Dissertation Prospectus

The dissertation prospectus is specific to each discipline, but in its broadest outline it is a document that explains in detail the thesis project, the critical and theoretical instruments used to approach it, the existing scholarship on the subject, and the original contribution that the proposed project entails. The aim of the prospectus is to persuade a panel of scholars in the student’s field of the plausibility of the proposed research, rather than to anticipate its potential conclusions.

The prospectus should include a tentative plan for the project’s development in the form of a research schedule and a section-by-section account (if applicable). The prospectus is prepared in consultation with the advisor(s) who, in turn, determines when the document is ready to proceed to its defense.

Students are responsible for ascertaining with their department/program whether there are additional requirements for the prospectus.

Doctoral dissertation prospectuses shall be approved in writing by a committee of at least three faculty: at least two must be Columbia faculty named on the list of approved dissertation advisors from the student’s home department/program; a third can be from within the department, from another department at Columbia, or from outside the university (with GSAS permission). A dissertation advisor from the list of approved dissertation advisors from the student’s home department/program must be named at the time of the prospectus defense. 

After the defense, the completed Dissertation Prospectus Committee Report, signed and approved by the committee members, must be submitted by the department to the Dissertation Office ([email protected]).

Students must defend the prospectus successfully by May 31 of their fourth year. Students who do not meet this deadline will lose good academic standing, be placed on probation, and not have their stipend disbursed for the ensuing fall semester. In exceptional circumstances, with a written rationale from the DGS and advisor and the approval of GSAS, students may receive a final opportunity to defend their prospectus before September 30 of the fifth year. Students who do so successfully by September 30 of the fifth year will receive the full Dissertation Fellowship retroactively. Students who do not pass their prospectus by September 30 of their fifth year will lose PhD candidacy. For students who are off-cycle (those whose fifth year of matriculation begins in January), the corresponding deadlines described above will be December 15 and February 28.

Please note: In programs in which the defense of the dissertation prospectus is not one of the requirements for the MPhil degree, students are expected to defend their dissertation prospectus within six months after completion of the last requirement for the MPhil degree (not the MPhil degree conferral date). Students should consult with their director of graduate studies to determine whether their department or program has an earlier deadline. However, and as stated in the section on Satisfactory Academic Progressa student must defend the prospectus within four years from initial registration: "The Graduate School considers progress to be minimally satisfactory when progress is such that a student completes the MA degree within two years from initial registration, the MPhil degree and the prospectus defense within four years from initial registration, and the PhD within nine years from initial registration."

Any student traveling internationally to conduct dissertation research must comply with the pre-departure requirements of the University’s International Travel Planning Policy. Requirements can include travel approval by the Dean, and in some instances, Dean and Provost. For more information about these requirements, visit Planning Columbia-Related International Travel.