Dissertation & Final Examination

Presenting your dissertation for review, and the oral examination of your work constitute the final examination in our doctoral programs.
 

Best Practices for Dissertation Preparation

  • As soon as your prelim is complete, set up three meetings, one month apart, with your adviser.  For the first meeting, draw up a timeline for your dissertation work.  For the subsequent two meetings, report on your early progress and discuss any issues that might have arisen.
  • As soon as your prelim is complete, check with committee members on their expectations.  Do they want a progress report each semester?  Do they want to see drafts of each chapter or of specific chapters along the way?  Do they want to wait until the manuscript is complete before reading any of it?  Do they want to see drafts or parts of your composition and at what stages?
  • Set up meetings with individual committee members for intellectual discussion of your project periodically, even if you don't have anything to give them in writing.
  • Six months into the project, assess your focus and progress with your adviser and make adjustments if necessary.
  • Discuss plans with your adviser to present your work at professional meetings, or to get your work performed.
  • Discuss job placement strategies with your adviser.
  • Inform each committee member of your plans and schedule around the job market.
  • Take advantage of peer review of your work.  Other dissertators may be good editors for you.  Set up a dissertation reading group. If you are at a loss for other writers, ask the outside member of your committee if there are students in her or his department who might participate.
  • Ask for feedback.  If you feel that feedback from your committee members is not timely, speak to you adviser about it.  If you feel that your adviser is holding up your progress, talk to the DGS.  If the DGS is your adviser, speak to the chair.
  • Draw on the campus resources for dissertators: reference librarians, the Dissertation Coaching Group at CAPS, the Division of Student Affairs services, the Franklin Humanities Institute Dissertation Working Group.
  • Go to conferences and find other students working in your area.  They will be your long-term colleagues, interlocutors, cheerleaders, and supporters.  For composers, attending summer music festivals is a fantastic way to make contacts with peer composers and performers.  Festivals come in a variety of aesthetic persuasions: Tanglewood, Bang On A Can ("Banglewood"), Aspen, Dartington, Darmstadt, and so forth.
  • Composers, join New Music USA (formed by the merger of the American Music Center and Meet The Composer), the Society of Composers, Inc. (SCI), or other similar organizations.  For those composers writing an article for the minor dissertation component: even if you are not thinking of going on in this field, becoming a member of the appropriate scholarly society (SEM, AMS, SMT, SEAMUS), and presenting your work would make opportunities available to you, and allow you to make contacts in a way which cannot be done solely through compositional reputation.
  • People go about working on big research or creative projects differently.  Let your adviser know what work patterns are most productive for you.  Discuss with him or her a mode of working together, a plan of action, a system for reporting on your progress and for getting critical feedback.
  • Ask your adviser what her/his expectations are of you as mentee.  Check with her/him on their peak busy times so you can plan to work around them when possible. Ask her/him in what capacities she/he is available during the summer.

The dissertation for the Composition Ph.D. takes the form of a major composition and an article of publishable quality.

Composition

The dissertation in Composition will take the form of a score of a major composition to be initiated following your Preliminary Exam. Your dissertation should be a large-scale work demonstrating assured handling of musical materials and clarity of artistic vision. Written music will be the basis of your dissertation.

Article of Publishable Quality

In addition, you must submit a scholarly article of publishable quality no later than six months after taking the Preliminary Examination. The article, normally 20 to 30 pages long, should demonstrate your ability write in English at a professional level. It is not intended that this constitute as major an undertaking as the Dissertation Composition, nor is it necessary that the article be related to the dissertation. The article should be written with specific scholarly journals in mind as a means to suggest a viable topic and scope. Your committee at the Preliminary Examination will approve the subject of the article.

The Final Examination for a Ph.D. in Composition takes the form of an oral presentation by the candidate on the Dissertation Composition followed by questions from the Doctoral Committee. The lecture may be enriched by recorded examples from the candidate’s work. However, the committee will base its evaluation on the written dissertation rather than a recording.  In the case of works that have not yet been adequately performed by the time of the dissertation defense, for purposes of his/her lecture, the candidate should provide a reduced version of the piece, which may take the form of an electronic realization or a two-piano reduction of the full score.

Students should check with the Music Library staff for specific guidelines regarding reproduction and submission of scores.

