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Dissertation

Dissertation committee and defense

Students who have passed the first- and second-year comprehensive examinations at the PhD level and who have passed the third-year doctoral qualifying examination must choose a dissertation advisor and assemble a dissertation committee. The committee may be the same as that chosen for the doctoral qualifying examination, but this is not required. Students should choose their committee in consultation with their advisor.  The committee may be any combination of three PhD Biostatistics faculty[1], one of whom is student’s advisor, and one PhD faculty from Vanderbilt at large (not in Biostatistics, Statistics, or Mathematics). Faculty not possessing a PhD are eligible to be non-voting members of the committee and to participate in all committee deliberations. The composition of the dissertation committee must be approved by the DGS. Please complete the Request to appoint PhD committee form and return to Linda Wilson.

The dissertation committee is intended to bring specialized expertise and guidance to the student’s research, education, and career development. The dissertation committee will serve as a resource for the direction of, and assistance with, independent research in the context of senior sponsorship and oversight. The dissertation advisor primarily is responsible for the overall guidance of the student’s research and training. The student must meet with his or her dissertation committee members either as a group or individually soon after completing the oral examination and thereafter every six months. The student, with supervision from the advisor, will summarize committee meetings in written minutes and action items. Copies of this summary will be sent to all committee members and the DGS, and will become a part of the student’s permanent record.

The dissertation committee is responsible for administering the final PhD examination (i.e., dissertation defense) and will determine whether the candidate has presented an acceptable dissertation and has demonstrated strong proficiency in the five key skill areas during their educational tenure at Vanderbilt.

The student will present his or her dissertation research to the dissertation committee; the committee members will be free to ask questions about any relevant substantive or methodologic issues. Examinations will be open to the public and will usually last two hours. Candidates will present their proposal in a 45- to 60-minute presentation. For the remainder of the examination, committee members will question the student. The committee will deliberate its conclusions in private. Once you are ready to schedule your PhD dissertation, please complete the Request to schedule Dissertation Defense form and submit it to Linda Wilson at least three weeks prior to the exam date.

The chair of the dissertation committee shall be the most senior professor, excluding the student’s primary advisor(s). The chair of the dissertation committee will be responsible for running the examination and will inform the DGS in writing of the results of the final defense, including completion of any required revisions. If all other requirements are satisfied, the DGS will notify the Dean of the Graduate School that the student has completed the requirements for the PhD degree.

Candidates for the PhD degree in Biostatistics must present a dissertation that yields clear evidence of original research and thinking and that advances methodological knowledge in the discipline of Biostatistics. The dissertation must be completed within four years of the student’s admission to candidacy for the degree, i.e., after successful completion of the doctoral qualifying oral examination.


[1] ‘PhD Biostatistics faculty’ includes departmental faculty with a PhD, ScD, or DrPH in Biostatistics or Statistics


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