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Final Exam

The final exam represents the culminating milestone in the PhD process. Because most of the details of the final exam are determined by the Graduate School, students are encouraged to review the information provided on their site under Doctoral Degree Policies. Of particular relevance are guidelines concerning the timing, outcomes and people involved in the exam (i.e., the reading committee).

There are several steps to be taken prior to defending the dissertation and submitting the final manustript, described below.

Scheduling the Exam

Once all members of the supervisory committee agree on the date and time of the defense, the candidate submits a final exam request through MyGrad. The Director of Academic Services will approve the request, generating an automated email sent to all committee members. Defenses cannot be scheduled outside of the established academic quarters, and students must be enrolled in at least 2 credits during the quarter in which they defend their dissertation. 

Exams may be in person, hybrid, or completely virtual, see guidance from the Graduate School.

The student must send the dissertation document, title, and abstract to their committee chair(s) 3 weeks prior to their scheduled dissertation defense date. They should copy the Director of Academic services on this message and verify that the exam's date and time are correct in MyGrad. If this timeline is not met, the student and committee must reschedule the exam.

If the committee chair(s) approve(s), they will forward the title, abstract, date/time and location to the Communications Manager for advertising the defense at least 2 weeks prior to the defense date. The dissertation defense is broadcast to the community by the Communications Manager. If the committee chair(s) has not responded to the request to approve the exam at least two weeks prior to the defense date, the student should work with the PhD Program Chair and Director of Academic Services to determine next steps, which may include rescheduling the exam.

Students and their committee chair(s) should coordinate around this timeline in advance, e.g., to plan for any extra time for busy periods at work or vacations or time away from from work.

HCDE will provide refreshments in advance of in-person exams, if they are held in Sieg. If you would like this, please reach out to Jane Skau ( at the same time you share your defense title, abstract, date/time and location with the Communications Manager.

The Final Exam

When the members of the doctoral supervisory committee agree that the Candidate is prepared to take the Final Examination, all members of the doctoral supervisory committee must give the student approval to schedule the Final Examination.

The student will formally present their dissertation research to the Supervisory Committee and the public, in a presentation lasting approximately 40-50 minutes, followed by a public question and answer period.

The goals of the public presentation and question period are (1) to promote a robust dialog about the dissertation research from all interested parties, (2) create transparency in the research process, and (3) to develop experience in sharing the research with a broad audience who has not been engaged in the work.

After the public presentation, the committee chair(s) will dismiss everyone except for the student and the supervisory committee for a private discussion for an additional hour. The goal of this discussion will be three-fold:

  1. Provide the committee with additional opportunity to understand the dissertation research,
  2. Reach a decision about the outcome of the dissertation presentation, and
  3. Determine any required and suggested next steps for the dissertation manuscript.

Committee members should check in with each other privately about any concerns or priorities for the dissertation, either before the final exam or after the public question & answer period but before the committee's discussion with the candidate.

The Committee Signature Form for Final Examination for the Doctoral Degree is provided to committee chair(s) by the Director of Academic Services on the day of the dissertation defense. At the Final Examination the dissertation is evaluated, and if a majority of the supervisory committee members in attendance agree with the evaluation the Committee Signature Form is signed.  The Director of Academic Services reports the result of the final exam to the Graduate School. If a member of the doctoral supervisory committee does not agree with the majority recommendation concerning the examination, the minority report portion of the Committee Signature Form must be used. See Graduate School Policy 4.2 Supervisory Committee for Graduate Students for more information. 

Reading Committee

The reading committee is appointed to read and approve the dissertation.

A minimum of three members of the supervisory committee serve on the reading committee. Selection must be made shortly after the final exam is completed, and the Director of Academic Services notified to make appropriate changes in MyGrad. At least one of the members of the reading committee must hold an endorsement to chair doctoral committees. The reading committee must include at least one faculty member with a primary appointment in HCDE and should include the student's committee chair(s); in extenuating circumstances, this requirement is petitionable by working with the PhD program chair and staff adviser.

The Reading Committee completes final approval for the dissertation via MyGrad (log in, find the student under "Dissertation Approval Needed", click their name, and then, if you approve, check the checkbox and approve). All reading committee members must submit their decisions in MyGrad prior to the student's submission of their manuscript through ETD.

Submitting the Dissertation Manuscript

The Graduate School’s Thesis/Dissertation site has an extensive set of information and resources to assist with the submission of the final manuscript. Several critical pieces of information are found at the bottom of the site under 'Questions':

Summary of Key Dates

When Who What
Whenever you make a change to your committee Student Notify Director of Academic Services to update MyGrad.
As soon as you have a defense date scheduled and after you have a final committee Student Notify Director of Academic Services of the date and location. Reminder: you must be enrolled for at least two credits in the quarter you defend.
To allow sufficient time for revisions, we strongly recommend that defenses be held at least three weeks before the end of finals week.
In the lead up to three weeks before the defense Student Develop dissertation manuscript. Share with committee chair(s), and potentially other committee members, for initial feedback and then address the feedback; this may be done chapter-by-chapter or as an entire manuscript.
At least three weeks before the defense Student Send a complete dissertation to the committee chair(s) for approval to proceed with defense. Copy the Director of Academic Services and verify the date and time of the exam are correct in MyGrad.
At least two weeks before the defense Committee chair(s) Communicate approval to proceed with the defense to the student, or discuss any required changes or postponement.
  • Send dissertation title, abstract, and defense location and time to HCDE Communications Manager to promote the defense
  • Send full dissertation to the entire committee, including the GSR
Defense Committee chair(s) Ensure the evaluation Committee Signature Form is signed by the committee and returned to the Director of Academic Services.
Between the defense and a deadline agreed upon by the committee Student and committee
  • Complete any revisions as agreed upon through the defense and subsequent discussions.
  • Send revisions to committee, including reading committee, and iterate as needed.
  • A final version must be in Electronic Thesis / Dissertation by UW’s Electronic Thesis/Dissertation deadline, with sufficient time for reading committee members to approve.
By the UW's Electronic Thesis/Dissertation deadline Reading committee members Use MyGrad to indicate decision on the manuscript.