The candidate is urged to schedule the Final Examination (through the DGS Assistant) as early as possible, since it often is difficult to coordinate everyone’s schedule.  Ordinarily, the exam should not be scheduled during the winter or spring break, or during the summer (i.e., not after the end of the Fall and Spring examination periods).  The candidate should also discuss in advance with the committee members how much time they will require to review the complete draft score.  In any case, copies of the complete draft must be in the hands of each committee member no later than 30 days before the date of the Final Examination, and an additional copy must be deposited with the Graduate Studies Office.

The writing of a dissertation represents for many scholars one of the most exhilarating but also difficult phases of their entire career.  The absence of an outside structure imposed on one’s time in the form of scheduled examinations and due dates will tax one’s resources of inner drive and self-discipline.  The prospective dissertator may wish to read the following resources:

  • David Sternberg, How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation, N.Y., St. Martin’s Press, 1981.
  • Howard Becker, Writing for social scientists: how to start and finish your thesis, book, or article, University of Chicago Press, 1986.
  • Howard Becker, Tricks of the Trade: how to think about your research while you're doing it, University of Chicago Press, 1998.

The dissertation should make an original contribution to knowledge.  Ideally it should be completed within two calendar years after the Preliminary Examination is passed, although the maximum permitted time is four years (see the Bulletin for extension procedures for a maximum of one year).  The candidate is urged to consult the Guide for the Preparation of Theses and Dissertations before commencing a written draft. 

How the committee is to read the candidate’s work-in-progress should be discussed in advance with the dissertation supervisor and with the entire committee.  It is the responsibility of the candidate to keep in close contact with the members of his or her committee during the various stages of the work so that misunderstandings about the nature and scope of the work are avoided and the time schedule may be maintained.  It is desirable that the committee meet at least once a year with the candidate to assess the progress towards the degree.  A common procedure is that the adviser first reads successive chapters; if they meet the adviser’s approval, two or three other members of the committee read them.  The importance of keeping members of the committee informed on the progress of one’s work, whether by submission of chapter drafts or informal discussion, cannot be stressed sufficiently.  The candidate should also keep in mind that the faculty can only write convincing letters of recommendation for the candidate if they are familiar with the candidate’s work.

Please note that musicology students who are in their sixth year and above are expected to present their work in progress in the form of an oral presentation to the department on an annual basis.

Chapter Review

The Graduate Faculty requires that all students engaged in a Musicology Ph.D. dissertation present a completed chapter to the Music Department members of the dissertation committee within 12 months of passing a Preliminary Exam. A completed chapter, beyond its self-evident value to the dissertation, can serve as a valuable basis for compelling fellowship application narratives. What to prepare for submission is a topic students should discuss closely with the dissertation adviser. In general, the committee will expect a continuous document of chapter length (i.e., at least 10,000 words of prose in scholarly format including footnotes and source references, plus supporting illustrative materials as applicable, e.g., score excerpts, music examples, analytic charts, etc.). The text will be in completed prose; reading notes or summaries are not acceptable.

All Music Department members of the dissertation committee will read the chapter and comment. The adviser will write a brief report on the work submitted, incorporating comments received from committee members. The report will be shared with the DGS and discussed with the Graduate Faculty.  Students who fail the chapter review, after consultation with the dissertation adviser and the Dean of the Graduate School, may be placed by the Graduate Faculty on academic probation.

You are urged to schedule the Final Examination (through the DGS Assistant) as early as possible, since it often is difficult to coordinate everyone’s schedule. Ordinarily it should not be scheduled during the winter or spring break, or during the summer, (i.e., not after the end of the Fall and Spring examination periods). You should also discuss in advance with the committee members how much time they will require to read the complete draft. In any case, copies of the complete draft must be in the hands of each committee member no later than 30 days before the date of the Final Examination, and an additional copy must be deposited with the Graduate Office.

Members of the Duke University Graduate Faculty will be invited to attend the Final Examination. They will not be permitted to ask questions during the examination, and have no vote, but they may submit questions and comments to the Committee Chair beforehand, who may decide to distribute them to the other members, present them during the examination, or pass them on to you.

The original dissertation (see the Guide for specific format) must be submitted to the Graduate School at least seven days before the date of the oral Final Examination. Alternatively, a complete draft with legible corrections may be submitted.

