Cultural Studies
College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Part 3 - The Dissertation

Fourth Year, etc.

The culmination of graduate training is the doctoral dissertation: an independent work of original and significant scholarship. The dissertation will demonstrate the successful formulation of research problems; in-depth treatment of questions using appropriate methods; effective communication of research findings; and broad knowledge of the field at the PhD level. This section of the Handbook will outline the general process to be followed to fulfill the dissertation requirements.

Formation of Dissertation Committee

The process for forming your dissertation committee is the same as that for forming your field committee. The director of the Cultural Studies program, in consultation with the Executive Committee, approves membership of all Dissertation Committees. (See "Proposal to Form Dissertation Committee.") You should initiate this proposal when you are in the process of advancing to candidacy, since registration for CULT 998 (the dissertation proposal) presupposes that a dissertation committee is in place.

Remember to include all three members of your proposed committee in preliminary consultations and planning. Members of your Field Advisory Committee may serve on your Dissertation Committee, if you wish and if your advisers are amenable. In fact, the default condition will be to reproduce your field committee plus one additional member. (In the exceptional case, you should be prepared to explain why a member of your field committee is not being proposed for the dissertation committee.) The committee will consist of a Chair and two members, all of whom will be affiliated with the Cultural Studies PhD Program. Choose carefully: Your Chair will also be your advisor, your primary mentor, and your first reader.

Two departments should be represented on the dissertation committee; however, the committee should also be constituted with eventual letters of reference in mind. In addition, you and your chair may invite one non-Cultural Studies faculty member from GMU or one faculty member from another university to serve on the Dissertation Committee.

Dissertation Proposals

After you have completed all course work, fulfilled the foreign language requirement, completed field statements and the oral defense, advanced to candidacy, and formed a dissertation committee, you will enroll in CULT 998, with your Chair as instructor. (You will get the registration code from the CS office.) In CULT 998, you will produce a dissertation proposal and present it in colloquium.

The dissertation proposal is not a statement of position; it is not a paper; it is not a summary of research already undertaken. It is a proposal to do research. Its author asks a question, and lays out a plan of research capable of answering the question. Your chair will guide the process of conceptualizing this document (roughly 20 double-spaced pages of prose, supported by an extensive bibliography), which will adhere to program standards. (See "General Guidelines for Dissertation Proposals.") Note that program standards conform to most formats for funding proposals. A properly executed dissertation proposal can be refitted as a dissertation fellowship proposal.

In CULT 998, you will earn the grade of either S (satisfactory) or NC (no credit). CULT 998 is graded IP (in progress) each semester until the work is completed or the time limit runs out.

After each member of your committee has approved the proposal you will set up a meeting with the committee in which you will discuss collectively the direction of the project. At this meeting, all committee members will sign off on the dissertation proposal. Once the proposal has been approved, you will make a public presentation of the proposal at the final colloquium meeting of the semester. Please remember to coordinate this presentation well in advance with the instructor of colloquium.

Paperwork: Remember to provide the CS office with a copy of the dissertation proposal to be kept in your file. The administrative assistant will use the cover (see "Dissertation Proposal Cover Form") to communicate your completion of this stage through administrative channels.


After the public presentation of the dissertation proposal, you will register for CULT 999 (doctoral dissertation). You must request the registration code every semester from the dean's office by emailing This course is graded IP (in progress) each semester until the work is completed or the time limit runs out. You will earn the grade of either S (satisfactory) or NC (no credit) when work on the dissertation is completed.

From this stage on, your research and write-up will be independent and self-initiated. Some students will go away to conduct fieldwork research in other countries. Others will be working as instructors, sometimes in other states. In any case, it will be your responsibility to maintain contact with your chair and committee. Different mentors will have different styles of guidance, but in general you should share progress reports every semester with your committee.

A logical strategy will be to work up a production schedule with your chair, sending him or her solid first drafts of chapters as they come out and receiving feedback in a timely manner. Scheduled meetings for brainstorming and troubleshooting are strongly recommended. In no case should the dissertation arrive, as a surprise, near the end of the five-year period.

The proposal should take about one semester; the research should take about a year; and write-up should be done in a year or less.

You and your committee may select any appropriate style sheet. However, your dissertation must adhere to GMU's style sheet for preparation of dissertations. (See "GMU Style Sheet for Dissertations.")

Dissertation Defense: Each candidate will orally defend the dissertation in a public forum. This forum will consist of a) the candidate's 15-minute presentation and summary of his or her research findings; b) the candidate's oral defense of the dissertation content, in response to questions from the dissertation committee members; and c) the candidate's response to questions from the public. Following the presentation, the dissertation committee will stipulate one of three possible outcomes: Pass, Pass Pending Minor Revisions, Not Pass.

Issues Regarding 998 and 999 Credits 

Credits Minimum: Candidates must complete a minimum of 12 credits of doctoral proposal (998) and doctoral dissertation research (999), including at least three credits of 999. A maximum of 24 credits of 998 and 999 may be applied to the degree.

Continuous Registration Requirements: Once enrolled in 998, a student must maintain continuous registration in 998 and 999 each semester until the dissertation is submitted to and accepted by the University Library. Students are required to register for a minimum of 3 credits of 998 and 999 each semester until they have completed the minimum number of credits of 998 and 999 required on the program of study. Then, they must register for 1 credit of 999 until the dissertation is complete and has been officially submitted to the library. (See the "Full-Time Classification section of the University Catalog" for more information.) Students who defend in the summer must be registered for at least 1 credit of 999 in the summer.

Timely registration: It is the student's responsibility to complete registration for dissertation proposal (998) or research (999) prior to the first day of classes for the semester. If this date is missed, students must still enroll in these courses via Add or Late Schedule Adjustment procedures and are subject to Late Registration fees. Failing to register on time in a particular semester does not alter the requirement for continuous registration in 999.

Additional conditions: All registration for doctoral dissertation research (999) must be planned with the dissertation director and approved by the dean or director of the school, college, or institute. Dissertation research (999) is open only to doctoral students who have advanced to candidacy. Graduation candidates who miss the library deadline for dissertation submission, but do submit officially before the next semester begins, do not have to register for 999 in that next semester, but must stay active to graduate.

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