After successfully completing your comprehensive exam, the next program milestone is writing your dissertation proposal and receiving feedback on it through a formal proposal hearing.


The purpose of the proposal is to describe the research problem as succinctly as possible, its significance and grounding in the relevant literature, and your approach to shedding new light on it.

The proposal should be between 7,000-10,000 words, not including references and appendices. You'll work closely with your dissertation supervisor and committee to develop the proposal draft for the hearing.

A proposal typically includes the following sections:

  • An introduction that articulates the significance of the research problem.
  • A clear statement of research questions.
  • A succinct review of the debates in the literature relevant to your study.
    • e.g. What conversation is your work joining? What missing piece will your research add?
  • A theoretical and/or conceptual framework that is guiding the data collection and analysis.
  • A concrete methodological discussion, with an explanation of your approach to sampling, to data collection, and to the ethical issues in your research. You make clear the scope of your study, and attach your data collection instruments (e.g., surveys, questionnaires, etc) as appendices.
  • A plan for analysis.
  • A timeline.

Proposal Hearing

The proposal hearing typically lasts about 90 minutes. Your three-person committee will read your proposal and ask you questions about it. Optionally, one or two other faculty members (“internal-externals”) may also attend, read your proposal and ask you questions about it. Also optionally, the proposal hearing may be open to the public. 

You start the hearing with a 20-minute overview of your proposal. This is followed by questions, starting with those from the internal-externals (if any), followed by questions from your committee members, and finishing with questions from your supervisor. If the proposal hearing is open to the public, other people in attendance may ask questions if there is enough time. 

When questioning is finished, you and other students in attendance (if any) will be asked to leave the room while the faculty come to an agreement regarding any changes or recommendations to your proposal. Students who pass the dissertation proposal hearing should complete both pages of the Thesis Supervision Form, collect their supervisor’s signature on the form, and email to (cc’ing the supervisor) 

We consider the process to be formative; every student walks away from the hearing with recommendations and feedback for improvement.

In some instances, where it becomes clear that a student is not fully ready to take on the project, the supervisor may decide that another hearing is required.