FAQ: Changes to Doctoral Dissertation Policy

In early 2017 the GFEC has approved changes to the Academic Policy & Procedures (AP&P) regarding doctoral dissertations. These changes are related to the Graduate School minimum number of doctoral committee members, readers/non-readers, acknowledging contributions within the dissertation, and formalizing the co-advisor role on dissertation documentation. Please keep in mind, graduate programs may have more rigorous requirements than those minimum standards set by the Graduate School.
  • Where did these policy items originate and how were they communicated on campus?  During the Fall of 2015, Graduate School Associate Dean Daniel Kleinman assembled the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of the Dissertation.  This faculty committee met monthly for much of the 2015-16 academic year.  They read widely on this topic, reviewed practices at our peer institutions, reviewed data available on our campus, and ultimately produced a report and recommendations.  The report was circulated to Directors of Graduate Study (DGS), CALS Chairs, University Committee, Graduate School Academic Planning Council (GSAPC), and there was an opportunity to comment on the Graduate School website.  During the Fall 2016, the Ad Hoc Committee Report and Recommendations were discussed in great length at GFEC.  The four items below were voted and approved at the February 2017 GFEC meeting.  

  • When will these new policy items be effective?  The policy changes will go into effect beginning Fall 2017.  

  • How are these items being communicated to faculty, coordinators, and students?  A memo was sent out to all graduate faculty and graduate program coordinators on March 13th, 2017 informing them of these policy changes.  Since many programs may have more rigorous requirements, the Graduate School is calling on programs to communicate relevant policy implications to their graduate students.  The Graduate School will NOT be sending a memo to all grad students about this policy change to prevent confusion on Graduate School minimum requirements and more rigorous program requirements.  During the June 2018 update cycle of The Guide (formerly the Graduate School Catalog), all graduate programs will indicate the program requirement for committee membership.  

  • When and where will this policy live?  This policy has migrated to the UW-Madison Policy Library at: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1201.  The sections most impacted are “Advisor”, “Committees”, and “Dissertation”.  Since these policy changes will go into effect Fall 2017, the policies will be updated within AP&P during the regular summer update schedule.  We anticipate these will be available by July 2017.  

Reduce the minimum number of members serving on doctoral committees/final oral examination committees from five to four.

  • Although the Graduate School has reduced the required number of doctoral committee members, may the program maintain a five committee member structure?  Yes.  As with many policy items, graduate programs may always set more rigourous requirements than the Graduate Schools minimum requirements.  

  • Does this change impact Masters or MFA committee membership?  No.  The recent policy changes are only regarding doctoral committee composition.  The minimum number of committee members for Masters and MFA committees remains the same.  

  • Do 4 faculty still need to be UW-Madison graduate faculty?  No.  With the overall reduction in total committee members from 5 to 4, the required  number of UW-Madison graduate faculty is now 3.  The policy will read: "Doctoral committees must have at least 4 members representing more than one graduate program, 3 of whom must be UW-Madison graduate faculty." 

  • Does there still need to be an outside member on the committee?  Yes.  At least one of the 4 members must be from outside of the student's major program or major field and is often from the minor field of study.  

  • Will the committee membership information change on the e-warrant request?  No.  Currently there are 7 available spots for committee member name and information on the e-warrant request.  These will remain on the e-warrant and programs should continue to enter all committee members, even if that is more than the Graduate School minimum number of required members.

  • How will students know how many committee members are required in each program?  All programs should ensure that the committee membership policy is listed in the program handbook.  

  • Will programs be asked to list their committee membership requirement anywhere?  Yes.  During the June 2018 update cycle of The Guide (formerly the Graduate School Catalog), all graduate programs will indicate the program requirement for committee membership.  

  • Why is this change taking place? In acknowledgement of the increasing pressures on faculty time and effort, the minimum required size of dissertation committees is being reduced from five people to four.  This is consistent with peer institutions’ practice.  Programs are free to require more than the minimum number of committee members, if doing so is needed to enhance rigor or breadth of opinion.

Adopt a minimum requirement for at least three committee members of all doctoral/final oral examination committees must be designated as readers.

  • Can a program require all committee members to be readers?  Yes.  If a program requires four committee members, they may also require four committee members to be readers.  If a program requires five committee members, they may also require all five committee members to be readers.  As long as the Graduate School minimum of at least three committee members are readers is upheld, programs will remain in compliance with the policy.  

  • How will reader/non-reader be designated?  During Summer 2017, the warrant will be updated to include reader/non-reader designation for each committee member.  

  • How will students/faculty know who is a reader/non-reader?  All programs should ensure that reader/non-reader policy is listed in the program handbook.  

  • Will programs be asked to list their reader/non-reader requirement anywhere?  Yes.  During the June 2018 update cycle of The Guide (formerly the Graduate School Catalog), all graduate programs will indicate the program requirement for reader/non-reader.  

  • What is a “reader”?  Readers are committee members who commit themselves to closely reading and reviewing the entire dissertation.  The rationale for specifically designating non-reader status is to facilitate faculty participation in dissertations without automatically expecting the level of commitment associated with deeply engaging a PhD thesis. Given faculty workloads, designating a non-reader in some cases may permit faculty participation where engagement would otherwise be impossible.

Specify that dissertations must acknowledge contributions received from other individuals, including co-authors of published work that appears in the document, such as in designing the research, executing the research, analyzing the data, interpreting the data/research, or writing, proofing, or copyediting the manuscript.

  • How will students know that they must acknowledge contributions in their dissertation?  In addition to placing this within the Graduate School Academic Policy & Procedure (AP&P), there will also be wording within the Additional Guidelines section of the Doctoral Guide on our website.  https://grad.wisc.edu/currentstudents/doctoralguide/  Graduate programs may also with to include such language on the program website regarding how students should acknowledge contributions in their dissertation.

Formalize the co-advisor/co-chair role by including the following statement in advisor policy: The coadvisor/co-chair will be designated on dissertation documentation.

  • Where will the advisor/co-advisor be listed?  All official advisors are listed within the Student Information System.  Additionally, the advisor and co-advisor may also be listed on the warrant and within the dissertation itself.    

Link to Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of the Dissertation  


Link to February GFEC minutes

Link to Memo Announcement

KeywordsGFEC, policy, changes, AP&P, advisors, dissertation, committees   Doc ID71658
OwnerKipp C.GroupGraduate School
Created2017-03-13 13:38:18Updated2022-03-16 16:19:15
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