Years 3+


The final steps for obtaining a Ph.D. or Sc.D. degree are the completion of a written thesis and its successful defense. Defense of the thesis occurs in a public presentation followed by a private defense with the student’s committee. The thesis must demonstrate a new and original contribution to the student’s discipline area and show that the student can carry out independent research at the highest levels. The thesis must be judged to be satisfactory by the thesis advisor and the thesis committee.

The doctoral thesis for all EAPS students should be completed and defended within ten academic terms (five years) after entrance into the program, and it is the role of the advisor to ensure that the student adheres to a research schedule that will lead to fulfillment of this requirement. If a student in unable to finish within ten terms, both the student and advisor must submit a written petition to the CEP requesting a time extension. Extensions will be granted only under special circumstances and will seldom be longer than one year. If a student does not receive an extension from CEP or does not meet the extended deadline, then they are no longer eligible to receive financial support regardless of the source.

Term Registrations

Once a student has successfully passed the General Exam they no longer register for Current Research, and instead register for Thesis (12.THG) for 36 units per term. The student registers for 12.THG for every term (Fall, Spring, Summer) for the rest of the program.

Grades for 12.THG

  • Satisfactory progress on thesis research is noted by a “J” grade, and unsatisfactory progress is noted by a “U” grade.
  • In the final term after a student submits the final thesis to the EAPS Education Office they will receive an “SA” grade indicating successful completion of the thesis. The grade will be submitted the day that you turn in your thesis to the EAPS Education Office.
  • More info on grades and grading policies maybe found here:

Establishing a Thesis Committee

Following the successful completion of the General Examination, the student must notify the CEP of the members of their initial Thesis Exam Committee (TEC) within six months via the Thesis Proposal Form. The CEP has the final authority on the composition of the TEC. The TEC is comprised of at least four members, including:

  • The student's thesis advisor.
  • One EAPS faculty member in the program area.
  • One EAPS faculty member outside the program area. For PAOC students, this member may be in PAOC but they should be chosen to provide a different expertise than the other members.
  • One member, approved by the CEP, from outside the department (preferably from outside MIT). The thesis proposal presentation can proceed even if the outside thesis committee member has not yet been identified. However, it is desirable to identify the outside thesis committee member as early as possible, as the participation in the thesis proposal presentation by an outside committee member is encouraged.

The role of a committee member is to provide support and guidance to a student’s research, and members should be chosen with that in mind. The student will work with their faculty advisor to determine who to ask to serve on the TEC. The choice of an external member should include due consideration of the travel costs involved to attend the defense.

Principal and Senior Research Scientists may serve as committee members and members may be added beyond the above requirement. However, the majority of the committee members must be EAPS faculty.

If for some reason you believe it may be difficult for all committee members to attend the defense either in person or via video conference, then you should add a fifth member to the committee to ensure that you are able to have a quorum of four members present for the defense. Only members present for the defense can vote on whether the thesis was successfully defended.

Thesis Proposal

Within six months of passing the General Examination the student will submit a thesis proposal and present it to the TEC for approval. The proposal should outline what will constitute the thesis; the key questions for each topic, the background of the problem, and the goals of the research. The TEC will consider the worthiness and feasibility of the proposed research, whether the proposal has the potential to demonstrate the candidate’s ability to contribute to the field, and whether there are resources available for appropriate supervision and execution. Once the proposal is approved by the TEC the proposal must be filed in the Education Office. The thesis proposal that is submitted to the Education Office should include this form as well as an abstract for the thesis.

Failure to submit a thesis proposal to the Education Office at the six-month mark will result in a warning from the Department. Continued failure to submit a thesis proposal one year after passing the General Examination will result in a warning of poor progress from the Vice Chancellor. Further delay in submitting a thesis proposal will result in denial of registration.

