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Getting Started - The Proposal

It is never too early in the program to begin to develop a topic for your dissertation. The first step is to have a discussion with the advisor of your area as soon as you have begun research on a topic. Your advisor will offer an assessment of the viability of the project and suggest possible dissertation advisors and readers. When you are advanced to candidacy (Level 3), you will register for dissertation supervision with the dissertation advisor who has agreed to take on your project. Your dissertation advisor is “compensated” for no more than six semesters. It is recommended that, after your proposal has been approved, you work out a timetable for completion. In most cases, a dissertation can be completed in five semesters, one semester to get the dissertation proposal written and approved the remaining for during which the dissertation is written, revised, defended and deposited.

The proposal should be written in consultation with a dissertation advisor. Dissertation proposals are normally around fifteen pages in length and should include the following:

1. Title Page

  • Working title of the dissertation.
  • Student’s name and degree program, specifying the area of specialization.
  • Student’s email address and phone number.
  • Names of the advisor and first reader.

2. General Statement
  • A concise description of the subject, including a brief explanation of its biographical and/or historical context.
  • An explanation of the purpose of the project and its value to scholarly research.

3. State of research
  • An indication of the present state of research in the area of the subject.
  • A bibliography of relevant literature, including primary and secondary sources.

4. Approach
  • An explanation of the research plan and methodology for the project.
  • A provisional table of contents, with a brief explanation of the substance and purpose of each chapter.

5. Writing Sample
  • A brief sample (usually 2–5 pages) of the kind of work to be undertaken in the main body of the dissertation. Its exact contents will vary according to the chosen topic and methodology. Typical examples include (but are not limited to) musical analyses; examination of sketch materials; excerpts from a translation; and transcriptions from recordings, with interpretive commentary.

Composition students should include a description of their proposed composition, including instrumentation, duration, texts (if applicable) and other compositional features.

Consult this page. Take time to review all of this information as well: 
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The Proposal Defense

Students are advised to consult with the DEO of their area for specifics of the proposal defense procedures. For all students, dissertation proposals are submitted for approval to a committee made up of the advisor, the first reader, and one other person. The advisor and at least one other member of the committee must be members of the Graduate Center doctoral faculty and at least one of them must be on the music department's doctoral faculty. The third member will be chosen by the student and advisor in consultation, and may be the Deputy Executive Officer for the student’s area of concentration, the D.E.O for the academic area in which the dissertation is located, or someone approved by the D.E.O. for the student’s area of concentration. Normally, the third committee member will be a member of the Doctoral Faculty.
The proposal may be submitted before or after completion of coursework in line with the policy of the student’s area of concentration. The proposal should be prepared in consultation with either the advisor or with both the advisor and first reader, according to the policy of the student’s area of concentration. When the proposal has been approved by the advisor (or by the advisor and first reader), the Proposal Defense will be scheduled by mutual agreement (the precise timing will be controlled by the policy of the student’s area of concentration).

To schedule a defense, the student will notify the Assistant Program Officer of his/her area.

The Proposal Defense has three possible outcomes: Pass, Pass with revisions (without an additional Defense meeting), and Fail (requiring an additional Defense meeting). The advisor will be responsible for reporting the result to the Assistant Program Officer.

All students should register their topics with the AMS’s Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology.


Preparing the Dissertation

A great deal of information about Graduate Center dissertations, including matters of formatting, can be found here. Click on the links towards the top of the page. For information specifically about formatting, see here.

During the writing of the dissertation, the student should be in regular contact with his/her advisor. The advisor might wish to read each chapter as it is drafted, or read larger portions of the dissertation that are submitted together. Generally the advisor will make a number of suggestions for revision. Once the student has revised the text and the advisor has approved the revisions, that portion goes to the first reader, who may also suggest revisions. It is not uncommon for chapters to go through two or more rounds of revision. Only when the advisor and first reader have both approved a full draft of the dissertation may the defense be scheduled. Because of the need for both advisor and first reader to approve the full draft, and the possibility that revisions will be requested by one or both, students should allow for a period of 2-3 months between the time the final chapter is submitted to the advisor and the date of the defense.
The final two members of the dissertation committee may be chosen at this point, or they may already have been chosen. They will read only the "defense version" of the dissertation, and will make any suggestions for revision at the defense. The defense version must be complete and final in all respects, including all appropriate front and back matter such as abstract, table of contents, footnotes, list of figures, bibliography, and appendices, and be in full compliance with Graduate Center guidelines for format and content of dissertations.


The Dissertation Defense

The final examining committee has a minimum of four members: the advisor, the reader, and at least two additional members. It is the student's responsibility—in consultation with the advisor and first reader—to choose the final two committee members. At least three members of the full committee must be members of the Graduate Center doctoral faculty and at least one must be a member of the music department's faculty. The committee may include faculty from outside the music program or even from outside the University, but The Graduate Center does not provide outside readers with honoraria or travel expenses.

When the advisor and first reader are satisfied that the dissertation is ready for a defense, the student should canvass the committee for possible defense dates and times. Members of the committee must receive their copies of the dissertation at least one month before the defense date. At least five weeks before the defense, the student should send an e-mail to the Assistant Program Officer for their area with the complete title of the dissertation, the date and time of the defense, a list of the members of the examining committee with their affiliations, email addresses, and, for outside members, both an email address and a mailing address. The APO will make a request to the provost’s office to schedule the defense. The executive officer will select a chair from among the members of the committee.

The defense has four possible options: 1) the dissertation is accepted as presented, 2) the dissertation is accepted after the approval of minor revisions, 3) the dissertation is accepted after the approval of major revisions, 4) the dissertation is not accepted. If the decision requires minor revisions, the revised document will need to be approved by the chair of the defense before the dissertation may be deposited. If major revisions are required, three members of the committee must approve the revised dissertation. If the dissertation is not accepted, the student will consult with the dissertation advisor and Deputy Executive Officer of the area.

When the dissertation has received final approval, it is ready for deposit. All dissertations are deposited electronically. You will also submit a paper copy of the signature page. Consult this page as well as this one regarding deposit procedures. Take time to review all of this information as well: 
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