Pitt | Swanson Engineering
PhD Final Examination (Defense)

Following the successful completion of the PhD Proposal Examination the student proceeds with the PhD research in collaboration with the research advisor. Upon discussions with the research advisor that the PhD dissertation is complete, the student should set up a time for the PhD dissertation defense allowing at least two hours duration in consult with the committee. The student should give the committee copies of the written dissertation at least three weeks before the defense unless the members agree to accept it closer to the time of the defense.


For this defense, the student makes a presentation—usually about 30-45 minutes in length if uninterrupted—covering the main conclusions of the dissertation research. The organization of the presentation may vary somewhat but often includes the following:

  1. Introduction and Background
  2. Research Objectives
  3. Results and Discussion
  4. Conclusions

The student does not necessarily present everything since they can assume that the members of the committee have read the dissertation–in fact there is probably not enough time to present everything in the dissertation. The committee may interrupt the presentation to ask questions or request a clarification. At the end of the presentation, the committee chair asks each committee member in turn if they have additional questions which they usually do. The committee may ask questions based on the material in the dissertation and in fields related to the research. At the end of the defense, the student and all visitors are asked to leave and the committee discusses the results of the defense and votes to pass or fail. If a student passes, the student finalizes the dissertation, taking into account all requests by the committee for changes and receives the PhD. If the student fails, the student can repeat the defense once. This is usually rare since the research advisor does not recommend that the student stand for the defense until the student is ready.