In many ways, the dissertation is the focal point of the student’s entire program. Ideally, the student will gain focus on a topic early in the program and begin working with a member of the graduate group as a potential dissertation chair. Through this collaboration, the student may be able to write scholarly papers and to develop skills that will help in the completion of the anticipated dissertation.

The dissertation is an original work of research scholarship to advance knowledge in the field of social welfare. At its best, the dissertation is the first of many significant contributions to a field of study. As such, the importance of the dissertation topic and its contribution to social welfare should be clear. It is the responsibility of the student, with guidance from the dissertation committee, to develop this clarity of purpose and direction.

Both the University and the Graduate Group in Social Welfare set requirements for the dissertation process. Some Social Welfare requirements augment the University policies, but in no case are they in conflict.

Dissertation Advisor and Committee Chair

As students select academic advisors (that is, as they decide to continue with the assigned advisor  or to select a new advisor at the end of the first year), they generally are seeking a potential dissertation chair. Students are free to select any Standing Faculty member of the Graduate Group as a dissertation chair. This is the first step in the process of selecting a committee. Students are encouraged to select a chair first and then consult with that individual about other possible committee members.

A potentially useful guide for identifying and selecting a dissertation chair and committee members is “Graduate Supervision”.

Committee Composition

The Chair must be a standing faculty member of the graduate group. The rules for committee composition are:

  • A committee must have a minimum of three voting members.
  • All voting committee members must be Social Welfare Graduate Group members or members of the Standing or Associated Faculty of the University.
  • No more than two members may be from the faculty of the School of Social Policy & Practice.  Please note that students are not required to have a member of the School of Social Policy & Practice faculty on their committee.
  • Students may have a committee larger than three, as long as at least half the voting members are members of the Social Welfare Graduate Group.

With the consultation of the chair/advisor, students may include non-voting members on their committee. Such persons may include advocates, social work practitioners, or policy leaders who can contribute their expertise.

The phrase “Standing Faculty” includes all tenure line faculty and Clinician-Educator faculty.

“Associated Faculty” are those with Research, Adjunct, Clinical (not clinician-educator, which is Standing Faculty), Practice, and Visiting appointments. Associated Faculty cannot chair dissertation committees.

The primary director of dissertation work and the dissertation chair need not be the same person. For example, if a student is working closely with a member of the Associated Faculty, that faculty member is not eligible to chair the dissertation committee. However, the student may appoint an eligible member of the Standing Faculty in the Graduate Group to be the committee chair with the mutual understanding that the roles of committee chair and principal director of the dissertation work are divided among different committee members.

The University and Graduate Group require that the Student and the Dissertation Supervisor meet regularly to review the progress of the student’s research. In addition, the student is required to meet at least annually with his or her Dissertation Committee and provide an annual dissertation progress report which will be signed by the Dissertation Advisor and given to the Director of the doctoral program. This document must be filed annually.

Proposal Defense

Students are responsible for notifying the Administrative Assistant of their intent to defend their proposal at least two weeks before the scheduled proposal defense date. They must send the date, time, and location along with an abstract of the proposal. The Administrative Assistant will then send an email to the standing faculty and all-doc listservs notifying them of the defense.

The proposal defense is a discourse on scholarship between the candidate and his or her committee that may include other faculty and students from the university community. Other faculty and doctoral students may attend the presentation and participate in the discussion segment of the defense.

The proposal should demonstrate a high level of scholarship and research competence to substantiate the implementation of the planned proposal. The dissertation research proposal defense is commonly characterized by four components:

  1. A brief meeting between the chair and other committee members prior to the student’s presentation.
  2. The student’s presentation and discussion.
  3. Voting by the Chair and committee members on the acceptability of the proposal.
  4. Feedback by the Chair and Committee members to the student.

The voting and feedback occur in a closed meeting; that is, the committee’s formal vote and the presentation of that vote to the candidate is attended by the committee members and the candidate only.

A successful proposal defense admits the student to candidacy for the doctoral degree.

Monitoring and Completion of the Dissertation

The PhD candidate is responsible for making adequate progress toward completing the dissertation. The Committee Chair or Chair of the doctoral program may require regular reports from the student to insure adequate progress is made toward completion of the dissertation.

The length and formatting of the final dissertation should be reviewed with and approved by each student’s Committee Chair.

Defending the Dissertation

The dissertation defense is a scholarly discourse between the candidate and his/her Dissertation Committee on the substantive work to be submitted to the Graduate Group evidencing independent research and the individual’s mastery of a chosen subject and research methods. The dissertation defense is open in that members of the Social Welfare Graduate Group, other faculty of the University, and doctoral students can attend. The Director of the doctoral program or a designee (usually the Chair of the Dissertation Committee) chairs the defense. The Chair and committee members are responsible for conducting the defense proceedings.

Like the proposal defense, students are responsible for notifying the Administrative Assistant of their intent to defend at least two weeks before the scheduled defense. They must send the date, time, and location along with an abstract of the dissertation itself. The Administrative Assistant will send an email to the standing faculty and all-doc listservs notifying them of the defense.

The dissertation defense, similar to the dissertation proposal defense, is typically characterized by four components: (1) a brief prefatory meeting of the Dissertation Chairperson and Committee members, (2) a presentation by the degree candidate that is followed by discussion, (3) voting by the chair and committee members, and (4) reporting the decision on acceptability by the Dissertation Chair to the degree candidate.

Voting is conducted in a closed meeting of the Dissertation Committee. Decisions about acceptability are based on majority vote of the committee. The Chair of the Dissertation Committee reports, within three days of the defense, the results of the vote to the Director of the doctoral program.

At the time of dissertation defense, the student will have forms signed by the Committee and the Director of the doctoral program: (1) Form 152, which documents the approval of the dissertation by the dissertation committee; and (2) Form 153, which certifies a copy of the dissertation as the approved copy. If significant revisions are to be made, the Chair of the Committee may decide to delay signing until revisions are made.

A copy of these forms must be given to the Administrative Assistant of the program. The originals will be submitted by the student when the dissertation is deposited.

Applying for Graduation

The degree candidate must apply for graduation to the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences by the deadline designated for the particular semester (e.g., usually mid- to late-September for December graduation). Application for graduation does not obligate the student to finish at the designated date and can be made before the dissertation defense. Submission of the application registers the student for graduation. Upon registering for graduation, the candidate is provided information about relevant administrative processes including procedures and policies for depositing the completed approved dissertation.

Students are expected to consult the University calendar for the specific dates and to meet the deadline. The degree calendar and information about other requirements is provided at http://www.sas.upenn.edu/graduate-division/graduation/general-information.

Depositing the Dissertation

Candidates for the Ph.D. in Social Welfare are required to adhere to the guidelines of the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences. The Dissertation Manual for the University provides specific information about formatting and depositing the final copy of the dissertation. It can be found at www.upenn.edu/provost/dissertation_resources.

After candidates have successfully defended their dissertation, completed revisions requested in the defense, and obtained the approval of the dissertation committee members, they are responsible for providing the required documentation and for depositing the dissertation. Deadlines for filing the dissertation are provided in the University’s graduation calendar http://www.sas.upenn.edu/graduate-division/resources/degree-requirements.

Other Graduation Requirements

In order to graduate, degree candidates must have a zero balance with the University, complete an exit interview with Student Financial Services, document current health insurance coverage, and complete the Survey of Earned Doctorates. Degree candidates must contact the Graduate Division for up-to-date information on all associated fees and requirements.