PhD – Dissertation

The dissertation is a work of original scholarship and the most important and challenging requirement of the PhD degree. Working closely with a faculty adviser, a core member of the SPAA faculty (who chairs the dissertation committee), the student identifies a significant question or problem in public administration to investigate, develops and defends a dissertation proposal (which includes the relevant theory, literature, and proposed methodology), implements the study (including the collection and analysis of qualitative and/or quantitative data), prepares a comprehensive written research report suitable for publication, and defends their dissertation orally in front of their committee.

The key stages of the dissertation process are outlined below.


Key Stages of the Disseration Process

  1. Dissertation Proposal (Prospectus) and Qualifying Exam
  2. Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI)
  3. IRB Review and Approval
  4. Applying for Graduation
  5. The Dissertation Defense
  6. Submitting your Dissertation for Publication


1. Dissertation Proposal (Prospectus) and Qualifying Exam
The first stage of the dissertation involves developing and defending a proposal (also called a prospectus). Working closely with an adviser, the student develops a written research proposal of about 30-40 pages in length (not including attachments).

With advice from the student’s adviser, a committee is formed to review the proposal and participate in a public and open defense, known officially as the qualifying examination. The committee should be composed of three SPAA core tenured or tenure-track faculty members (including the adviser, who chairs of the committee) and a fourth, outside member from outside SPAA (either another department at Rutgers or another university).

Upon successfully passing the qualifying examination, the student is admitted to candidacy (and known then as a PhD candidate).  At the defense, it is important for the committee and candidate to complete and sign the Application for Admission to Candidacy, which is available on the forms page of the Graduate School:

If the defense is unsuccessful, the Application for Admission to Candidacy provides an option for the committee to not recommend admission to candidacy.

Students can be reimbursed for up to $500 in dissertation expenses (e.g. mailings).

2. Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI)
All Rutgers University faculty, students, and other individuals involved in human subjects research are required to complete the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) Basic Course and complete the CITI Refresher Course every three (3) years thereafter. Doctoral students should complete their CITI training as soon as possible after entering the program, but certainly must do so in advance of preparing their dissertation proposal. For more information, visit the Office of Research Regulatory Affairs CITI webpage at:

3. IRB Review and Approval
All doctoral dissertations involving human subjects must be reviewed and approved by the Rutgers Institutional Review Board (IRB) before beginning the dissertation research. The IRB is charged with the protection of the rights and welfare of human research subjects while facilitating ethical research. The IRB is part of the Office of Research and Regulatory Affairs, who provides subject matter expertise and administrative support to the IRB committee itself, which is comprised mostly of Rutgers faculty who are also researchers. In addition, the IRB includes individuals with expertise who are not part of the Rutgers community, as required by the federal regulations governing research with humans. Review by the IRB is required for research involving human subjects regardless of the funding source, and also covers human subjects research without funding. For more information, visit the Office of Research Regulatory Affairs, Arts and Sciences IRB webpage at:

4. Applying for Graduation
Diplomas can be issued three times per year: October, January, and May but there is only one commencement ceremony (in May). You should have an idea of when you will complete your degree requirements and review this with your advisor. When you have selected a date, you need to complete a Graduate Diploma Application by the appropriate application deadline.

Diploma application deadlines are:

  • For October graduation, the deadline is August 1
  • For January graduation, the deadline is November 1
  • For May graduation, the deadline is March 1

The Graduate Diploma Application is available on the forms page of the Graduate School:

5. The Dissertation Defense
Your defense is ready to be scheduled once your Chair informs the PhD Director to that effect. You will then select a date and time when your committee members are available and book the room in consultation with the SPAA staff.

Electronic and hard copies of your dissertation must also be submitted to SPAA two weeks in advance of your scheduled defense for public review. Coordinate scheduling and the public announcement of the defense with SPAA staff.

Before the defense, also schedule an appointment with the Assistant Dean of Graduate Programs to ensure that all of your student records and transcripts are complete and in order.

You must bring to your defense:

  • Two original copies of the first (title) page of your dissertation printed on 100% cotton thesis paper so that all members of your committee can sign them.
  • The Dissertation Defense Report, which can be downloaded from the GS-N Graduate School’s forms page:

6. Submitting the Dissertation
Rutgers requires doctoral dissertations to be submitted exclusively in electronic form. Dissertations must be converted to a PDF file and then uploaded online to RUetd (Rutgers University Electronic Theses and Dissertations) so that it will be permanently available through RUcore (Rutgers University Community Repository).

To ease into the process, doctoral students can do practice runs as often as necessary and receive feedback from the Graduate Dean's office as to whether all is in order prior to making their final submission. The formatting instructions have been rewritten for electronic submission and are posted on the RUetd at the check box, "Author Guidelines" at the bottom of the Step 1 page. Instructions are included for copyright and submission to ProQuest/UMI (University Microfilms).

The electronic dissertation will be maintained in the Rutgers University library system. Two original cover pages hand-signed by the student's dissertation committee members will still be required to be submitted to the Graduate Dean's office for permanent record, even when the dissertation is submitted electronically.

For more information, contact:

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