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Dissertation Prospectus

Your dissertation prospectus signifies two things. The first is that you have an acceptable thesis proposal, which you defend at an oral examination. The second is that you have completed all of our coursework which comprises (a) the preliminary examinations / demonstration of competence in the three core areas (b) the field course requirements, and (c) two Economics 501 presentations.

The oral examination ascertains whether the student's dissertation topic is feasible. The student selects a prospective thesis advisor and a committee of examiners. The student works with the advisor and committee to write a thesis proposal, which is the basis of the oral examination. It is important that the student choose a thesis advisor several months before the proposed oral examination. The advisor's assistance is invaluable in developing a thesis topic.

Examination Committee

Rules on the composition of the committee are:

  1. The committee must have three or more individuals.
  2. At least two members of this committee, including the chair, must be members of the Northwestern University Graduate Faculty.
  3. The chair of the committee must hold a tenure-line appointment in the Economics Department or have a voted courtesy appointment in the Economics Department.
  4. In the event that the committee chair holds a courtesy appointment, at least one other member of the committee must hold a tenure-line appointment in the Economics Department.

Exceptions to conditions 3 and 4 are only permissible with prior written approval of the Director of Graduate Studies.

Faculty outside Economics holding courtesy appointments are:

Time Limits

The Department expects that students making good progress should have successfully defended their dissertation prospectus by August 31 at the end of their third year. This is a requirement for fourth year funding

Students must have completed the taught course component of Ph.D. degree and had their prospectus (dissertation proposal) approved by their committee no later than the end of the Fall Quarter in their fourth year of study, which falls on the last date of the 13th quarter of study. Any student not meeting this milestone will be placed on probation. A student who fails to resume satisfactory academic standing after at most two quarters, which is the say the last date of the Spring Quarter in their fourth year of study (last date of the 15th quarter of study), will be excluded (dismissed) from the program and Northwestern University.

Administrative Procedures

When you have completed your course work, and have scheduled the oral qualifying examination, you can initiate the process by submitting a Prospectus Committee form to the Graduate School on-line using CAESAR.

The Graduate School then asks the Department to verify that the course work is complete and a successful prospectus defense occurred. So that the Department can do this, the candidate should complete the Department's "Certification of a Dissertation Prospectus" form. 

The candidate should complete sections 1 to 5 of this form before the oral examination. These sections ask you to provide information on the completion of your course work (preliminary examinations, field courses, paper presentations, and the Economic History requirement).

The candidate should take the form to the oral examination, where the members of the candidate's committee can sign their acceptance of the prospectus in section 6.

The completed form, along with a copy of your transcript (which can be printed out from CAESAR), should be returned immediately to the Graduate Program Coordinator's office. The Director of Graduate Studies will then review the form and authorize the Graduate School to accept your dissertation prospectus.

A Note on Human Subjects

Even though we are a social science rather than a medical science, it is possible that government restrictions on the privacy of human subjects may apply to your PhD dissertation. If you are collecting new data, or even using previously collected data, on individual identifiable people, then you may have to get prior approval for your research from Northwestern's Institutional Research Board. You should read the FAQ section of their web site to see if it applies to you.

The web site also includes information on the approval process, if that is necessary.

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