Committee Meetings

It is highly recommended that the student meet with their TEC at a minimum of once per year. In committee meetings the student should update the committee on the progress made on the thesis research and receive feedback from the committee. While the thesis advisor will monitor the student’s progress, the committee meetings serve as another level of oversight of the thesis and help to provide feedback to the student. Discipline Group Chairs and other faculty members will also meet with each student on Registration Day to review her/his progress.

Preparing for and Scheduling a Thesis Defense

Selecting a Thesis Chair: Prior to the thesis defense, the student and the advisor will select a Thesis Chair. The chair may not be the advisor or the external member of the TEC.

Scheduling the Defense:

  • Two months before defense—work with your committee members to finalize a date and time the committee is available for the defense.
  • One month before defense—meet with committee members to discuss your thesis draft and receive feedback.
  • Two weeks before defense—get copies of the thesis to all members of the committee. The student will also submit a copy of the thesis to the EAPS Education Office along with the Defense Notice form. The Education Office will then publicize the defense on department calendars and in Building 54. To help guide you through the process a Thesis Defense Checklist is found here.

The Thesis Defense

All members of the TEC must be present for the defense, either in person or via teleconferencing. A TEC member may only vote on the outcome of the defense if they were able to participate in the defense.

The defense consists of the student giving a 45–60 minute public presentation on the results and conclusions of their thesis research. The presentation is followed by general discussion and questions from the audience. At the conclusion of the public presentation the student will have a private session with the TEC where further questions will be asked of the student about the thesis research.

Thesis Defense Outcomes

Pass: the student has passed the thesis defense. The TEC may have some edits for the written thesis that they will give to the student to update. The student will work with the advisor to complete any updates and then the student will submit the final thesis to the EAPS Education Office.

Dissatisfaction: this requires major rewriting of the thesis. The TEC will determine if the student is required to complete another thesis defense or not. In this case the TEC must review the updated work and vote to determine if the rewritten work results in a pass for the thesis. The TEC will inform the Education Office if the student passes or fails the thesis.

Failure: there are two possible outcomes for failure. The first is termination from the Ph.D. program. The second is that the TEC recommends the student carry out additional research to enhance the thesis project. In this case a new defense will be scheduled. The TEC membership should remain the same as in the original defense. Only in extenuating circumstances approved by the CEP will substitutions be allowed to committee membership.

Thesis Submission

After successfully defending the thesis and making any required changes the student will submit two copies of the thesis to the EAPS Education Office. A checklist of thesis submission requirements is found here.

Students will follow the MIT Specifications for Thesis Preparation available on the MIT Libraries website here: The only exception to these guidelines is on the signature page. An EAPS thesis will have the signature of the Department Head in place of the Graduate Officer as indicated in the MIT Guidelines.

The two copies of the thesis that the student submits to the EAPS Education Office must be unbound. You will also submit two additional copies of your title page to the EAPS Education Office when you turn in your thesis. When you submit your thesis bring the receipt indicating that you paid the thesis fee and the EAPS Education Office will reimburse you for the fee.

The EAPS Education Office announces via email at the beginning of each term the deadline to submit thesis to the EAPS Education Office in order to receive your degree for that term. Failure to submit thesis by this date will result in removal from the degree list.

Changes in Research Path

Leaving with a Master's Degree:

Occasionally students may decide to withdraw from the PhD program and leave with a Master’s Degree. The requirements for the Master’s Degree may be found here. If a student decides to leave with a Master’s Degree the EAPS Education Office must be informed so that the appropriate changes may be made to the student’s record in the Registrar’s Office.

Change of Advisor

A student-advisor relationship is a professional commitment that typically remains in place for the duration of the graduate degree. In rare circumstances—for example, a major change in research direction or an advising situation that stands in the way of research progress—a student may need to change research advisors. The student should contact the EAPS Education Office to discuss the situation with the Academic Administrator, who will offer counsel on how the student should proceed in her/his particular situation. Further steps may include contacting the graduate officer, the chair of the disciplinary program, the head of department, another faculty member in EAPS, or an Assistant Dean in the Office of Graduate Education (OGE).

Last Updated: August 2019