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Dissertation Defense

The information outlined below is not all-inclusive. Please familiarize yourself with all of the requirements as outlined in the Student Handbook as well as the Doctoral Dissertation Preparation Guide (GSBS12) or if applicable, the Master Thesis Preparation Guide (GSBS24).


The entire process, from last TRAC meeting through program completion, typically takes 4 months for Basic Biomedical Science students.

Approval of Proposed Dissertation Timeline by the TRAC

A student who has concluded that their dissertation research is nearly complete must propose a timeline for completion and meet with the dissertation advisor and the TRAC for review and approval of the proposed timeline.

Formation of Dissertation Examination Committee

The Dissertation Examination Committee (DEC) consists of five members.  Four members must be Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Faculty Members. One of these must be designated as the DEC Chair. The DEC Chair must be a tenured Professor or Associate Professor. Associate and Affiliate faculty members are not eligible to serve on DEC. The dissertation advisor cannot be a member of the committee.

DEC Membership Requirements

An External Examiner must be selected and approved by the TRAC and the Dean. The purpose of the External examiner is to represent the academic community at large in upholding the standards of the PhD degree. Therefore the External Examiner must:

  1. Hold a doctoral degree
  2. Be currently engaged in research in the field
  3. Be primarily appointed as a faculty member at a PhD-granting institution, or appointed at a government or other non-profit institution with a secondary appointment at a PhD-granting institution.

Co-authorships and Conflict of Interest exclusions

The DEC may consist of no more than two members who are current or intended future co-authors with the student on the work in the dissertation.

Neither the DEC Chair nor the External Examiner can be a current or intended future co-author with the student on work presented in the dissertation.

No DEC member can be the current or former spouse or a relative of the student or the dissertation advisor. 

Preparation for the Defense Examination

  1. The student will schedule the defense examination (DE).
    TRAC Approval of Proposed Dissertation Timeline (GSBS70)
    Preview GSBS70  |  Initiate GSBS70 in DocuSign
  2. The student will submit the DE Committee Selection Form (GSBS14) to the GSBS office 30 days prior to the DE.
    Preview GSBS14 |  Initiate GSBS 14 in DocuSign
  3. The student will provide the GSBS office with the Request for Posting of Dissertation Defense (GSBS11) along with an ~250-word research summary 21 days prior to the defense.
    GSBS11 Form
  4. The student will distribute the final copy of the dissertation to the DE committee 21 days prior to the DE.
  5. Within 7 days of receipt, the DE Chair will review the thesis for general acceptability and will communicate his/her findings to the GSBS and to the rest of the DE committee. In the event that the Dissertation document is unacceptable,
    1. the DE Chair also informs the student and the dissertation advisor, and provides a written summary to all detailing the deficiencies. The DE will be cancelled.
    2. the student will correct the deficiencies and restart the process of preparation for the DE.
  6. The defense notice will be posted and electronically distributed by the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences 2 weeks prior to the defense. The Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences office will not post the notice until confirmation that the defense can move forward has been received from the DEC chair.

The Defense Exam

The defense exam consists of a public seminar followed by a closed defense examination. The public seminar is a 45-50 minute summary of the findings reported in the dissertation, followed by questions from the audience. The closed defense examination will take place immediately after the public seminar. The dissertation advisor cannot be present during the closed door defense. 

Possible Outcomes


A student earns an outcome of Pass when the DEC unanimously decides that the defense examination is satisfactory and the written dissertation is acceptable as presented.

In Progress - Minor Revisions

A student earns an outcome of Minor Revisions when a majority of the DEC decides that the defense examination is satisfactory and the written dissertation requires only minor revisions that do not materially affect the content of the dissertation. 

In Progress - Major Revisions

A student earns an outcome of Major Revisions when a majority of the DEC decides that the defense examination is satisfactory and the written dissertation requires substantial revisions to the text. Major revisions include any revisions that materially affect the content of the dissertation, including the addition of significant content to the Introduction or the Discussion.

In Progress - Retest

A student earns an outcome of Retest when a majority of the DEC decides that the oral examination is unsatisfactory. The dissertation may be acceptable or may require minor or major revisions. Only one retest is permitted.


A student earns an outcome of Fail when the DEC unanimously decides that the defense examination and/or written dissertation is unacceptable and cannot be improved to the point where the DEC could find one/both acceptable.  

COVID-19 Accommodations

Dissertation Exams may be held either fully remote via Zoom or on-site in-person.

For the in-person option, the dissertation exam must be held in rooms that are enabled for HyFlex participation. All DEC members, excluding the External Examiner, have the option to participate on-site or remotely. The External Examiner must continue to participate remotely.

Outside guests may be invited to campus and must be preregistered in the SV3 visitor management system, which includes vaccination and health screenings. Departments are responsible for ensuring that all visitors, including the External Examiner, are in compliance with current campus policies.

The defending student has total discretion as to whether the defense and exam will be held remotely or on-site. The DEC Chair will ensure that the student’s preference is established and honored.

Post-Defense Completion of Dissertation

The DEC Chair, in consultation with other DEC members, is responsible for approving a revised dissertation.

The student has four months post-defense to retest, if necessary, to submit the revised and approved dissertation and to complete all degree requirements. If all degree requirements are not completed within four months, the student will be withdrawn from the GSBS and will receive no degree. Extensions will be considered only with documentation of extreme extenuating circumstances.

Completion of Degree Requirements

All instructions for degree completion outlined in the  Doctoral Dissertation Preparation Guide (GSBS12) must be completed by the student before a degree will be conferred.


Ask Mindy Donovan
Project Manager
GSBS Student and Academic Affairs