Dissertation Prospectus Defense

Course Description: 

The Prospectus is defended before the Dissertation Committee in public during a PhD Faculty/Student Seminar.  The entire student body and the faculty of the Department are invited to the Prospectus Defense.  

After the dissertation prospectus has been successfully defended, the student moves from probationary status to doctoral candidate and the main focus is on conducting research, writing and subsequently defending the doctoral dissertation.

Learning Outcomes: 

The thesis prospectus, once passed, is effectively a form of “contract” between the student and the department. The student undertakes to conduct a specified research programme; the department agrees that this programme should lead to a PhD if executed roughly as stated in the prospectus. Therefore the key tasks of the prospectus are to show:

a) that the aim and objectives of the research are pitched at a “PhD level”: capable of generating a “substantial original contribution” to knowledge in an environmental field, and supported by a suitable theoretical framework;
b) that a concrete plan is in place for how to achieve these objectives, which can be executed given the time and resources available.


The prospectus examining committee must be composed of at least 3 members, of whom one must be the student’s supervisor and another an internal (departmental) dissertation committee member. It is also a requirement that the prospectus must be judged by at least one person external to the department. 

At the defence the student is expected to give an up to 30 minute presentation of his/her prospectus. After that the examining committee members will ask questions/give comments, to which the student has a chance to reply. Finally, the “public” is able to raise questions/comments. Once the proceedings are complete (usually after c. 1 hour) the examiners retire to reach a judgement on the prospectus.
The prospectus can either be passed as it is; or passed with a requirement for corrections, with or without a second defence; or rejected. Additionally/alternatively, the examiners may require that the student undertakes certain additional steps, e.g. make a report on preliminary research findings. In addition to any required changes/tasks, the examiners may also make non-binding suggestions and will usually make comments on any major strengths and weaknesses of the prospectus as they see them.