  1. First author papers may be included in their original (or modified) form as long as the student wrote and contributed significantly to editing a large majority of the text in the published paper (include statement signed by student and thesis advisor to this effect in dissertation). It is expected that such chapters will have an Introduction and Discussion that are of length and detail expected for a dissertation.  If the published paper is limited in length by journal policies, the student should include a supplemental Discussion and/or Introduction linking the chapter to the rest of the dissertation. 
  2. Middle author papers may be included in their original (or modified) form, however, the chapter must include an Introduction and Discussion written by the student that highlights and focuses on the details and interpretation of experiments conducted by the student.

At the end of the introductory chapter of the dissertation, the student must provide an overview of the data chapters, indicating whether the work is published or unpublished. For published work, the full citation should be included and it should be stated whether the chapter is the published or an edited version. The contributions of the student and other authors to the scientific (design, experiments, analysis) and written work must be clearly stated. If edits have been made, the nature of the modifications (e.g. incorporation of published supplemental figures into the body of the narrative, inclusion of additional relevant data acquired after publication, expansion of intro or discussion, etc.) should be stated. For unpublished work, the contributions of the student and any other individuals to the scientific work (design, experiments, analysis) must be stated.

The dissertation is expected to include details and scholarly discussions that go above and beyond what one might find in typical journal articles (e.g. related experiments that were beyond the scope of the paper, or additional experimental details that were omitted due to space constraints).  It is the responsibility of the student and the Thesis Committee to ensure that the dissertation meets NUIN standards and properly attributes authorship.

Thesis Defense, PhD Final Exam Form:

A draft of the dissertation should be submitted to the Thesis Advisor with sufficient time for the Thesis Advisor to evaluate it and approve distribution to the Thesis Committee. The dissertation document must be submitted to the Thesis Committee members at least 2 weeks before the private defense date. Committee members with objections to any aspect of the written dissertation will make their concerns known to the Thesis Advisor, student, and NUIN, and the defense may be rescheduled.

All members of the committee must digitally approve the PhD Final Exam Form following a successful thesis defense. If major revisions are required, the committee can opt to have a revised dissertation reviewed by each member of the committee, a single member, or the Thesis Advisor, as they see best fit. The PhD Final Exam Form should only be signed after the revised document has been approved. In the rare circumstance that a consensus cannot be reached regarding necessary revisions, a student or Thesis Advisor may appeal a Thesis Committee’s recommendations to NUIN. 

Public Seminar:

Students present a public seminar after successful completion of the private thesis defense. Students should notify NUIN once the public seminar is scheduled so that it can be advertised to the NUIN community. The public seminar should not be advertised until the private defense has been passed. 

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