Classes Laborieuses Classes Dangereuses Dissertation Defense

This expert advice comes from Sonja Foss and William Waters - authors of Destination Dissertation: A Traveler's Guide to a Done Dissertation

Sonja Foss would say that the defense begins as soon as you start working on your dissertation (Foss & Waters, 2007). Defense in the context of the dissertating process refers to the presenting, explaining and defending of your ideas. It also includes laying out the rationale behind your choices and decisions, for example, regarding theory selection and research methods. Efforts to recruit your chair and other committee members will entail some of this communication behavior. Seeking approval for your dissertation proposal, the foundation of all your research activities, will also entail a bit of defense.

Throughout the course of the project many exchanges with your chair and other committees will involve explaining and defending your ideas and decision. However, the most important defense is the dissertation defense which comes at the end of a long and arduous process and which may have unfolded over a number of years. The dissertation defense is a significant milestone signaling closure on your graduate student career.

The dissertation defense can be divided into three distinct components (Foss and Waters): the preparation, the defense, and follow-up. A few brief comments about all three follow and a very helpful resource provided a thorough discussion of all three components.


  • Attend the defenses of some of your departmental colleagues or attend defenses in other departments.
  • It is very important to adhere to graduate school rules and deadlines covering the scheduling of a defense.
  • Begin very early to schedule and coordinate the date, time and place for the defense. Committee members and chairs have very busy schedules.
  • Have your manuscript reviewed before the defense to be sure it is consistent with formatting requirements. You want to present a polished document for the faculty to work with in preparation for the defense.
  • Maximize your opportunity in the pre-defense meeting to raise any issues or concerns. Or ask your chairs what questions and issues might be raised during the defense. Prepare to address them.
  • Organize you material for presentation. Create flawless presentation of the material you will be covering on the defense. Finally, practice presenting the material and answering questions.


  • Meetings may begin with brief comments by the chair followed by your comments thanking advisors and committee members for their time and efforts on your behalf.
  • Your presentation material should briefly cover the research question, literature review as it relates to your theory, methods and analysis, major findings and recommendations for future research.
  • During the defense, the faculty may take turns asking you questions and discussing among themselves points of interest or disagreement.
  • Two questions to anticipate include identifying the weaknesses of your study and post-dissertation research plans.
  • When all questions have been asked and answered, you will be asked to leave the room while the committee deliberates. At this time faculty will be deciding by vote whether to pass you on your defense and dissertation.
  • The desired outcome of this meeting is the chair's greeting you with the statement "Congratulations, Dr. _." (Foss and Waters, 2007). The defense was successful and the committed has passed your dissertation.


  • You may plan a small reception for the committee, friends and family. Check to see what the norms are in your department on post-defense celebrations.
  • Next day attend to the revisions the committee asked you make to the work.
  • You may want to provide bound copies of your work to your chair, committee members, family and friends. You may also be required to provide copies to your department and library. Create a budget for handling the incidental related to publishing and ordering additional copies of your manuscript.


About the Authors: Co-authors of Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation, Dr. Foss is a professor of Communications at University of Colorado, Denver, and Dr. Waters is an assistant professor of English at University of Houston-Downtown, They are co-directors of Scholar’s Retreat, a program to support progress towards completion of your dissertation, thesis or writing project. 

PhD and DME—Dissertation Writing and Defense

These guidelines pertain to the dissertation for PhD and DME students only. There are different procedures for composition dissertations, doctoral final projects, or piano essays.

You should submit an application for graduation no later than the beginning of the semester in which you plan to graduate. Click here for dates and information.

PhD students need to work directly with the University Graduate School on some steps of this process. Contact that office early in the process so you will know details about procedure and deadlines. You are responsible for following any regulations required by the University Graduate School.

Step 1: Approval of topic proposal
Step 2: Research and write dissertation
Step 3: Research director approval
Step 4: Submission of defense copies
Step 5: Research Committee approval
Step 6: Scheduling of defense
Step 7: The defense is held
Step 8: Final Submission

General style guidelines (all students)
Additional PhD style guidelines (PhD students only)

The Writing Stage

Step 1: Approval of topic proposal and appointment of the research committee

The topic proposal must be approved prior to starting work on the final project. For music education majors, topic approval is required before the major field written exam can be scheduled. For music theory majors in bulletin years before 2017, topic approval is required before the oral exam can be scheduled. Musicology majors and Music Theory majors in the bulletin years after 2017 may have have their topic approved at any time.

Please review this detailed information on the topic proposal.

Step 2: Research and write the dissertation

Conducts research and prepare the dissertation. You should determine early in the process how much and in what ways the research director and other research committee members would like to be involved in this process.

You should ensure that the prose is edited for correct grammar, usage, and style before submitting drafts to your research director. While research directors can be expected to make editorial suggestions, correct occasional typographical errors, and so on, they should not be expected to work with poorly written or non-idiomatic English.  

The dissertation must adhere to the Jacobs School of Music style guidelines.  For PhD students, the dissertation must also adhere to the University Graduate School style guidelines.  If any items conflict between the two sets of guidelines, PhD students need to conform to the University Graduate School guidelines.

