Ph.D. Student Handbook

Final Examination and Dissertation Requirements

1. Doctoral Dissertation

Upon completion of the research program, as determined by the student and advisor, each student must prepare a doctoral dissertation that is read by the dissertation committee and defended in a public presentation. The dissertation must follow the rules and format stipulated in the Doctoral Dissertation Manual issued by the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

  • All required forms for depositing are submitted virtually in Penn Graduate Forms
  • Title page signatures are optional, and electronic signatures are accepted
  • A printed copy of the dissertation is not required for deposit
  • The dissertation must be submitted electronically in ETD Administrator

Although strict style guidelines have not been set by the Bioengineering Graduate Group, it is stressed that the requirements of all good scientific writing, i.e. clear logic, clear and grammatically correct writing, and common sense in the presentation, should be followed. In general, the student should also consult previous Ph.D. theses available in the library for guidance as to how to best solve problems of presenting voluminous data, graphs, equations, etc., that are often encountered in an engineering dissertation.

The importance of good organization, with appropriate chapter subheadings as required, cannot be over emphasized, since the reader is faced with the problem of assimilating and critically assessing a great deal of information. Students should also be cognizant that significant differences in styles exist for theses in engineering and the life sciences; although Bioengineering spans both, at Penn the Bioengineering Ph.D. is an engineering degree and students should follow that model.

It is the responsibility of the dissertation advisor to ensure that the written copy of the dissertation submitted to the committee meets the above basic requirements.

2. Submission of Doctoral Dissertation to Dissertation Committee

In order to submit the dissertation, it must be in its final form, i.e., typed, with final drawings, and complete with references and appendices.

When the advisor approves the dissertation, it is time to send it to the committee and schedule the public defense. The student must allow sufficient time for the reading of the dissertation by the committee, the final examination, and possible revisions and rereading; otherwise the student may be required to register for another semester to complete the process. Specifically, the student may schedule a date for the defense, allowing a minimum of three weeks for the dissertation to be read. When the student has finalized a date he/she must inform the graduate assistant within three weeks of the date so that the Graduate Program Coordinator can prepare the proper paperwork and post notices of the defense to the University community. Communicating confirmation of the date and meeting place to each committee member is the responsibility of the student. If any of the original committee members are unavailable, the Graduate Group Chair will appoint replacements as needed. Upon agreeing to an examination date, the committee members guarantee to complete an initial review of the dissertation at least One week prior to the scheduled exam date. During that week, they should be available for consultation with the student to discuss possible necessary dissertation revisions and deficiencies prior to the examination. The responsibility for initiating contact rests with the student, but an equal responsibility rests with the dissertation committee to make the student and advisor aware of problems prior to the examination. In extreme cases, the committee chair may act to postpone the examination date if in his/her judgment the dissertation is not ready for defense.

3. Final Examination

The actual final examination consists of a defense of the dissertation by the student. It is conducted in two parts:

  1. A public defense, in which the student orally presents the results of his/her research as a public seminar of 30-40 minutes duration, followed by an open question period. The entire University community is invited, with suitable announcements distributed as with regular departmental seminars.
  2. Immediately following the open defense, there is a closed examination, open only to the dissertation committee. If he/she deems it advisable, the dissertation committee chair may invite additional persons to the closed examination. Such persons may participate in the examination but do not take part in the final vote.

At the conclusion of the final examination, the committee decides by majority vote, as to whether the student passes the final examination and whether the dissertation is acceptable. The results are transmitted to the Graduate Group Chair, who has primary responsibility for acceptance of the dissertation as representative of the entire Graduate Group Committee. It is expected that in all but the rarest circumstance the Graduate Group Chair will consent to the committee’s recommendation, and will break a tie vote if necessary the Graduate Group Chair can overrule the dissertation committee. In order to overrule the dissertation committee, the Graduate Group Chair must submit a written opinion to the entire Graduate Group Committee, who then take final action.

If the student is judged to have passed the final examination, but the dissertation is deemed to require revision, the review committee shall determine what revisions are necessary, and the basis for further review. Such revisions will be specified in a letter from the Examining Committee Chair sent to the candidate and his/her advisor within 48 hours of the examination. The dissertation committee chair is responsible for overseeing this aspect of the review and for certifying to the Graduate Group Chair that the dissertation is finally acceptable. The student must then submit sufficient copies of the approved dissertation for each of the committee members, if they require them.

4. Submission of Dissertation to Vice Provost

**The Office of Academic Programs will post the deadline dates for depositing the completed dissertation at the Office of the Vice Provost of Graduate Education (16 College Hall), at the beginning of each semester. Adhere strictly to these deadlines to avoid disappointment.**

The student will call to make an appointment with the office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education to submit the dissertation. Also to be included with the official copies are an Abstract not to exceed 350 words, as required for submission to Dissertation Abstracts. (Details on particulars can be found in the current Doctoral Dissertation Manual).

The student must inform the graduate assistant of the date and time of the appointment at least one week in advance in order for the assistant to complete the Degree Certification and Dissertation Certification (Form 153) forms which must be taken to 16 College Hall along with the dissertation copies. It is the responsibility of the student to get original signatures of the student’s advisor and Graduate Group Chair on the title pages. Each student should obtain the signature of their advisor on the title page before meeting with the Graduate Group Chair for approval and signature on the title page.

After the office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education has accepted the dissertation, (16 College Hall) at least two unbound copies must be provided to the Bioengineering office for binding at the department’s expense (one is the department’s copy and one is for presentation to the student’s advisor). The department may have additional copies bound at the student’s request and expense, and will collect payment from the student at the time the request is made.

Access the University of Pennsylvania Doctoral Dissertation Manual here.