The questions at the Final Examination will mainly concern the dissertation and related matters. For procedures in the case of revisions and corrections recommended by the Committee, see the Guide. In the event of a failed examination, a second examination may be granted by the Dean upon recommendation of the Committee no sooner than six months after the first examination; you will not be granted a third examination.

After the dissertation has been approved, you should file an updated form for Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology. These may be obtained from the Graduate Studies Office.

Your dissertation should make an original contribution to knowledge among specialists in your discipline. Ideally it should be completed within two calendar years after passing the Preliminary Examination. The maximum permitted time is four years.

Dissertation Format & Resources

Consult the Guide for the Preparation of Theses and Dissertations before commencing a written draft. In addition, we recommend the following resources:

  • David Sternberg, How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation, N.Y., St. Martin’s Press, 1981.
  • Howard Becker, Writing for social scientists: how to start and finish your thesis, book, or article, University of Chicago Press, 1986.
  • Howard Becker, Tricks of the Trade: how to think about your research while you're doing it, University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Working With Your Committee

It is your responsibility to keep in close contact with the members of your committee during the various stages of your work so that misunderstandings about the nature and scope of the work are avoided and the time schedule may be maintained. How the committee is to read your work-in-progress should be discussed in advance with the dissertation supervisor and with the entire committee.

We recommended that your committee meet at least once a year with you to assess progress towards the degree. A common procedure is that the adviser first reads successive chapters and, after they meet the adviser’s approval, the chapters are then read by two or three other members of the committee. The importance of keeping members of the committee informed on the progress of your work, whether by submission of chapter drafts or informal discussion, cannot be stressed sufficiently. You should also keep in mind that the faculty can only write convincing letters of recommendation for the candidate if they are familiar with your work.

Ethnomusicology students in their sixth year and above are expected to present their work in progress in the form of an oral presentation to the department on an annual basis.

Chapter Review

All Ethnomusicology Ph.D. students must present a completed chapter to the Music Department members of the dissertation committee within 12 months of passing a Preliminary Exam. A completed chapter, beyond its self-evident value to the dissertation, can serve as a valuable basis for compelling fellowship application narratives. What to prepare for submission is a topic you should discuss closely with your dissertation adviser.

In general, the committee will expect a continuous document of chapter length with the following characteristics:

  • Contains at least 10,000 words of prose in scholarly format
  • Includes footnotes and source references
  • Contains supporting illustrative materials as applicable, e.g., score excerpts, music examples, analytic charts, etc.

The text will be in completed prose; reading notes or summaries are not acceptable. All Music Department members of the dissertation committee will read the chapter and comment. The adviser will write a brief report on the work submitted, incorporating comments received from committee members. The report will be shared with the DGS and discussed with the Graduate Faculty. If you fail the chapter review, after consultation with the dissertation adviser and the Dean of the Graduate School, you may be placed on academic probation.

You are urged to schedule the Final Examination (through the DGS Assistant) as early as possible, since it often is difficult to coordinate everyone’s schedule. Ordinarily it should not be scheduled during the winter or spring break, or during the summer, (i.e., not after the end of the Fall and Spring examination periods). You should also discuss in advance with the committee members how much time they will require to read the complete draft. In any case, copies of the complete draft must be in the hands of each committee member no later than 30 days before the date of the Final Examination, and an additional copy must be deposited with the Graduate Office.

Members of the Duke University Graduate Faculty will be invited to attend the Final Examination. They will not be permitted to ask questions during the examination, and have no vote, but they may submit questions and comments to the Committee Chair beforehand, who may decide to distribute them to the other members, present them during the examination, or pass them on to you.

The original dissertation (see the Guide for specific format) must be submitted to the Graduate School at least seven days before the date of the oral Final Examination. Alternatively, a complete draft with legible corrections may be submitted.

The questions at the Final Examination will mainly concern the dissertation and related matters. For procedures in the case of revisions and corrections recommended by the Committee, see the Guide. In the event of a failed examination, a second examination may be granted by the Dean upon recommendation of the Committee no sooner than six months after the first examination; you will not be granted a third examination.

After the dissertation has been approved, you should file an updated form for Doctoral Dissertations in Ethnomusicology. These may be obtained from the Graduate Studies Office.