The Review Stage

Step 3: Research director approval

The research director approves the completed dissertation for circulation to the rest of the research committee. Ask your research director to send an e-mail message to musdoc [at] indiana [dot] edu;or a written note to the Doctoral Clerk in the Music Graduate Office.

Step 4: Submission of defense copies

Submit your final project to the Music Graduate Office for distribution to the Research Committee. You should ask each committee member whether they prefer a printed or electronic copy and submit a printed copy for each faculty member who prefers it in that form. You must also submit a copy to keep on file in the Music Graduate Office (we encourage electronic submission for the office copy, but a printed copy will be accepted as well). The final project will not be distributed for the committee to review until all necessary copies have been submitted to the Music Graduate Office. 

Electronic copies must be submitted using the electronic submission form below:

Electronic submission form for document drafts

On the electronic submission form, you will be asked to submit the names of research committee members who have asked to receive the dissertation electronically and the names of committee members for whom you are submitting printed copies. If we learn from a faculty member that they have not approved receiving an electronic copy, you will need to submit a printed copy and the 8 week review period for the entire committee will restart on the date the printed copy is distributed.

Printed copies may be submitted in person or by mail (including UPS, FedEx, etc.) to the Music Graduate Office.

You are strongly encouraged to submit printed copies double-sided. These copies do not need to be bound, but should be clearly separated.

If you are submitting ONLY printed copies for committee members, remember to submit either a paper or electronic copy for the office. We cannot distribute your dissertation to your committee until we have received an office copy.

PhD students who want to graduate in May should complete this step by Thanksgiving break. DME students who want to graduate in May should complete this step by the last day of classes in the fall semester.

Step 5: Research committee approval

The research committee reviews the dissertation to determine if it is ready for defense. Please note that by Jacobs School of Music policy faculty members are permitted 8 weeks to review the dissertation for approval for defense. In rare instances a faculty member may request additional time, so it is in your interest to build a few more weeks into the review process if you are hoping to graduate by a certain date. Additional time is provided if the review period includes the summer or if the review deadline falls during the summer term or a break.

The Music Graduate Office will inform you by e-mail when your dissertation has been approved by all the members of your research committee. Committee members may indicate in writing any changes or revisions necessary in the approved text. If the research committee does not approve the dissertation for defense, you will be required to make revisions as directed by the committee and to resubmit the dissertation for another full review (steps 3 and 4). You may schedule the defense only after the dissertation has been approved by all committee members.

The Defense Stage

Step 6: Scheduling of defense

Once your dissertation has been approved for defense, you may tentatively reserve a date for the defense. Click here to see the defense calendar and more details about the scheduling procedure. For PhD students, the University Graduate School requires submission of a defense announcement at least 30 days in advance of the defense date, which should be taken into account when selecting a date.  Defense announcements for the University Graduate School are submitted electronically via One.IU.  More information on this process may be found here. (This requirement does not affect DME students.) 

Schedule a defense date through the Music Graduate Office. The defense must ordinarily be scheduled at a time when the entire research committee can attend in-person.When it is otherwise impossible to schedule a defense because of faculty schedules, you may petition to have one member of the Reaserch Committee participate by video. See the following for guidelines:

Guidelines for off-site participation by a member of the research committee

This date will be held for one week while you confirm it with members of the committee. (If a tentative date is not confirmed within one week, it may be offered to another student.) You are encouraged to try to avoid end-of-semester dates because faculty schedules can be more difficult to coordinate. 

Once the date is confirmed, inform that Music Graduate Office so that an e-mail announcement can be sent to you and your committee members. At this time, PhD students prepare the defense announcement for the graduate school. Please note that your defense announcement must be received and processed by the University Graduate School at least 40 days in advance of the scheduled defense date (the University Graduate School requires the announcement at least 30 days in advance of the defense date, so allow at least 10 days for processing).

Defenses are held in a classroom reserved by the Music Graduate Office, Mondays through Fridays at 4:00 p.m., during most of the fall and spring semesters (not during the first week of classes, on holidays, or during breaks). If all committee members are available, events may be scheduled during the portion of summer term in which Jacobs School of Music courses are offered (the second eight-week session); if you are hoping to schedule a defense during the summer should consult the Music Graduate Office before March 15th.

Step 7: The defense is held

A defense is attended by the members of the research committee and by interested members of the Jacobs School of Music community. It typically begins with a presentation in which you explain how you came to the topic and give an overview of the research and its results. This is followed by questions on the project and topic from members of the committee (and, if time permits, from guests).

If you plan to use the Electronic Submission method for final copies, you should bring one copy of your signature page and your abstract for their committee to sign at the defense. If you plan to use the Bound Printed Submission method, you should bring one copy of the signature page for each copy you will be submitting for the committee to sign after the defense. Be sure that the paper for the signature pages matches the paper type of the final copies; see the following section for more information.

Immediately after the defense, the members of the research committee will meet privately to decide on its acceptability for the degree. The Music Graduate Office will supply the chair of the research committee with a form on which the committee can record its judgment; this form should be delivered by the committee chair by the following business day to the Music Graduate Office. The committee may also communicate to you any last-minute suggestions for minor revisions to the dissertation. The committee will determine how these changes will be approved.

Submission Stage

Step 8: Final submission

Once the defense is passed, you will make any required changes, have them approved, and submit the completed dissertation.

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