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The Dissertation

Students are required to set up a dissertation committee to decide on the suitability of the chosen dissertation topic, and to submit a dissertation proposal. This process is to be completed within six months of passing the exams, but is ideally planned in conjunction with the preliminary examinations. Depending upon the extent of fieldwork or library research elsewhere, the writing of the dissertation is expected to take between one and three years, including the time used to write the dissertation proposal. [Note: an excellent library contact for folklore research is David S. Azzolina in the Reference Program at Van Pelt Library.]

The Committee

Ordinarily, the dissertation committee is made up of three members of the graduate group, with one core folklore faculty person designated as chair/supervisor. Since many dissertation topics call upon special expertise not always covered by the faculty, one committee member may be from another program, indeed from another institution, if the student wishes. The committee chair must be a member of the Folklore and Folklife graduate group faculty; the supervisor of the dissertation (who will sign the title pages of the dissertation) need not be from the folklore faculty. If there is a member of the faculty who has expertise in the area or subject of the dissertation, that faculty member must be included on the committee. Once the student decides on a committee, he or she must submit the names of the committee members and chair to the graduate chair for approval. Once that approval is given, or recommended changes are made, the student is responsible for obtaining, from each of the committee members, a written indication of their willingness to serve on the committee. The student must give the completed agreement form signed by all committee members to the Graduate Studies Advisor to be placed on file with their records before they undertake the writing of the dissertation.

The Dissertation Proposal

Dissertation proposals generally range in length from 15 to 20 pages and should include the following elements:

  • Statement of the problem the dissertation will adress
  • Critical review of pertinent literature, with special emphasis on theory
  • Details of methodology and techniques to be employed in carrying out fieldwork (where appropriate) and library research
  • An outline of expected chapters and their contents (We recognize the possibility that the chapter headings and content may change radically before the completion of the dissertation.)

In addition to each of the above, a bibliography of readings pertinent to the dissertation, both those already read and further readings that are contemplated, should be supplied.

Submitting the Proposal

The proposal should be submitted to the committee first. Once they have accepted it, the student provides the Graduate Coordinator with a hard copy as well as a diskette of the proposal. She will then announce the availability of the hard copy or as file attachment to the folklore and folklife graduate group, and provide it upon request, indicating a four-week deadline for graduate group input. If the deadline passes with no comments, an oral defense of the proposal involving the students dissertation committee can then be scheduled. In some cases, the proposal defense may be held in conjunction with the students Ph.D. comprehensive oral exams. The graduate chair in consultation with the students dissertation chair/supervisor may waive the proposal defense, if the student has already moved away from Philadelphia. The proposal defense is, however, a very useful hour for the student, as theoretical and methodological concerns and questions get discussed with full committee input, and serve to forestall later misunderstandings about committee expectations. Once a dissertation proposal has been accepted, the field and/or library research completed, a student should be in close contact with the members of his or her committee for the shaping of the actual dissertation. Some committee members may be willing to review the drafts of individual chapters or groups of chapters or may refuse to read any drafts of chapters until the entire dissertation is complete.

Writing Seminar

The Program recognizes that once they have passed their exams, some students may find it difficult to maintain the focus, morale, and level of intensity needed to finish the dissertation. In an effort to help with these problems, the writing center at Penn holds informal writing seminars for dissertators.

Dissertation Defense

When the writing of the dissertation is complete, or in the absolute final stages of revision, the student will schedule a date for an oral defense of the dissertation: its methods, principal arguments, substantive contributions to the field, and possible plans for a future publication. This oral defense is mandatory and may include invited guests at the students discretion. This event will be scheduled through the Graduate Studies Advisor, and should only be arranged after the student has completed and submitted to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (16 College Hall) the formal application for graduation. The defense is open to all members of the graduate group faculty.

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